Of Pearl Harbor, an Indian Motorcycle, and an American Hero

Dec 07, 2017 View Comments by

December 7 is a date that is important to this writer, as it should be for all Americans. The “date which will live in infamy,” as FDR called it in his presidential address, sparked the beginning of the nation’s direct involvement in WWII. The bombing of Pearl Harbor galvanized American resolve like few events in our history.

The significance of the date goes further for me. My father was inspired to join the Navy after the Pearl Harbor attack. He served as a wartime weather forecaster on several South Pacific islands including Vella Lavella, the same island that served as a base for famed combat pilot Pappy Boyington and his Black Sheep Squadron. Seven decades after his WWII service, my father died on December 7.

My son-in-law, Captain Lander, is now an Air Force pilot stationed at Hickam Field in Hawaii. Hickam is the Air Force Base attached to Pearl Harbor. Recently, as the base prepared for this year’s Pearl Harbor Day of Remembrance, a story of heroism crossed Lander’s desk that he knew would interest me. It did indeed, and I think it will interest you as well.

Former U.S. Air Force Staff Sgt. Durward Swanson, center, is welcomed by local scout troops to the Dec. 7 remembrance ceremony at Hickam Field at Joint Base Pearl Harbor-Hickam, Hawaii, Dec. 7, 2013. The 15th Wing sponsored the ceremony. The morning of Dec. 7, 1941, Japanese bombers staged a surprise attack on U.S. military forces in Hawaii. The day after the attack, before a joint session of Congress, President Franklin D. Roosevelt asked for a declaration of war against Japan and the U.S. officially entered World War II. (DoD photo by Mass Communication Specialist 1st Class Cynthia Clark, U.S. Navy/Released)

Here is the story of Pearl Harbor survivor, Air Force Staff Sergeant Durward Swanson and his actions on and after the “date which will live in infamy.” It may be a little light on motorcycle content, but it is full of honor and heroism. The account is quoted from an Air Force pamphlet prepared for the Day of Remembrance at which Swanson, now 96, will be an honored attendee.

“Durward was originally a mechanic assigned to Hickam Field but was given a promotion and new job riding an Indian motorcycle.  He became a Hickam Field guard in charge of guarding the gate, perimeters, guard house cell block, and posting the flag among other duties.

“On the morning of 7, December 1941, as Durward was relieved from his shift at the Hickam Field main gate, he had a late breakfast and went to bed.  The enemy aircraft bombing and strafing the base suddenly awakened him.  Immediately, he got dressed, grabbed his gun and helmet and raced out on his motorcycle to report to the main gate.

“Upon returning to the guardhouse, he and another guard witnessed a former guard and friend of theirs strafed by enemy bullets near the ball field.  They ran to his aid to help.  There was a medic across the street and Durward ran for help but when they got back to James, he had passed.

“Durward would go on to serve again as a mechanic and crew chief on a B-17 and flew in the Battle of Midway with a group of planes based out of Hickam field.  He was flying on a patrol during the Battle of Midway when his aircraft was hit and crash-landed in the water. Seven of the 10-man crew were killed. Durward received severe injuries and spent nine months in the hospital before receiving the Distinguished Flying Cross, a Purple Heart, and an honorable discharge (Swanson also received the Bronze Star for heroism).

“He has served as president of the Pearl Harbor Survivor’s Association as well as grand marshal at numerous parades honoring December 7 and WWII survivors.”

December 7th is a good day to pay particular respect to those of the “greatest generation” who served so valiantly during WWII.

Text: Tim Kessel, Photography: defenseimagery.mil

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