Honor Flight
By Heather Goodwin Henline

WASHINGTON, D.C. — Twice in his life Arden Leo Swiger Sr. has been called up: once in service to his country in the Korean War and once to commemorate that enlistment — this time with a coveted seat on an Honor Flight trip. The journey brought Swiger, an Elkins native, full circle. In May, he departed Bridgeport for Washington, D.C., one of 90 veterans to fly out of the North Central West Virginia Airport. His beloved wife, Ethel, had seen coverage of a previous Honor Flight and wanted to learn more. Not knowing what to expect, they applied to the program through Honor Flight Huntington and Swiger was accepted. Formed in 2013, the state hub works with veterans in West Virginia, Kentucky and Ohio who were in World War II, Korea or Vietnam to help them see memorials in the nation’s capital dedicated to their service. To date, more than 500 veterans have gone on one of five charted flights to D.C., with three planes departing from Huntington and two from Bridgeport, said Jane Julian, the hub director for Honor Flight Huntington. Swiger, at age 83, is proud of his service, but he is quick to qualify his time in the military. Though he was drafted, Swiger said he never saw conflict. “I served in the Army from Oct. 27, 1953, to Oct. 25, 1955, during the final days of the Korean War,” he recalled. “I served in the 216th field artillery.” Prior to being drafted, Swiger was the captain of the Elkins High School basketball team in 1951, something that still elicits a smile when he talks about those years, which he does so fondly. He then studied for two years at Davis & Elkins College before military duty called. Swiger’s family has a long history of serving this country. His great-great grandfather, Christopher, fought during the Revolutionary War. “It was in 1775, the year of the Army’s birthday but later that year,” Swiger explained of when his great-great grandfather joined the fight for this nation’s independence. He also said his grandfather, Elias, fought for the Union during the Civil War. “He was wounded at some point and was with the 3rd West Virginia Calvary. It must have been near the end, but I’m not sure how he was injured or in what battle, just that he was in a hospital at Washington, D.C., when the war ended,” Swiger said. That rich lineage, linked with our country’s major formative battles, is something of which Swiger is very proud. He is a charter member of the newly forming Sons of the American Revolution Tygart Valley Chapter in Elkins, Randolph County. Group Registrar Raymond M. Kane was able to link Swiger’s past with his present. He presented Swiger with an SAR military service medal the day of the Honor Flight. It was something that came to fruition after Ethel Swiger made Kane aware of her husband’s service record. “I went to the Honor Flight that morning around 6 a.m.,” Kane said of the presentation, which included a mini medal and one of regular size along with a certificate. “It’s an award that’s available to any of the SAR who have served in the military — either just regular military service or through another medal for those who have served in a war theater.” Swiger said even though he never saw combat, he enjoyed hearing stories from fellow Honor Flight passengers who did. The day from start to finish was one big hero’s welcome, he said. The airport was packed at both takeoff and landing with those wanting to show their support for the veterans. Motorcycles lined the area, and at landing, Swiger said quite a display was on the runway. During the plane ride, Swiger said the veterans experienced a special mail call. Family members, school children and others wrote letters or cards of thanks. “That really touched me, touched all of us. Everyone had a full packet and we read some of them together,” he said. “They, all the veterans, were all really appreciative of the Honor Flight and proud to be selected to go. Then, everything that happened to us all day, the crowds, bands everywhere we went. And at one point I could see a man on the upper deck of a bus. He stood at attention and saluted us all the way by. It touched you.” That is what he remembers most. Though Swiger enjoyed getting to see the various monuments the group visited, such as the World War II and Korean War memorials as well as the Vietnam Wall, Washington Monument and other sights, it was the reception at each that stood out. “People were cheering for us,” he explained. “It was all positive. There wasn’t one bad thing that happened or unkind word that was said to us all day.” Given the strenuous nature of the daylong excursion and the sheer volume of stops packed in to the day, every veteran who attends an Honor Flight outing is assigned a helper, Swiger said. His was Dave Morgan from Ohio, who volunteered his time to make Swiger’s experience possible. “I am so grateful and thankful,” Swiger said, clearly still moved more than two months after his flight. “I’ll never forget it.” It’s a legacy he will leave his own family. Swiger and Ethel have three sons: Arden Leo Jr.; Alan and his wife, Debbie, as well as their daughter, Mackenzie; and Mark and his wife, Dawn, and their two children, Mandi and Shane. Julian said Honor Flight Huntington is working hard to ensure veterans such as Swiger have the opportunity to feel appreciated. “We want to get the word out to all WWII, Korean and Vietnam veterans about our program. Our mission will not be considered complete until every veteran who is well and able to make this one-day trip has gotten that opportunity,” Julian said. “We are hopeful to have another flight out of Clarksburg next spring.” Those who are interested in learning more about the Honor Flight or who would like to donate may contact Julian at 740- 451-0615, 740-645-5692 or info@honorflighthuntington.org. More information also is available online at www.honorflighthuntington. org.

Arden Swigers writes: Honor Flight

Our morning started at 6 am at the North Central Airport Bridgeport with veterans (World War 2 and Korea) meeting with their escorts for breakfast. There was a good sized crowd seeing us off and thanking us for our service before we departed for Reagan National Airport in DC.

      Our arrival in Washington was met by a huge flag waving crowd with a band playing patriotic songs cheering us and shaking our hands and thanking us for service to our country. The feeling was so overwhelming that it?s hard to explain but it?s not what you see from the news media! It was about 8:30 am as we loaded on our 3 buses in DC with Honor Flight Huntington WV written on the front. We left with our police escort leading the way to visit the memorials. The police escorted us the entire day. People along the route were waving and clapping their hands while some were saluting.

      There?s no way for me to put into words the feelings and emotions that went through me in the nearly 12 hours that we spent in DC this beautiful sunny day in our nations capitol. I probably shook more hands on this one day than I have in my 83 years on this planet and I don?t believe there was one that belonged to a politician!!!

      When we got back at the Reagan Airport, getting ready to leave for home, one of the female airport personnel yelled out to the crowd ?All you West By God Virginians come to gate 4? and we were greeted by a band playing patriotic songs and people were cheering.

On this entire trip we did not see one negative act by anyone!

      When we boarded the buses back to the airport, we had ?Mail Call?. (Just like we did in the service) It seems the Honor Flight office had contacted my family in secret and all of them sent cards and letters along with school children who made cards and pictures thanking the Veterans for their service.

      When we arrived back at the airport in Bridgeport we were welcome by the largest crowd of the day. As our plane landed there were four fire trucks along the run way with lights flashing. There also was a fire truck on each side of the run way spraying water in an arch over the plane and I jokingly commented "That they were either holding a shower for us or our engine was on fire". When we got off the plane there was this large crowd cheering, waving flags with an Army band playing. The crowd consisted of cub scouts, Rolling Thunder bikers, military, family and friends plus many others.

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For your entainment here is a site from a Kentucky Honor Flight at Reagan Field in DC.
Honor Flight Video

“Fire trucks had their lights flashing,” he said, with a laugh. “We taxied down between them, and they had their hoses making a water arch. The plane came through the arch. I told the woman next to me, ‘They either are having a show for us or our engine’s on fire, but I’m pretty sure it’s a celebration.’ She was too, and it was really special. Really the whole day was. We were there 12 hours and busy all the time.” Arden Leo Swiger Sr.