Wednesday, December 27, 2006

Making headlines

[Click the title of this post to go to the original news story online, at The Bellingham Herald website]

1st Christmas with baby was best, couple recalls
WWII pilot wasn’t told of child till his leave started


June Veith doesn’t remember meeting her father for the first time, but she has certainly heard the stories.

It was less than a week before Christmas 1943. Her father, Robert Swigart, had spent 10 months in North Africa, flying in a B-26 bomber. The then-lieutenant had just finished his required 40 missions and rushed home to his wife, Geraldine, and their 6-month old daughter, whom he had never seen before.

“At last, you were a family and that’s important,” June, now 63, told her parents Friday afternoon while looking through slightly yellowing photos of the reunion. “It’s always fun to hear your own birth story and all the things that set you apart from other people.”

For June to even be there was a miracle. She was born about 2½ months premature.

“I didn’t get to see her for 10 days and then when I saw her, she looked just like (Robert), but a skeleton,” said Geraldine, 84.

“It was lucky you were even alive,” she said to June.

Robert wasn’t notified of June’s birth until shortly before he came home because they were afraid she would die before he arrived.

“I think I was a little dumbfounded,” said Robert, now 87, of learning his child was already 6 months old.

Their first Christmas as a family was spent at Geraldine’s mother’s house in Long Beach, Calif., where there was a big tree and dinner. But, Christmastime surprises didn’t stop for the Swigarts.

In mid-December 1965, June was set to marry Dennis Veith, a Navy officer and Annapolis graduate. But Dennis’ ship ran aground and he wasn’t allowed to leave until the investigation into the incident was over. He missed the wedding date. But the family quickly rescheduled and the two exchanged vows on Dec. 26.

Other Christmases over the last 63 years have brought together all the family members, many of whom have settled in Western Washington. But Geraldine and Robert think of that first Christmas with June as the best they’ve had in their 64 years of marriage.

“This is just a happy time,” Robert said.

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