Ex-POW exults in Veterans Day ceremony

By Megan R. Harrell
STAR STAFF
mharrell@starhq.com

  
Each year the Elizabethton/Carter County United Veterans Council holds a veterans ceremony at a designated high school, and each year local veterans do their part to make the event memorable.
   Wright Swanay is a World War II prisoner of war, and has been active in planning this year's veterans ceremony at Cloudland High School. He has been involved in similar ceremonies on Veterans Day since the early 1980s, and looks at the event as on opportunity to educate younger generations on the history of the nation.
   Having been a POW for nearly 10 months, Swanay is in an excellent position to provide local youths with history lessons. "It gives me a great deal of satisfaction to stand there with other veterans in front of the students and let them see the warriors of the past, because they are the ones that will be the warriors of tomorrow and they will defend our freedom in the future," Swanay said.
   Swanay was flying the 39th mission of a 50-mission tour in Italy when his B-24 was shot down over Budapest, Hungary in July of 1944. Alone, he evaded captivity for three days before he was caught and turned over to German soldiers, which transported him to the infamous POW camp, Stalag Luft III in Germany.
   The local veteran described his time alone as the worst part of his captivity. "The solitary confinement was the hardest, but after that it was just the opposite of solitary confinement because I was put in with all the others," Swanay said.
   Swanay returned home to Elizabethton after he was liberated by Gen. Patton's Third Army forces in April of 1945. He recalls taking a cab with his wife from the Johnson City train station home to Elizabethton. He was 23 years old at the time.
   Since his return to Carter County, Swanay has been actively involved in veterans' affairs. He has had a hand in organizing the United Veterans Council ceremony for several years, and will be presenting a ceremony of the flags at this year's event.
   "I think Elizabethton/Carter County is a flag loving community and it gives me a great deal of pride to participate in this ceremony for the community," Swanay said.
   This year's ceremony will begin at 10:30 a.m. in the gymnasium at Cloudland High School on Monday, Nov. 11. The program rotates annually between five schools in the county.
   Swanay said Council President Robert Perkins and Randy Lingerfelt were instrumental in organizing Monday's event. According to its leaders, the purpose of the council is to foster patriotism, teach respect for the flag, assist veterans and their wives, and to care for the monument.
   All local veterans organizations will be represented in the ceremony, and veterans will be individually recognized by the wars which they fought and by the branches in which they served.
   Other veterans participating in the program include World War II veteran, the Rev. Haskel Ingram, and retired Air Force Master Sgt. Sara Sellers. The reverend will be leading the invocation, while Sellers will offer insight as a female veteran.
   Local students will be taking part in the ceremony also. They will be responsible for singing the National Anthem, leading the pledge to the flag, and instrumental performances of "Amazing Grace" and "Taps."
   Following the ceremony the veterans will assemble at the Soldier's Monument at the courthouse in downtown Elizabethton for the traditional placing of the wreath.