From the Archivist of the United States

11/19/2015 12:00 am


NARA Joins in Honoring Veterans

By David S. Ferriero
Archivist of the United States

When Doug Swanson, the 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 WWII 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 folks at the Honor Flight Network to ask if they would be interested in making a stop at the Archives a regular part of the Washington tour for Honor Flight veterans. They were.

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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, or his family, needs a document from his or her file, we can get it to them quickly.  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 recovered art looted by the Nazis whose owners were being located.

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Honor Flight Network is a non-profit organization created solely to honor America’s veterans for all their sacrifices.  They transport our heroes to Washington, D.C., to visit and reflect at their respective memorials.

Top priority is given to the senior veterans – World War II survivors, along with other veterans who may be terminally ill.

Honor 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.

They originate from hubs all around the country, and Doug has already been in touch with and reserved tour dates for hubs in Texas, Utah, California and Arizona.
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 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.

As a veteran myself, I want to thank those who make these flights possible. They offer veterans the chance to see the memorials for the war or wars they fought in. Now they allow veterans to see the documents that created the way of life they defended.

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