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Honoring All Who Served

Posted by John Swem on Nov 10, 2021 4:16:42 PM

buchanan-1I learned from a very young age to respect military veterans and honor their sacrifice for the United States. I grew up in Buchanan, Michigan, a small town of 5,000 that has a reputation for its Memorial Day and Veterans Day activities.

My dad was a World War II veteran, a paratrooper who fought in the Battle of the Bulge and the liberation of Germany. When I asked why he volunteered for the dangers of paratroop service, I expected something like the thrill of jumping out of airplanes or being able to wear those cool combat boots. His answer was much more mundane. They were paid an extra $5 a month (a lot then) and knew his widowed mom could use the extra money.

Buchanan Veteran-1Dad continued his military service after the war by joining the Michigan National Guard. He was the commander of the local company of tankers. As a small boy, I didn’t have to content myself with toy soldiers but got to go with Dad to the armory and climb all over the tanks.

Like many of his generation, Dad never talked about his military service. We only watched one war movie together and as we walked out, his comment was that they got it all wrong. Only in his retirement did he write his stories from World War II. I devoured that book and finally had some insight into the many sacrifices he and his fellow troopers made for our country’s freedom.

Dad wasn’t the only veteran in the family. His grandfather was a private in the Union Army and fought at Shiloh, one of the Civil War's bloodiest battles. Dad’s three oldest brothers were World War I veterans, and two of them enlisted again for World War II. The one that did not re-enlist had a disability caused by poison gas in the prior war.

jtyeK-1622489338-9092-list_items-2_cityofbuchanan_paradeBuchanan, my hometown, had a parade every Memorial Day that started at the American Legion building and ended at the Veteran’s Circle at Oak Ridge Cemetery with speeches and the playing of "Taps." The high school band led the parade and the marchers (besides veterans) included Boy Scouts, Girl Scouts, Little League teams, and other civic groups. If you made the two-mile trek back to the American Legion after the ceremonies, you got a free cup of ice cream. I have very fond memories of how good that ice cream tasted in my sweaty band uniform after I had toted the bass drum during the march. The parade was held for 149 years before it was canceled in 2020 due to the COVID pandemic. Even then the town hung banners of over 100 veterans from lamp posts to maintain its tradition of honoring veterans.

With all those memories about my family and Memorial Day, what more can I say about Veterans Day? I remember the school bell ringing at 11:11 on 11/11 and all the students standing up for a minute of silence that ended with the playing of "Taps." I remember some of the older people like my grandparents wearing paper red poppies. Buchanan's American Legion sponsors annual programs with a notable speaker who makes a presentation at the Post and at the local high school in a student assembly.

My own military service came during the Vietnam War. Partly to 2012-1109-John-Beverly-Swemplease my father, I joined ROTC (and it didn’t hurt that I got $50 a month). I served in the Signal Corps for three years but did not see any combat duty. I had studied Chinese in college and spent two of those years in Taiwan. The war was very unpopular then, so I can’t say I was too sorry about not going to Vietnam. I had two high school classmates who did fight there, and both had pretty miserable experiences. They recalled returning to the U.S. only to be greeted by people at the airport who spit on them and called them baby killers. One of my classmates died in his early 30s from Agent Orange.

On Veterans Day in 2021, America has some serious choices ahead. We can drift along in pursuit of pleasure and comfort, or we can fight for the freedom for which many veterans died. Ultimately though, our freedom is in the Lord. Jesus said He is the Way and the Truth and the Life (John 14:6). May we resolve not to follow the prince of the power of the air (Eph. 2:2) and instead follow the way of the cross, wherever that may lead.

20201111_ John Swem Sam Fisher 21John Swem and his family have a long relationship with Caldwell. Daughter Laura Swem Liebmann '02 was a member of the first graduating class and married fellow Caldwell alum David Liebmann '03. John's wife (Beverly), son (Alex), and daughter (Liz Swem Fisher) have each taught or worked at Caldwell for many years. Daughter Julianna (Annie) Swem Ruelas and three Fisher grandchildren (Kat, David '18, and Sam '21) have also attended Caldwell. John greatly appreciates the school's annual recognition of veterans.


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Topics: Family Memories, History, Civics, Community, Military Service