April 23, 2015 at 12:25 p.m.

Honor Flight not so much about those old memories, as opportunity for new ones

Honor Flight not so much about those old memories, as opportunity for new ones
Honor Flight not so much about those old memories, as opportunity for new ones

Navy veteran Andy Swenson, of Taylors Falls,  was visiting with Chisago County Veterans Services Officer Al Budde about 18 months-ago,  checking into Veterans’ Administration care available for  Andy’s chronic arm pain, resulting from an old war wound.  The two got to talking and Budde suggested Swenson submit an application to be considered for an Honor Flight.  

The non-profit organization “Honor Flight Twin Cities” transports veterans to tour the Washington D.C. war memorials, erected in their honor.  The group also visits other sights in the nation’s capitol and enjoys a nice meal,  all packed into  a one-day odyssey of reminiscing and adulation.  

Funded by the MN Vietnam Veterans Charity these Honor Flights began in May 2005.   

And, on Saturday, April 11, at the height of Washington’s cherry tree blossom  spectacle Swenson and a few dozen other veterans boarded an Honor Flight at MSP airport, well before sunrise, bound for D.C.

For a guy who has traveled extensively throughout his life, Swenson said that on a sentimental scale this trip was close to the top.

Each veteran brings a flight companion-- sorry no spouses allowed. Swenson’s daughter MaryAnn Rivard accompanied her dad.

“You know,” Swenson explains, “it was the first time since MaryAnn was this little (he holds his palm about three feet off the ground) that she and I had time alone, just us two together.”

Andy’s dearest experience, though, out of a day chock-full of moments, had to be receiving a packet of “letters” aboard the plane during the flight.  Honor Flight coordinators recreate “mail call” for the veterans aboard the plane and Swenson’s granddaughter Hailey’s fourth grade class,  at Taylors Falls School,  wrote the letters for Swenson’s “mail” packet.  
 Geri, Andy’s wife, said the two of them stayed up past 3 a.m.,  after his return home from the airport,  looking over all of these wonderful letters.  Their  hearts were warmed by the creative drawings and expressions, direct from a child’s imagination and curiosity.  

Swenson swears -- and anybody who has been away from home can relate --mail call was the Honor Flight highlight.  
Geri and Andy celebrate their 67th wedding anniversary this year.  They have three kids:  MaryAnn, Linda (Grandstrand) and Wayne,  and an extended family,  and there was a bunch of loved ones on-hand at the airport. It was also a family affair in D.C. as MaryAnn arranged for daughter Kori and grandson Ethan, who live in Maryland,  to spend time with the Honor Flight ground tour.

Andy, 91,  enlisted in the Navy in March 1943 and was discharged in November 1945.   He had two brothers in the Army,  and he says he picked the Navy  because he wanted to know where he would be sleeping (no dirt  trenches or abandoned barns for him) and because he loves being around the water.   

He and Geri developed and operated Waub-O-Jeeg Campgrounds on the St Croix River  for years,  and they only sold when he contracted a type of cancer.  He’s been managing his illness pretty well,  however, and still finds time to do woodworking, volunteering (he is a mainstay of Taylors Falls Lions Club) and tending to the wooded grounds around his home, which are meticulous.  

Swenson also ran the hardware store in Almelund for 18 years and if you go further back, the “Stop and Swap.”

When MoMM Second Class Swenson was discharged, he used the GI Bill to become trained in grocery management;  and he tried it for a bit in Cumberland, Wisconsin but groceries just weren’t his thing.

There’s a local reunion of Honor Flight vets scheduled for later this month and he and Geri look forward to seeing new friends,  and they also should be receiving a video of the Honor Flight trip.   There is one person who left a huge imprint on Andy’s heart  in D.C.,  but he doubts he’ll see her again.   He shows this reporter a picture of a sweet young girl, pointing her finger out in front of her, dressed in a quirky Uncle Sam-style costume, wearing an over-sized bowtie.
Swenson said the mini-ambassador’s name was ‘Katie’ and she mingled with all the veterans at the D.C. memorial,  handing out this photo postcard,  printed with the caption “Uncle Sam Wants You to Feel Appreciated.”
Katie, if you are reading this, it’s you who are appreciated.
         
          +++++++

To support the Twin Cities Honor Flights you can donate to:  MN Vietnam Veterans Charity. It costs about $500 to provide the experience for each participant.  Mail a check to:
Honor Flight Twin Cities
Attention Jerry Kyser  
2674 Mackubin Street, Roseville MN 55113.  
There is a website at
honorflighttwincities.org.
The group gives WWII veterans preference right now;   but vets from the Korean War and other conflicts also participate as space allows.  








 










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