World War II Vet Returns to the Air In Vintage Plane

Flex Air Charters History, Private Air Charters

The nonprofit organization Dream Flights has been giving free airborne adventures to veteran soldiers since 2011. The group has since then helped over 4,200 elderly veterans, many of them living in long-term care facilities, soar again.

One of these seniors is Cal Swagerty of Sioux City, Iowa. According to the WWII veteran, he spent most of the conflict on the ground, fighting across much of France and into Belgium and Germany.

These past combat services were what earned Mr. Swagerty a rather unique experience of flying over his adopted city of Sioux City in a World War II airplane for a little while.

According to Swagerty, “I was mostly a ground-pounder” referring to his experience during the war. This didn’t stop him from climbing into a 1942 Boeing Stearman biplane for a few loops around the urban landscape below, before landing back at Sioux Gateway Airport.

Swagerty, now on the verge of turning 98, grinned like a kid and waved to both family and friends upon landing. Volunteer workers from the Dream Flights nonprofit, which had arranged and supervised the flight, were also on hand to assist.

Dream Flight’s operation offers air trips mainly in Stearman biplanes, which during WWII were the airplanes of choice for training military aviators.

The flight Swagerty took was a part of the organization’s Operation September Freedom event, which was launched on August 1st and includes 61 days of flights across 300 cities for a total of 1000 veterans. Other flights from Iowa also took off from Le Mars on the same day.

According to McKenzie Roeber, an enrichment coordinator at Heritage Care Center in Emerson Nebraska, where Cal Swagerty is living, she was informed about the Dream Flights program when someone asked her if any veterans were living in her long-term living facility. She knew of one, Swagerty and after a talk with his daughter and son, all three agreed to sign him up for his chance to relive a bit of personal history.

By the time he reached the airport on the big day, Swagerty was all in on the idea despite some initial hesitation. The veteran first enlisted in the army at the age of 18 and fought as a member of the 35th Division, which landed in France just a week after the D-Day invasion in June of 1944.

Swagerty was able to fight in the historically famous Battle of the Bulge, in which the Nazi armies tried to retake lost French territory in December and January of 1944, and from there he swept into Germany itself, reaching the Elbe River by the time fighting ceased on VE Day.

After landing on the day of the Sioux City flight, Swagerty was assisted from the copilot seat of the plane down to the tarmac and let to the machine’s rear where he was able to sign his name on the rudder, next to the signatures of other veterans who had had the same aerial adventure.

The nearly centenarian veteran then thanked his flight hosts and returned home with his family.

Private air charter service companies such as Flex Air Aviation often offer entertainment air charters among the many other more corporate or rescue/emergency relief-oriented helicopter and airplane flight services that they handle for customers all over the world. Flights in WWII-era combat and training planes are also something that can possibly be arranged.

Photo Credit: Dream Flights