May 3, 2017 Edition

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Russells' effort puts memento in
the hands of serviceman's family

Redda Russell (from left) of Hoxie returned a special flag to the family of the late Tech Sgt. Robert McGuiggan. The family includes his brother, Jerry McGuiggan; his mother, Joyce McGuiggan, who is holding the returned flag; and his sister, Tami Fason. Redda also presented a U.S. Flag from her family to the McGuiggan family.
Submitted Photo

John Bland

Due to the kindness and efforts of one Hoxie family, a very special memento has been given to its rightful owners. The memento, a U.S. Flag, honored the military service of the late Tech Sgt. Robert McGuiggan.

The flag somehow made it's way from Austin, Texas, to Walnut Ridge and then to Hot Springs on April 26, when it was presented to the McGuiggan family. The presentation, which included McGuiggan's mother and his siblings, took place at the Garland County Courthouse in Hot Springs.

Redda Russell of Hoxie explained that a friend had posted a photo of the framed U.S. Flag with a plaque inscribed for McGuiggan. The friend wrote "mad or sad" describing her feelings of seeing such a special object for sale at a flea market.

Redda and daughter, Danielle Russell, went to the Walnut Ridge flea market the following day and purchased the flag for $15. That was over two months ago.

Then began their effort to place the flag in the hands of McGuiggan's family. Redda said she searched the Internet and found out that McGuiggan had passed away and had several family members in the Hot Springs area.

Redda also called her brother, Master Sgt. (ret.) Danny C. Keith in Crestview, Fla. Keith is retired after 25 years in the Air Force. Because McGuiggan was deceased, Redda's brother recommended she contact the Veteran's Affairs office.

Redda contacted the VA through U.S. Senator John Boozman's office in Jonesboro. That office put her in contact with Anita Deason, Col. (ret.), who serves as military and veteran liaison for Senator Boozman's office in Little Rock.

In the meantime, Redda had to be patient while Sen. Boozman's office looked into the matter. Redda said the flag was somewhat disheveled, so she had it washed and steam ironed.

She eventually received the call to be in Hot Springs at the courthouse at 1 p.m. on April 26. She didn't know what to expect, but said the ceremony far exceeded her expectations.

Col. Joseph (Joe) Wilson, chief of staff of the Arkansas Air National Guard, was the guest speaker. "He had done his research on McGuiggan; he did an excellent job."

Tech Sgt. Robert McGuiggan was two years short of retirement from the Air Force when he was the victim of a traffic accident that left him in a coma for 23 years.

Wilson said McGuiggan was a decorated soldier who served with distinction and was recognized numerous times for good conduct, impeccable work ethic and maintaining composure in highly stressful situations. According to Grace Brown's story in The Sentinel-Record in Hot Springs, in the nearly 19 years he served, McGuiggan worked as a vehicle maintenance journeyman, fuel specialist, and later, as a crew chief.

In 1991, on his daily commute home from Bergstrom Air Force Base in Austin, Texas, his vehicle was hit by a drunk driver. He would spend the next 18 months in a VA hospital in St. Cloud, Minn. He was then transferred to another hospital in Clearwater, Minn., where he would remain in a coma until his death in 2015.

Two years after his accident, the Air Force retired McGuiggan with full military honors. At that time, the framed and folded flag was given to McGuiggan's wife, who became estranged from her husband sometime after the accident.

During the ceremony last Wednesday, Redda stood at the back of the courtroom, while McGuiggan's family stood at the front.

Staff Sgt. Thomas Briseno, a member of the Honor Guard team from the Little Rock Air Force Base, took the flag from Redda, and with the sharp turns of military precision, delivered it to the family.

Redda said she was given the opportunity to speak during the ceremony and explained her connection to the military and of her deep sense of patriotism. In addition to her brother's career in the military, her father, the late Clyn R. Keith, served during World War II in the U.S. Army.

Redda shared that she had worked with the local National Guard Unit during their deployments to Iraq, that she was a past president of the National Guard's family support group and was known as "The Cake Lady" for providing birthday cakes for the activated Guard unit.

"It was just very, very moving - the most moving ceremony I've ever been to," Redda said of the Hot Springs event. "Anita and (Sen.) Boozman's office outdid themselves."

Attending the ceremony with Redda were daughter, Danielle Russell, granddaughter, Victoria Swartzlander, and Cody Krueger.

Redda's brother, who is not the sentimental type, probably gave Redda the biggest compliment. "God knew where to send that flag to make sure it got in the right hands," he said.

Redda's message regarding her actions is that if you come across a memento that has a name on it, it is possible to find the person or a family member. "Anybody can do this, not just me."

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