On January 8, 2013, I had the privilege of being present as a 7 man honor guard stood at attention as a long line of cars filled with family members arrived with the hearse leading the procession. Even though the sky was clear, it was bitter cold at 1:30 pm today at the Leavenworth National Cemetery. The soldiers did not wear overcoats.
They stood unflinching in their crisp Airforce uniforms and saluted as 8 young men, grandsons of the deceased, carried the coffin to the breezy open-sided memorial shelter. The honor guard waited solemnly as Father Jim said his final words and the family prayed.
The 3-volley shot gun blasts, 4 rifles fired in unison, rang like bells in the air. The bugler, also in uniform, played taps; the sound echoed across the valley filled with row after row of identical, white headstones.
The family watched as 2 soldiers carefully folded the US flag that had been draped across the coffin. They took such great care with this duty. A senior officer inspected and perfected the folded flag.
The senior member of the military party turned, dropped to one knee and presented the folded flag to Karen. His words were clear and intentional:
"Mam, On behalf of the President of the United States, the Department of the Air Force, and a grateful nation, we offer this flag for the faithful and dedicated service of your father Colonel John F. Swift. God bless you and this family, and God bless the United States of America."
Tears streamed down my face as I heard these words. It is hard to describe the feelings that swelled inside.
A lone hawk flew in circles over our cars as we eventually left to drive to the afternoon family gathering.
I will always remember this wonderful man, his service to our country, his love of family, his funny jokes and endless stories. All who knew John F. Swift and his wonderful wife Kathleen were truly blessed.