Mr. Donald Swihart
U.S. Marines, Korea
Don received his draft notice in December 1951 and decided it was time to quickly enlist into the Marines and was soon sent to the infantry division.
The choice of Marines was due to the fact that his brother lost his life in WWII in the Navy and Don’s parents did not want him to join the Navy for that reason. So the next three years he belonged to the Marines, which did not make his parents any less worried. Boot camp was spent in tents and foxholes in the rain every day and was referred to as the “Old Corps.”
Don says that this training is what saved many lives in the years ahead. At the end of training and as his company was leaving, a person contracted spinal meningitis and the entire camp was put under quarantine. Don was soon on his way to Korea where he found the weather to be cold and wet with days of rain much like the days in boot camp. There were lots of battles to fight and foxholes to dig and barbed wire to string. During one of those battles, mortar was falling all around him and he fell on top of the barbed wire fence causing damage that he still carries scars from.
The corpsmen took good care of the troops, but damage and mental strain stay with a person for a long time. He says that the training he received prior to Korea helped sustain him in Korea, especially when “Bed Check Charlie” was dropping bombs in the dark of night since the Chinese attacked after dark. Don states that those three years felt like 20 years, and still do in his memory.
When finally able to return to the States for rest, Don was in the old Katz store on the Independence Square when he met a cute girl using the phone booth. They liked each other and soon were writing letters, but Don would not commit himself to her because his brother had been engaged when he was killed overseas and Don didn’t want this to happen to another girl. He was sent back to Korea and back into the fighting with three divisions at different times. He remembers that this time the battles were like playing King of the Hill with the Chinese trying to take the land from them and our troops always fighting back to keep it. The only supplies they had were dropped from helicopter and mail was nonexistent. When Don was finally able to leave Korea he was dropped off at Treasure Island with no welcoming home since no civilians were allowed on the island. This was not the way he wanted to enter back into the United States.
After a short time his company was sent to North Carolina to work on smoke generators which was a nice job to settle into. When his three years came to an end, Don came back to Independence to get engaged to that cute girl and married six months later. He worked for General Motors in Fairfax, retiring after 34 years. His wife, Pauline, was a nurse for Independence Regional Health Center so Don took a job there with the security department for the next 17 years. He has since retired from Centerpoint and plans to stay retired. Don and Pauline continue living in the same house in Independence where they raised their three children. They have three grandchildren and one great-grandson. Don remains active with the VFW and the Knights of Columbus.
Don’s military history may be viewed in Veterans Hall in the Independence Parks and Recreation Truman Memorial Building, 416 W. Maple.
– This is part of a weekly feature on local veterans submitted by Helen Matson, volunteer program director for the city of Independence