JOINT BASE PEARL HARBOR-HICKAM, Hawaii (AFNS - 12/7/2011) -- A
U.S. Army Air Corps veteran, who survived the Dec. 7, 1941, attacks
on then Hickam Field and Pearl Harbor, returned to the Hawaiian
island of Oahu to see the place he was forced to become a man so
early in his life.
Durward Swanson visit the resting place of George Smith at the National Memorial Cemetery of the Pacific Nov. 22, 2011, during his visit to Hawaii. Swanson visited the base where 70 years ago he survived the sudden attack by the Japanese Dec. 7, 1941, on Pearl Harbor and Hickam Field. Swanson's friend ,Smith ,was killed during the attacks on Hickam Field. U.S. Air Force photo
by Staff Sgt. Mike Meares
Nearly 70 years after the infamous day, Durward Swanson, a
90-year-old native of Georgia, returned to the island as a guest to
be the grand marshal in the Waikiki Holiday Parade. Before the
parade, he visited Joint Base Hickam-Pearl Harbor to remember the
events that brought the U.S. to the forefront of World War II; to
remember those men and women at Hickam Field who gave their lives to
their country; and to pay tribute to the friends and family he lost.
"I just missed my death by about 10 minutes," he said telling
his story to the security forces Airmen who currently work in the
same room where he slept so many years ago. "It brought back some
memories, it did. It kind of brought back what I had been through."
He described how he was on duty the night of Dec. 6 as a
military policeman on a motorcycle patrol and just finished his
breakfast in the dining facility. He retired to his quarters, which
was on the second floor of the fire station, his section of the
building serving as the guard house for the military police.
"My bed was right along here and my foot locker here," he said
pointing to a section of the room now used as an office for security
forces personnel. "(Harry) Albright runs in and wakes me up
hollering about the Japanese attacking us. I got up and looked out
of this window right here. I saw a plane banking and the rising sun
on the wing, and at that moment, I knew immediately, we were at
"I was scared," he said.
When the bombing started,
he still had his pants on, threw on his shirt, strapped on
his .45 caliber pistol and ran out the door. As planned in
the event of an attack, he rallied with the other military
policemen at the front gate. Realizing his best friend, Sgt.
Albert "Stud" Lloyd, was missing from the group, he asked
"Where is Stud?"
"'The last we saw him, he was in the
middle of the ball diamond with a (Browning Automatic Rifle)
shooting and cussing at the Japanese,'" he recalls being
told by another patrolman. "I thought, 'Boy he is going to
get himself killed.'"
He jumped back on his bike and
raced to get Lloyd. On the way, he encountered an attacking
aircraft strafing Hangar Avenue, the same street he was
racing down. He looked for the first place to hide, a
decision he later thought twice about.
"I thought it
was a good thing at the time, but later on I realized how
foolish I was to do it," he said. "I laid my motorcycle over
and slid underneath one of the cars, and he went on by. But,
what if he had seen me and started shooting at the car and
hit the gas tank? I wouldn't have been here today."
Swanson found Lloyd at the baseball field shooting and
cussing at planes overhead. As Swanson watched the scene
unfolding in front of him, another of his friends, James
Strickland, was running across the baseball diamond to find
cover. Lloyd fired at an oncoming attacker, but Strickland
was strafed by the passing Japanese attacker, cutting him in
half -- a memory Swanson said he will not soon forget.
"I am honored to be working in a place with so much
history," said Tech. Sgt. Jeremy Nichols, the NCO in charge
of police services, whose office is located in the same
place Swanson once slept. "It was more sobering to see him
go across the street and point out the place where his
friend was killed."
Swanson said seeing the historic
buildings still riddled with pockmarks reminded him of the
physical and mental scars he has carried most of his life.
He said the events were best described as chaos. Of the
casualties on the island, 189 Airmen were killed on Hickam
"I lost some good friends here," he said. "I
have a cousin and a good buddy still entombed in the USS
As his story continues, Swanson said
pillars of smoke from the many fires all over Hickam Field
and Pearl Harbor bellowed high into the sky. During the
security patrols after the attacks, he and Lloyd saw the
flag hadn't been taken off the flag pole and was still
waving in the breeze. The 3,200-man dormitory engulfed in
flames, only yards from the flag pole, lit up the night sky.
"We were just out doing our checks," he said with a
definitive Southern accent. "We had security guards posted
around the entire field. Then it come night time, and I said
to Lloyd, 'Stud, the flag is still flying. We've got to take
"We took the flag down and folded it the
best we could as shattered at it was," Swanson said. He said
he was angry while trying to fold the flag at the Japanese
and "wanted a piece of them."
In the days and weeks
afterward, Swanson re-entered his first career field as a
B-17E Flying Fortress crew chief. During the battle of
Midway, June 5, 1942, his plane was shot down with only
three members from the crew of 10 surviving, though he
suffered severe injuries to his left leg, arm and face.
"We had zeros all over us," he said. "Spot (in the back
of the plane) called me and says, 'I'm hit! I'm hit!,' and
that's the last thing I heard him say. I could look back
through the fuselage and I see the tail was just about half
gone. I knew they had got him. Blood was dripping all over
me from the top turret. I hollered, 'Captain, the zeros are
all over us!'"
Capt. Joseph Tuell was not able to
fully control the B-17 . Lt. R. Macey, a bombardier, dropped
their remaining ordnance on a Japanese war ship as they
passed over before plunging into the Pacific Ocean.
Swanson's leg was in bad shape. Tuell and Macey pulled
Swanson out of the sinking wreckage as the air and sea
battle took place around them.
"(They) pulled me out
and my leg was shattered," Swanson said. "I don't know what
hit me, if bullets hit it or shrapnel or what."
battle raging in the sky above him was the last thing on his
mind once in the water. There was not a safe place anywhere
in the area. Shot out of the sky, severely injured and
bleeding, Swanson said he was then worried about sharks.
"Since I was a kid growing up, I've always heard that
blood attracts sharks," he said. "I could just feel a shark
coming up and taking that leg off, but with the flak and all
falling into the water around Midway, there were no sharks
A small patrol torpedo boat picked the
three men up after less than ten minutes in the water. Once
in the boat, they immediately worked on his leg, putting a
tourniquet to help stop the bleeding, which helped save the
badly damaged limb.
"My childhood clean up to that
day flashed before me while in that water," he said.
"There's a lot to look back over and thank the Lord for. I'm
glad I turned my life over to him."
about his service in the military and his desire to stay in
for 30 years. "And I would have stayed in except the
Japanese decided to retire me early," he quipped.
Swanson said being back at JB Pearl Harbor-Hickam has been a
dream come true. Visiting his barracks, seeing where the
dining facility once had a bomb rip through it and visiting
the torn and tattered flag he and his best friend pulled
down from the pole.
"I can't believe I was standing
in the same spot I was more than 70 years ago," he said. "I
was just doing what I should have done; what anybody would
have done. If you'd been here, during that time of the
attacks, you'd done the same thing.
labeled me a hero because of the attacks and the Midway
battle, but I don't consider myself a hero," Swanson said.
"I consider myself a protector of America like every
Soldier, Sailor, Airmen, Marine and Coast Guardsman that's
Before leaving JB Pearl
Harbor-Hickam, Gen. Gary North, the Pacific Air Forces
commander, took Swanson to visit the flag encased in the
Pacific Air Forces headquarters building. After a long
conversation with the general retelling his story, it was
finally time for him to leave again.
As Swanson sat
in front of the glass case containing that torn and tattered
American flag he helped take down after the attacks, he
closed his eyes for a moment.
"I can see me and Lloyd
taking this flag off that pole on Dec. 7th at around 9
p.m.," he said softly to the small group of people standing
nearby. "We folded it the best we could."
was being wheeled away in his chair, he rendered a sharp
salute, reminiscent of his days in the service.
By USAF Staff Sgt. Mike Meares
15th Wing Public Affairs
Air Force News Service
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