Bob "Corndog" Swanson, left, is credited with helping pass a Nebraska law restricting funeral protests. Swanson died earlier this year in a motorcycle accident.

Legion Rider remembered for role in funeral protest legislation

The U.S. Supreme Court recently refused to consider a legal challenge to a Nebraska law restricting funeral protests – a law that a former American Legion Rider is credited for helping get passed.

Nebraska State Sen. Bob Krist has publicly praised Bob “Corndog” Swanson, who died last May in a motorcycle accident, for his role in getting the bill through the state legislature. Krist was the chief sponsor of the 2011 bill, which expanded the buffer zone between funerals and protesters from 300 to 500 feet. The original legislation, passed in 2006, was done in reaction to the Westboro Baptist Church protesting the funerals of fallen military personnel.

Swanson – a member and past commander of Omaha Post 1, as well as a Patriot Guard Rider – worked on the original piece of legislation in 2006 with Sen. Mike Friend that established a 300-foot buffer between the protestors and those attending the funeral.

The protests continued, however, which Krist said was “unacceptable to (Swanson).” Krist and Swanson looked at the legislation, did constitutional research and then began crafting a bill to increase the buffer.

“Bob came to testify with several other (Patriot Guard) Riders … at the committee hearing,” Krist said. “He helped orchestrate that kind of testimony, giving real-life experiences and how discourteous and how much (Westboro Baptist) efforts had disrupted very sacred times for most families. I couldn’t have asked for a better partner in that whole thing. He was a big part of both the first bill in Nebraska and then the upgraded distances that we did later on.”

In addition to his efforts with the funeral protest bill, Swanson also worked with Krist to get signs honoring all five branches of the military placed at every rest stop along Interstate 80 in Nebraska. The signs read "Nebraska honors our troops. Thank you for your service”; the design for the signs came from Swanson, who also raised money for the project.

“(Swanson) just felt it very important to recognize the people that served in the armed forces,” Krist said. “He was just, to me, an amazing individual who believed so much in this country and the people who served in defense of the country."

Swanson also had the idea to place an empty chair at Werner Park, the baseball home of the Omaha Storm Chasers, that honors U.S. prisoners of wars and missing in action.

And Swanson also was the force behind the development of the Legion Riders in Nebraska, helping organize 39 chapters across the state. A street along Post 1 in Omaha is named for Swanson.

John ‘Hammer’ Hanzlik, road captain for Omaha Post 1, first met Swanson during a gas stop. Swanson shared the Riders’ mission, and Hanzlik ended up going on a ride to Sioux City for a veterans memorial dedication the next day.

“That trip is how I ended up road captain for the ALR at Post 1,” Hanzlik said. “Bob was the man to ask about anything veteran or Legion. (There’s) so much respect we all have for him.”