Honor Flight helps veterans get the recognition and gratitude they deserve

By Molly Roberts
Posted 10/5/21

It was a long day — Dave Swartzendruber had to be at the Cedar Rapids airport by 5:30 a.m. on Tuesday, Sept. 21 and didn’t return to the airport until after 8:30 p.m. But in between, he …

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Honor Flight helps veterans get the recognition and gratitude they deserve

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It was a long day — Dave Swartzendruber had to be at the Cedar Rapids airport by 5:30 a.m. on Tuesday, Sept. 21 and didn’t return to the airport until after 8:30 p.m. But in between, he was flown to Washington D.C. by the Honor Flight Network, a non-profit organization that offers all-expense-paid trips to give veterans an opportunity to see war memorials in Washington D.C.

Swartzendruber served in the Army from 1971 to 1973, at the same time that his brother, Randy, was serving in Vietnam.

“My brother was in Vietnam the same time I was in the service, so I didn’t feel I deserved as much from my service as he deserved from his, that’s the way I felt, because I didn’t go in to fight or anything,” Swartzendruber said. “I’m glad I did what I did, but yet I don’t feel that I need as much recognition as my brother should have.”

But the Honor Flight changed that for Swartzendruber.

“When I first heard of the Honor Flight, I thought I don’t deserve this as much as my brother, who went on the trip three years ago,” Swartzendruber said. “But after I did it, I realized that maybe I was actually supposed to do this and enjoy it. And I did, I really did. I think it finally hit me that there was something really to this.”

About 90 veterans and their guardians, who come along on the trip to watch over the veterans, toured the Martin Luther King Jr. memorial, the Korean and Vietnam War memorial, the WWII memorial and Arlington National Cemetery, among other sights in Washington D.C. Swartzendruber said he had seen pictures and heard about the sights from his brother, Randy, but seeing them for himself was entirely different.

“It was amazing, like at the cemetery, all those tombstones lined up in rows, it was an amazing sight,” Swartzendruber said. “We drove through on the bus and, geez, it just never stops. And most of the headstones were the same, all white, all lined up — I just keep saying that it was amazing.”

Swartzendruber’s son Ryan accompanied him as his guardian and also served as the guardian for another veteran from Iowa City. Swartzendruber said it was touching and special to have his son by his side for the experience.

Swartzendruber said seeing the Vietnam War memorial was especially emotional, knowing that veterans served in Vietnam while he was in the service and knowing that his brother served overseas.

“I always heard about it, but never thought much of it,” Swartzendruber said. “But seeing it for yourself is a whole different experience. It was touching, seeing the names of the people who had been killed. The memorial was so long with names all the way up and down it. It was heartwarming, in a way, to know that those people are being honored.”

On the plane ride home from D.C., Swartzendruber was given a packet of about 30 letters and cards from friends, family and loved ones, each one thanking him for his service.

“I got teary eyed quite a few times reading those,” Swartzendruber said.

Then, when the Honor Flight returned to the airport in Cedar Rapids, there was a huge crowd of people waiting to receive them, cheering and holding American flags.

“You came in and everybody was cheering you on, little kids were shaking your hand and thanking you,” Swartzendruber said. Knowing that all those people came out to greet those who had served in the military was amazing.”

Swartzendruber said he would recommend the Honor Flight to any veteran in the area, to help them feel the honor and gratitude they deserve for serving their country.

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