Military Order of the Purple Heart

Texas Capital Chapter 1919 Austin, Texas

 

HARRY A. SWAN
1921 - 2007

11th Airborne Division patch

511th Parachute Infantry Regiment patch


HARRY A. SWAN

Patriot, Chapter 1919

 (ARMY, WWII, Pacific) Article October 1996

Harry Swan was born in Passaic, New Jersey, in 1921, and he grew up there.  He was inducted into the Army at Newark on February 20, 1943.  He stood six-foot-two, weighed in at 195 pounds, and was a “hard as nails” twenty one year old.  The Army thought he would make a good paratrooper and Harry volunteered.  He soon found himself in training at Camp Macall, North Carolina.  The paratroops were considered experimental until 1941, so the “Airborne” was still very much in its infancy at that time.  Harry was assigned to Company G of the newly created 511th Parachute Infantry Regiment of the 11th Airborne Division and he went through the rigorous training program with them.

The unit shipped out for the Pacific Theatre on May 8, 1944.  The division was in New Guinea for five months in 1944 and then saw three months of combat on Leyte before the end of the year.  The 511th then made a combat parachute jump onto Luzon Island on February 3, 1945, force marched 32 miles to the southern approaches of Manila, and locked in close combat with the Japanese near Nichols Field.  Pfc. Harry Swan would receive the Silver Star for gallantry during an action on February 5th (see citation).  He was wounded in action during the morning of the next day; and then wounded again that afternoon, more seriously.  He was medically evacuated and hospitalized at BIAK, Netherland East Indies.

 

 

CITATION (EXTRACT)  

The Silver Star

Date of action: 5 FEBRUARY 1945

FOR GALLANTRY IN ACTION:  PRIVATE FIRST CLASS HARRY A. SWAN DISTINGUISHED HIMSELF BY GALLANTRY IN ACTION AGAINST THE ENEMY NEAR NICHOLS FIELD, MANILA, LUZON, PHILIPPINE ISLANDS ON 5 FEB 1945.  WHEN HIS COMPANY WAS PINNED DOWN BY HEAVY ENEMY MACHINE GUN FIRE, THE COMPANY COMMANDER ORDERED A MACHINE GUN INTO A FORWARD POSITION TO ATTEMPT TO SILENCE THIS DEADLY FIRE.  IN MOVING FORWARD BOTH THE GUNNER AND ASSISTANT GUNNER WERE DISABLED.  PRIVATE FIRST CLASS SWAN VOLUNTARILY AND WITH COMPLETE DISREGARD FOR HIS OWN SAFETY RAN FORWARD WHILE CONSTANTLY EXPOSED TO HEAVY ENEMY FIRE; PICKED UP THE TRIPOD AND MOVED IT TO A FAVORABLE FIRING POSITION.  THIS GALLANT SOLDIER THEN RAN BACK STILL UNDER HEAVY FIRE; RETRIEVED THE MACHINE GUN AND PLACED IT ON THE TRIPOD.  AT THIS TIME HE NOTICED THAT THE AMMUNITION BELT WAS COVERED WITH MUD.  HE CALLED FOR AMMUNITION TO BE BROUGHT UP BUT RECEIVED NO RESPONSE.  FOR THE SECOND TIME, PRIVATE FIRST CLASS SWAN RAN BACK THROUGH THE HEAVY ENEMY FIRE; OBTAINED A BOX OF AMMUNITION; RAN FORWARD FOR THE THIRD TIME; LOADED THE MACHINE GUN AND BEGAN FIRING.  HIS ACCURATE FIRE DESTROYED THE ENEMY MACHINE GUN, WHICH ALLOWED HIS COMPANY TO PROCEED ON ITS VITAL MISSION AGAINST THE HIGHLY DEFENDED “GENKO” LINE.  PRIVATE FIRST CLASS SWAN’S OUTSTANDING BRAVERY, DARING, INITIATIVE, AND SINCERE DEVOTION TO DUTY REFLECT GREAT CREDIT UPON HIMSELF AND EXEMPLIFIES THE HIGHEST TRADITIONS OF THE ARMED FORCES OF THE UNITED STATES.

 

 

Following his hospitalization, Harry had returned to his unit before the surrender of Japan.  He was selected for the “Honor Guard Platoon” that accompanied General Douglas MacArthur when he first went into Japan, and that was quite a high honor considering all the top notch manpower the general had available to choose from.  Harry’s photograph and an announcement to that effect made page-1 news in his hometown paper, the Herald News, back in Passaic, NJ.  The Honor Guard was flown to Okinawa for special training, then on August 30, 1945 flew into Atsugi Airstrip in Japan.  General MacArthur arrived two hours later on his aircraft, the Bataan, and was escorted to the New Grand Hotel in Yokohama.  The platoon then guarded all the ranking allied officers.  On September 2nd, they escorted General MacArthur to the U.S.S. Missouri for the surrender ceremony. 

During the early days of the occupation of Japan, one morning when Harry was standing guard a Filipino man recognized him from an incident some months earlier when the 511th was in Manila.  Harry and Felipe renewed their acquaintance.  It had happened one evening when Harry was walking alone down one of the narrow Manila streets.  He came upon three American G.I.’s in the process of beating up one of the locals, a very much smaller man, and that didn’t look right to Harry.  Now you have to understand that Harry has always been a fighter.  When he was a kid, certainly as a paratrooper, and even later in life, Harry never ducked a fist fight.  He took on the three soldiers, they left, and Harry assisted the victim, who turned out to be Felipe.  Felipe was now one of General MacArthur’s kitchen staff, a cook that he had brought along to Japan.  From that point on, Harry was invited to come around to the kitchen anytime and receive the same meals served at the General’s table.  Harry took him up on the offer and he ate pretty well for a time, certainly much better than the “10 in 1” rations that the troops were eating at the time.  But, that situation only lasted until October.  Then comes another of Harry’s interesting stories, and here it is, told in his own words: 

The "Chocolate" Occupation of Japan, 1945 

When I reported back to my unit, Company  G, 511th Parachute Infantry Regiment, on October  3, 1945.  The Company Commander, Captain Starr, immediately assigned me to a new mission. The Captain told me to assemble a 12-man squad to carry a truckload of boxes of chocolate, he would provide the truck and driver.  There was a small village about 45 kilometers northwest of our Headquarters. The Japanese people living there, we were told, would not leave their homes. They feared they would be harmed by U.S. soldiers if they went outside. Of course this wasn't the case, we had no intention of harming anyone. We were supposed to spread the word that the war was over and that they should return to their jobs and farms, and send their children back to school. "There is peace now," was to be our message. Captain Starr said we were to explain the U.S. government would make food and medical supplies available as needed. Once we obtained their trust, we were to obtain a count of how many civilians were in the village.  Then we were to take the boxes of chocolate and give each person a Hershey bar. When we got under way, we all wondered what was going to happen. Upon our arrival, all was quiet; there was absolutely not a single person anywhere in sight. We started to knock on the shutters and doors, calling out our message of peace to the occupants. There was no response for about 15 minutes, then the doors and shutters on one side of the village opened and twelve men emerged, all dressed in black clothing. One man, the tallest, wore a stovepipe hat like Abe Lincoln's. He said, "My name is Toyacowa.  I am mayor of this village. How many hostages will be needed?" 

We were surprised; in fact, shocked. We calmed him down and told him, "Mayor, we don't want to take hostages. We are American soldiers and hostages are not needed for us to be friends again. Return to your jobs, your farms and your schools. That is what we want." The mayor was elated and he and all around him were raised in spirits. Fortunately for all of us, the mayor spoke almost perfect English. After the word spread throughout the village, the town square filled with Japanese civilians, young and old. I guess there must have been four or five hundred altogether. Then, out came the Hershey bars. We handed the chocolate to those assembled and then we told the mayor to distribute the rest throughout the village. They did so. We left the open boxes on the ground. You should have seen their faces in delight. I don't believe many had ever eaten chocolate before, but they were making up for lost time. 

After departing the village and giving our report to Captain Starr, the Army sent in more supplies to these poor, hungry individuals who could not help that their country had been at war. The Supreme Allied Commander, General MacArthur, assured a smooth transition to peace and democracy for the Japanese by his ordering of humanitarian assistance to civilians. One thing I learned from this episode is how news travels fast. That year, I was later to travel by rail through Japanese cities. At each stop, our train would be swarmed by Japanese children all chanting the one word of English they had learned: Chocolate! 

Two months after this incident, Pfc. Harry Swan returned to the United States, December 1945.  He was discharged at Fort Monmouth, New Jersey on January 9, 1946, and returned home to Passaic. He then entered a long career on the Passaic police force and retired as a Police Captain.  He and his wife Marilyn then moved to Austin, Texas to live in retirement their daughter.

Harry Swan provided the above, Purple Heart story and "Chocolate Occupation of Japan" story, to PATRIOT BULLETIN for publication in the October 1996 issue.  His son, Patrick provided his eulogy, next below.


 

“The Secret of Happiness”

Eulogy for Harry A. Swan

St. Clare’s Catholic Church, Clifton NJ Sept. 14, 2007

delivered by his son, MAJOR Patrick A. Swan

 

Welcome. I am Patrick Swan and behalf of the Swan Family, I thank you all for coming today to honor and celebrate the life of our father, Harry Anthony Swan.

 

This has been quite a gathering at the visitation and for this funeral service. I know Harry would have been justifiably proud at the turnout – as well as the magnificent police escort that brought my father past the police department and through the city he served for so many years.

 

You see, Harry agreed with that sage philosopher, New York Yankees’ great Yogi Berra, who once remarked that, “If you don’t go to people’s funerals, they won’t go to yours.”

 

There’s one thing you need to keep in mind here: Whether it was working part time as a limo driver, or pallbearer or an usher for Jimmy Minchin’s or Harold Kent’s or J.C. Fila’s or many others’ memorial homes – Harry Swan went to a lot of funerals. So, to see so many people assembled in his honor these two days, well, it would have brought a broad smile to his face. “Yogi was right!” he’d have said, with a mischievous grin.

 

As many of you know, Harry was the second of 14 children of the late Harry Swan and Agnes Vreeland Swan, of Clifton, N.J.  He was the twelfth direct descendant of the original Dutch settlers of this area in 1678.

 

In the late 1930s, Harry quit high school to work in the Civilian Conservation Corps in the Pacific Northwest.  Sending back home most of his earnings from his CCC forestry pay to aid his parents and siblings during the Great Depression, Harry early established his modus operandi in life for unselfishly helping others – with little gain to himself.

 

Harry worked many side jobs during his 33 years as a Passaic police officer. The funeral business was just one piece. He stood for hours providing security at Foodtown supermarket. He guarded the parking lot at Pope Pius High School against vandals and car thieves during Monday bingo night – for more than a dozen years!

 

And while Harry Swan worked hard all of his life, he never became financially wealthy. He gave too much of himself and his treasure to his family, friends and the less-well-off.

 

Now, many guys with similar salaries worked with my Dad. Some of them amassed amazing fortunes. Somehow, I don’t believe that was all because of sound investing. This is New Jersey, after all.

 

Today, though, we recognize that Harry departed all this messiness and has gone to his just rewards. His Rewards. And as his brother Leonard reminded me this week, “Bums and crooks aren’t allowed where he’s gone. Always remember that.”

 

This is part of why I believe Harry Swan died a happy man.

 

What do I mean by that?

 

Let me briefly explain with a quote from the ancient Athenian law-maker Solon: “Let no man be called happy before his death,” Solon said. “Until then, he is not happy, only lucky.”

 

This is because no one knows what misfortune may befall any of us.

 

For the things we own and people we cherish, all could be lost.

 

But, when we live a good life, when we unselfishly help others, we turn our luck into opportunity. And that opportunity provides an inexhaustible good fortune that keeps us blessed and happy throughout our days.

 

I’m here to give you a glimpse into the character of my Dad so you’ll appreciate why he lived a long and happy life and died, indeed, a happy man.

 

Harry’s story is a tale that will bring to you – not a mischievous grin – but rather, a joyous smile of pride, pride that you have been blessed to have been a part of the telling of this magnificent story memorializing his long and happy life.

 

Where should we start?

 

Why don’t we start…in the middle, because that is the part that composed the greatest portion of my father’s post-war life and to which most of you are familiar.

 

Harry Swan walked the beat as a patrolman for many, many years. If you broke the law, he either issued you a citation or he arrested you. Without fear or favor.

 

One day Harry was ticketing illegally parked cars in Passaic. One of those getting the pink slip was his own father’s car. The newspapers and those who “knew better” all snickered. What kind of cop issues a ticket to his own dad?

 

I’ll tell you what kind: an honest cop.

 

On the day of his mother’s funeral, he heard a man cry out – thugs had beaten the man, a shopkeeper. Harry gave chase to the suspects, whom he identified for uniformed officers who quickly apprehended them. Harry returned to help the victim. He wasn’t on shift. All his attention should have been focused on the loss of his mother. And much of it was. But he never forgot who he was and what his duty was.

 

Who was he? He was Harry Swan, an honorable cop.

 

That year, Nineteen Seventy-three, the Knights of Columbus recognized his excellence by naming Harry “Policeman of the Year.”

 

That award was merely a culmination of twenty years of dedicated police work to Passaic, up to that time.

 

In Nineteen Sixty, New Jersey Governor Meyner awarded Harry the New Jersey State Valor award for rescuing 27 families from a burning tenement building on Monroe Avenue in Passaic.

 

Also in Nineteen Sixty, the Veterans of Foreign Wars awarded him for rescuing more families during a separate fire on Pennington Avenue.

 

Earlier, in Nineteen Fifty-Five, the State Board of Commissioners presented Harry an honorable mention award for the capture of a habitual criminal.

 

During the great Passaic unrest of Nineteen Sixty-Eight, following the assassination of Doctor Martin Luther King Junior, my Dad suited up in riot gear to protect people and property.

One of thirty special police selected for the mission, his team faced down three hundred screaming, stampeding, pillaging rioters.

 

After they apprehended the rabble rouser leaders on a Friday night. Harry recalled, the next night – a Saturday night – was the most peaceful in Passaic in six months.

 

On the lighter side, during his long career, Harry delivered more than a dozen babies, often in the back of patrol cars. One such delivery was Craig “Iron head” Hayward, who grew up to be an all-American running back for the Passaic High School Indians and a professional football player for the New Orleans Saints. Harry long hotly denied the rumor that he played part in how that odd nickname originated. The story goes like this: During delivery in the back of the police cruiser,  Officer Swan accidentally bumped the newborn’s head on the door frame. When the newborn failed to cry out in pain, Harry was said to have exclaimed, “That boy’s got an iron head.” And the name stuck. Thus are legends made.

 

Harry once summed up his Police work by saying it had been a great experience for him.

 

“I wouldn’t go so far as to say that I have enjoyed every moment of it. But, it has given me a great opportunity to aid people in distress. I will always remain dedicated to that cause.”

 

And why? Because Harry Swan was an honest, honorable, humble cop.

 

He was also a cop of such discipline, he never once had to unholster his pistol and fire in anger during his thirty-three-year career.  But he did unleash his great compassion many, many times for what he called “the great opportunity to aid people in distress.”

 

He advanced far in the Passaic Police Department during his long career. He might have advanced faster or even further. But he didn’t have much time to study for the police exams.

 

In his off-duty hours, he was working those funeral jobs and those security guard jobs. How could he do this when he worked full-time during the day as a police officer?

 

The answer is, he didn’t. He volunteered for the police department’s so-called Dog Watch or Graveyard shift – midnight to 8 a.m. – so that he could be available during daylight hours for the funeral work or security guard duties that would add a few extra dollars for his family’s benefit. I sometimes wonder if he ever slept at all during the years I was home growing up.

 

Seeing that the public schools were failing in Passaic, he worked these various extra jobs to scrape up the money to send his children to Catholic schools, where we learned the solid values about right and wrong that have made us good, respectable citizens.

 

Harry’s eldest son Michael took his Catholic school education to the University of Texas Law School. Today, he is a judge in Chattanooga, Tennessee. My sister Lisa also took her Catholic school foundation to the University of Texas. Today she is the online entertainment editor for the New York Daily News and rants online about the New York Yankees as part of the Subway Squawkers blog. My sister Karen made Catholic School values her own as a homemaker. She’s instilled those values in her two children, Zachary and Sydney.

 

As a side note, I must mention that those grandchildren, Zachary and Sydney -- along with my own daughter’s Amy and Stephanie -- brought immeasurable joy and happiness to my father in his retirement years. He subscribed to that adage, “If I’d known grandkids would be this much fun, I’d have had them in the first place!”

 

For my part, I took my Catholic upbringing in to service to country. In case you hadn’t noticed, I’m with the Army.

 

Some of you may have also heard – my Dad was with the Army, too.

 

In a very real sense, it was my father’s service to country that brings us all here today to Saint Clare’s Catholic Church for this memorial.

 

In World War Two, he made it his business to jump out of perfectly good airplanes into hostile combat zones teeming with enemy forces.

 

Twenty-three times.

 

Three of those jumps BEHIND enemy lines.

 

It was on one of these missions that my Dad became a Roman Catholic. Cut off from supplies in enemy country in Leyte, his unit went nine days without proper food, hunkered down in a place they called “Rock Hill.” The men husked rice and dug up roots from the ground as they steadily starved.

 

Here are my father’s words recalling those hard times:

 

“It was miserable. Raining. No Shelter. No Rations. And, No Resupply at all. We were surrounded by the enemy, with no hope of getting out. You could not even imagine one day getting back home safely, or even celebrating the Christmas that was soon to come. We were paratroopers and we accepted it.”

 

The Army Air Corps could not drop rations to the troops because of the monsoon rainfall drenching their position. Located in mountainous terrain, the Air Corps had no visibility that would allow them to relieve the 511th paratroopers.

 

Then, one day, a Roman Catholic chaplain gathered the soldiers together for a prayer service. He beseeched God Almighty to lift the cloud cover so these brave soldiers suffering could be alleviated.

 

And you know what? After nine days of unrelenting downpour, the clouds lifted, just long enough for a convoy of planes to find the troopers’ position and drop provisions to sustain the men. As the last plane passed by, the clouds converged again and the rains began anew. Later that day, a rescue party arrived on foot to lead the replenished troops out of harm’s way.

 

Harry saw that as a sign. He said to himself, “that Catholic Chaplain is in good with the Lord. I think I’ll give his religion a good looking over when this war is over.”

 

So he did.

 

He soon converted to the Roman Catholic faith. This is why we are gathered here today at Saint Clare’s Catholic Church.  And it is why his children and grandchildren also call the Roman Catholic faith their own.

 

When he joined the Army, Harry stood six-foot-two, age twenty-two, weight one-hundred ninety-five pounds and “hard as nails. In Nineteen Forty-Three, he visited a recruiting sergeant who showed him a poster and literature on Army paratroopers, whom he described as daring, and their duty as very exciting. For at least once in the history of the U.S. Army, the recruiter didn’t lie. Harry recalled, “I immediately wanted to become a paratrooper.”

 

What the recruiter did not tell, Harry added, was how difficult it would be to get into the paratroops: the tough physical examination, the push-ups in the mud, the double-timing up and down Currahee Mountain in Georgia, three times in order to qualify. After injuring his ankle in training, Harry made two paratroop jumps in fifteen minutes so he could complete his training, earn his wings and keep up with his G Company buddies. All that just so he could surrender his safety and rush into battle with the enemy.

 

Harry was assigned to Company G of the newly created 511th Parachute Infantry Regiment of the 11th Airborne Division. His unit shipped out for the Pacific Theatre on May 8, 1944.  As they passed under the Golden Gate Bridge at San Francisco, he and his fellow band of brothers shouted, “Golden Gate by ’48!”

 

Think about that for a moment. Americans had been fighting World War II for more than two-and-one-half years at that point. These soldiers expected another four years of fighting before they’d achieve victory and get to come back home. What fortitude! What determination! What endurance!  Would that we, in our own times, could sustain such fortitude, and such determination, and such endurance in staying focused in getting the job done, when facing our nation’s mortal enemies today.

 

Harry’s division was in New Guinea for five months in 1944, engaging in ferocious fighting along the way. They then moved to three more months of combat on Leyte -- which included those starving times I related -- before the end of the year.

 

The 511th then made a combat parachute jump onto Luzon Island in the Philippines on February 3, 1945. After landing, they force marched thirty-two miles to the southern approaches of Manila, and locked in close combat with the Japanese near Nichols Field.  His unit earned a Presidential Unit Citation for that engagement. For his part in the battle, on February 5, 1945, Private First Class Harry Swan earned the Silver Star medal – our nation’s third highest award for gallantry in action, just behind the Medal of Honor and the Distinguished Service Cross.

 

What did he do that day more than 62 years ago? Well, when his company was pinned down by heavy enemy machine gun fire, his company commander, Captain PATRICK Wheeler – I knew I’d heard that first name somewhere before – ordered a machine gun into a forward position to attempt to silence the enemy fire.

 

In moving forward, both the gunner and assistant gunner were disabled. That’s Armyspeak for getting shot. The Army’s narrative details how Private First Class Harry Swan voluntarily and with complete disregard for his own safety ran forward while constantly exposed to heavy enemy fire. He picked up the heavy iron tripod for the machine gun and moved it to a favorable firing position. Harry then ran back -- still under heavy fire -- and retrieved the machine gun and placed it on the tripod. At this time, he noticed that the ammunition belt was covered with mud. He called for ammunition to be brought up but received no response. For the SECOND time, Private First Class Swan ran back through heavy enemy fire. He obtained a box of ammunition and ran forward…FOR A THIRD TIME, finally reaching the position to load the machine gun and begin firing. His accurate fire destroyed the enemy machine gun nest. That’s also Armyspeak. It means, he knocked out the bad guys. This allowed his company to proceed on its vital mission against the heavily defended GENKO Line.

 

The Silver Star citation recognizes Harry for “outstanding bravery, daring initiative and sincere devotion to duty, exemplifying the highest tradition of the United States Army.”

 

Why did he do this? Harry knew in his heart what the Greek Historian Thucydides explained twenty-four centuries ago:

 

“The secret of happiness is freedom. And the secret of freedom is bravery. The bravest are surely those who have the clearest vision of what is before them -- glory and danger alike -- and yet notwithstanding, go out to meet it.”

 

As you see, my Dad set the example of what to do when your country is in danger. His bravery in the face of danger made him free. That freedom kept him happy.

 

I noted earlier that I myself have been around the U.S. Army for a few years. I’ve even advanced to a slightly higher rank than my Dad did during his Army time.

 

When the call came nearly four years ago for me to step up, leave family, friends and fortune behind, and head for the combat zone in Iraq, I never doubted my course.

 

Bless their hearts, my mom and one my daughters, loving me dearly, but desperately afraid they’d lose me, begged me not to go. “You’ve got enough time in for a pension. You can quit the Army now. You don’t have to go!,” they implored me.

 

My father was too ill even then to have a say either way.

 

But I knew what actions Harry Swan took for himself when our nation needed him. All his life, he never ran from a fight and he never shirked his duty. When war came, my Dad was willing to defend his country with his life.

 

So was I.

 

And yet, I would be kidding myself if I thought for even a second that anything I did for our country in 20-straight-months of service in Baghdad came even minutely close to the valor and heroism my Dad displayed that one February day in 1945.

 

Harry Swan was wounded in action during the morning of the next day. He was then wounded again that afternoon, more seriously.  A mortar shattered his ear drums and left shrapnel lodged in his foot that he carried with him the rest of his life -- through all those days walking the police beat and standing security in his many extra jobs -- all so he could provide for his family and help his children to an even better, more prosperous life than he enjoyed.  And he succeeded. Can you see more clearly now why I say he died a happy man?

 

Following his hospitalization, Harry returned to his unit before the surrender of Japan.  He was selected for the “Honor Guard Platoon” that accompanied General-of-the-Army Douglas MacArthur when he first went into Japan.  This was quite a high honor considering all the top notch manpower the general had available to choose from.  Harry’s photograph and an announcement to that effect made page-one news in his hometown paper, the Herald News, back in Passaic.

 

The Honor Guard was flown to Okinawa for special training. Then, on August 30, 1945, they flew into Atsugi Airstrip in Japan.  General MacArthur arrived two hours later on his aircraft, the Bataan, and was escorted to the New Grand Hotel in Yokohama.  The platoon then guarded all the ranking allied officers.  On September 2nd, they escorted General MacArthur to the U.S.S. Missouri for the Japanese surrender ceremony. A photo of that signing hung in Harry’s den during his Texas retirement years.

 

After three months in Japan, Harry started the final leg of his military odyssey home via Yokohama. Instead of “Golden Gate by ’48,” he reached San Francisco “back alive in ‘45” on Christmas Eve. What a testament this was to American GIs’ guts, grit and determination to get the job done and get home as soon as possible.

 

Discharged at Fort Monmouth, New Jersey on January 9, 1946, he returned home to Passaic. In addition to the Silver Star, the final tally of Harry’s combat awards included the Bronze Star medal with valor, the Purple Heart medal – twice- and the Combat Infantryman Badge. He remained a proud member of Chapter 1919 in Austin, Texas of the Military Order of the Purple Heart.

 

Before he left, however, another amazing thing happened to Harry. What the cynics would call dumb luck, I call the good fortune that accrues to the just.

 

During the early days of the occupation of Japan, one morning when Harry was standing guard, a Filipino man recognized him from an incident some months earlier when the 511th was in Manila. Harry and Felipe renewed their acquaintance.  It had happened one evening when Harry was walking alone down one of the narrow Manila streets.

 

He came upon three American G.I.’s beating up one of the locals, a very much smaller man. That didn’t look right to Harry. Now you have to understand that Harry has always been a fighter.  When he was a kid, certainly as a paratrooper, and even later in life, Harry never ducked a fist fight.  He took on the three soldiers, saying, “You want to fight someone? Fight ME!” Instead, they fled, and Harry assisted the victim -- who turned out to be Felipe.

 

And Felipe was now one of General MacArthur’s kitchen staff, a cook whom he had brought along to Japan. From that point on, Harry was invited to come around to the kitchen anytime and receive the same meals served at the General’s table.  Harry took him up on the offer and he ate pretty well for a time, certainly much better than the “10 in 1” rations that the troops were eating at the time. I believe it was Aesop who said, “A kindness is never wasted.”

 

My Dad rarely wasted -- or failed to offer -- a kindness in his long life. During a hospital stay four years ago, he heard a patient cry out, “Help me! Help me!” Without hesitation, Harry Swan – who’d charged into enemy machine gun fire to save his Army buddies and who’d dashed into burning buildings to save terrified citizens – moved to leave his bed to provide assistance.

 

It wasn’t necessary. Nurses and orderlies quickly arrived to aid the patient.

 

It also wasn’t possible. Harry was himself confined to a hospital bed, attached to a cat’s cradle of tangled tubes and wires, and could no longer walk. But none of that really mattered. To anyone who knew “Officer Swan,” his willingness to help was no surprise. “That’s just Harry,” they said.

 

And they were right!

 

Besides his gentle side, we’ve already noted Harry’s extraordinary toughness. He knew well that life is tough, so he made himself tough in return. In the last, toughest fight of his life, he battled old age, from which no one comes out the victor. But Harry gave old age a helluva battle, just the same.

 

How tough was he? After initially being admitted to hospice, after a while, in exasperation, they dropped him as a patient. Reason? He wouldn’t die!

 

That, my friends, was more than two years ago. A total of three hospice centers dropped Harry from their roles and the fourth was in the process of doing so when Harry finally accommodated them last Monday.

 

Despite the physical pain he endured as his body declined steadily in his later years, my father “toughed it out” without complaint.

 

That he had no complaints is a tribute, in no small part, to the love and devotion of his wife – and my mother – Marilyn Swan. She was the anchor who allowed him to weather harsh seas. She maintained the hearth so that he had a warm, safe home to return to after battling the world’s dragons.  And she was the guardian who remained an immovable, loyal sentry at his side throughout his long illness and decline.

 

As his last hours approached last Sunday night, my mom held his hand in consolation to reassure him it was ok to let go.

 

Then a funny thing happened. My Dad gripped her hand back, strong and firm, as if to tell her, with the last full measure of strength he had left, that HE wasn’t going anywhere. Rather, he would stay, as he had always done, to protect and provide for his family. Now that’s one tough man.

 

A few hours later, on Monday morning, a nurse and a priest entered his room. By that time, my Dad had faded so much they could detect neither a pulse nor any blood pressure. His breathing was faint. To send him on his way cleansed to see God the Father, the priest administered the last rites of his Roman Catholic Church. No one anticipated any response. But then suddenly, unexpectedly, my father opened his eyes and blinked. It was a signal.

 

He had heard.

 

He had understood.

 

And he was signaling us that he had accepted.

 

It was the final way he could help those he loved in their grief at his passing.

 

It was the final way to show that he understood what his duty called for in that moment.

 

And, it was the final way to show to all, that he was departing us… a contented and HAPPY man.

 

God, please bless the soul of Harry Anthony Swan and continue to bless his beloved United States of America.

 

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