NARA Joins in Honoring Veterans
Winter 2015, Vol. 47, No. 4
By David S. Ferriero
Archivist of the United States
When Doug Swanson, visitor services manager for the National Archives Museum, saw a group of veterans getting a special tour one morning last spring, he was curious.
"The vast majority of the folks taking the tour were elderly men in wheelchairs and dressed alike with hats saying World War II Veteran," Doug recalls. "I asked if they were an Honor Flight and was told they were."
"That got me thinking . . . why don't we see these Honor Flights visiting the National Archives on a regular basis? They take an oath to 'preserve, protect, and defend the Constitution' when they enter the armed services. And I'm sure many of them have never had the chance to view the document they were fighting to protect."
Doug followed up and got in touch with the folks at Honor Flight Network to ask if they would be interested in making the Archives a regular stop on the Washington tour for Honor Flight veterans. They were.
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We have a special interest in veterans at the National Archives.
Veterans and their families are our biggest group of customers, since we hold their military files in our National Personnel Records Center in St. Louis. Whenever a veteran needs a document from his or her file, we can get it to them quickly; we do this some five million times a year. We also hold unit records and other military documents dating to the Revolutionary War.
Hundreds of World War II veterans are dying every day, and some of those who are still with us are fortunate to get aboard an Honor Flight to Washington, D.C. Each one has a volunteer or family member to serve as an escort and, if necessary (as it so often is), push a wheelchair.
The National Archives recently hosted its third Honor Flight, and the veteran contingent included 33 from World War II, 54 from the Korean War, and two from the Vietnam War—all of them from Minnesota and the Dakotas.
One of them, Milton Arneson, 87, of Moorhead, Minnesota, is a veteran of World War II as well as Korea and Vietnam. He was a pilot-in-training in World War II, then an Air Force pilot in Korea and Vietnam.
One of his favorite stories is about the time he brought U.S. troops in Korea a shipment of white socks, Hershey bars, and flea powder—"and none of them wanted anything but the flea powder!" he laughed.
Another visitor was John Fiandaca, 89, also of Moorhead. Just after the war in Europe ended, he was assigned to the Munich Central Collection Point. There, he worked with the Monuments Men in picking up and delivering art looted by the Nazis whose owners were being located.
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Honor Flight Network is a nonprofit organization created solely to honor America's veterans for all their sacrifices. The network transports our heroes to Washington, D.C., to visit and reflect at the memorial for the war in which they served.
Honor Flights originate from hubs all around the country. Flights originating east of the Mississippi River bring veterans for a one-day tour. Flights from west of the Mississippi provide an overnight stay since it takes longer for the round trip. Top priority is given to World War II survivors and veterans who may be terminally ill.
I was honored to spend about an hour with these veterans in the Rotunda of our building in downtown Washington as they viewed the Declaration of Independence, the Constitution, and the Bill of Rights. This particular group of veterans also got to see the Japanese Instrument of Surrender, which was the "featured document" at the time of their visit.
Now, thanks to Honor Flights, many more veterans will be able to visit Washington, albeit briefly, and see these Charters of Freedom. And as a veteran myself, I want to thank those who make these flights possible.
They offer veterans the chance to see the memorials to the war or wars they fought in. Now, they allow veterans to see the documents that created the way of life they defended.