By Jordan Houston
The Thunderbird Field II Veterans Memorial is gearing up for its annual Swing Time event to not only honor those who have made the ultimate sacrifice but also support local students interested in aviation degrees.
The nonprofit is dedicated to preserving the history and culture of aviation in Scottsdale and providing a tribute to veterans, as well as educational opportunities for children.
It will host the gathering from 5 to 10 p.m. Saturday, November 6, at the Scottsdale Airport at 15000 N. Airport Drive. Scottsdale Mayor David Ortega will provide Veterans Day comments, and this year’s honorary guest will be Pearl Harbor survivor Jack Holder, a WWII veteran and U.S. Naval aviator.
The 1940s-themed hangar party, aimed at celebrating all veterans, will have several WWII vehicles and artifacts on display. Food will be served via “chow line,” and period-style cocktails and music will be featured. To complement the mood and ambiance, attendees are encouraged to dress in 1940s attire, according to Thunderbird Field II Veterans Memorial President Steve Ziomek.
“(Holder is) 99, and he turns 100 on December 13,” Ziomek says. “He is one of the very few living Pearl Harbor survivors. So, in tradition, we’ll be starting at the memorial underneath the Stearman PT-17 for champagne and hors d’oeuvres.”
Around 6, the party will head upstairs into the Stearman and Thunderbird rooms for the somber POW-MIA ceremony, carried out by the Luke Air Force Base Honor Guard, Ziomek continues. Holder will later take the stage, followed by music, food, a silent auction and a 9 p.m. “surprise.”
Swing Time is TB2’s first celebration since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, Ziomek explains. Instead of the typical crowd size of roughly 400 attendees, the organization is anticipating around 200 this November, he notes.
“I think the thing I’m most proud of is we were able to put it all together and it started from a dream,” says Ziomek, a U.S. Civil Air Patrol major and command pilot, U.S. Coast Guard Academy graduate and former Coast Guard Rescue Pilot. “And it’s growing and now the support we’ve received from the city, from the airport and from the veteran community.”
Proceeds will benefit the Thunderbird Field II Veterans Memorial Aviation Scholarship Program for Arizona college students interested in careers in various aspects of the aviation industry.
According to Ziomek, scholarship recipients are eligible to receive up to $2,500 and must apply directly through the technical/trade school or college and be accepted for an aviation-related certificate, associate’s, bachelor’s or master’s degree.
Schools and institutions approved for the TB2 Aviation Scholarship Program include Arizona State or Embry-Riddle Aeronautical universities, Cochise and Yavapai colleges, and Chandler-Gilbert and Pima community colleges.
TB2 has awarded 11 scholarships, with financial amounts varying depending on whether a two-year or four-year school is attended, Ziomek says.
Thunderbird Field II, now the Scottsdale Airport, opened in 1942 as an Army Air Corps training facility. The memorial boasts a Stearman PT-17 as its centerpiece, commemorates the rich history of the airfield and provides a tribute to veterans of all kinds, Ziomek explains.
In 2017, the Scottsdale City Council approved an agreement to build the veterans’ memorial shade plaza as part of the Terminal Area Redevelopment Project. Ziomek, who was working on the Scottsdale Airport Advisory Commission at the time, says he was inspired to kick-start the project to show generate for the airport.
“I got tired of all the noise complaints from all of the local people,” he shares, indicating frequent community complaints about loud air traffic in residential areas. “I and another individual thought maybe if these people knew about the history of the airport they wouldn’t complain so much.”
Although the TB2’s original intention was to highlight the airport’s impressive history, it quickly transpired into creating Scottsdale’s first veterans memorial, Ziomek says.
“More important than that, I wanted to create a true veterans memorial for the city of Scottsdale, because up until that time, Scottsdale was the only major city in the state without a veterans memorial,” the president adds.
The nonprofit has since expanded its scope and mission to give back to the community in other areas, according to Ziomek.
“There are three prongs to what we do now,” he explains. “The first was getting the airplane and getting the city to build the memorial — hanging the airplane to create the veterans memorial for all veterans. After that was done, we moved into phase two, providing scholarships to Arizona students going to Arizona colleges that are interested in some sort of aviation degree.”
TB2 is gearing up for phase three — one of Ziomek’s proudest segments — he says.
Earlier this summer, TB2 announced its new financial and support partnership with Dogs4Vets, a service organization dedicated to enabling disabled veterans to “live a more productive life through the use of service animals.”
“It’s my favorite simply because I’m a veteran and in the state of Arizona there are 95,000 veterans and a third of them are disabled in one way, shape or form,” Ziomek says.
Dogs4Vets helps disabled veterans train their own dog to be their service dog, sponsoring them with lifetime, no-cost service dog training and certification.
Proceeds from the 2021 Swing Time event will also be funneled to the pooch-centric nonprofit, Ziomek says.
The TB2 president and chairman adds that he is looking forward to the celebration and its potential to raise multifaceted levels of awareness.
“(Pride) and that they just know a little bit more about the history of the Scottsdale Airport,” Ziomek shares. “And making it a true honor for veterans and raising awareness of what we do, and raising money to help support it all.”
WHEN: 5 to 10 p.m. Saturday, November 6
WHERE: Scottsdale Airport, 15000 N. Airport Drive, Scottsdale
COST: Tables for groups of eight cost $1,500, while a table for two will ring in at $375. Individual tickets are priced at $200, and veterans can attend for $180.