Military service: Family affair
In the 1983 movie “Uncommon Valor,” retired Col. Cal Rhodes tells the financier of an incursion into Laos and Vietnam to free Americans, including sons of Rhodes’ and the financier’s, held at a prisoner of war camp years after the war was over. Rhodes said he could not talk his son out of serving because of his family’s military history.
“It’s the only thing we are good at,” Rhodes, played by Gene Hackman, says as he traces his ancestors back to the Civil War. “It’s the only thing we want to do.”
Locally, a multi-generation family of those serving in the military also serves for the love of their country. The family recently learned the youngest to serve, Jeremy Swanback, earned the Bronze Star medal for his actions in Iraq.
Swanbeck, whose brother served in Desert Storm, whose father served in the Vietnam War, whose grandfather served in World War II and whose great grandfather served in World War I, received the award in April.
Staff Sgt. Jeremy Swanbeck, of Bravo Company, 1st Battalion, 124th Infantry Unit, earned the Bronze Star for “exceptionally meritorious service while serving as convoy escort team leader in support of operations Iraqi Freedom. His exceptional leadership, professionalism and dedication to duty are in keeping with the finest standard of service which greatly enhances the mission capability of his unit.”
Being the first in his family to receive such an honor, he said earning the Bronze Star is a major achievement for him and the highest award he holds at present.
“I have other medals and honors, but being awarded the Bronze Star is a big deal,” Jeremy Swanbeck said. “When I found out I was going to get, I thought even being nominated for it was huge because it is a long ordeal to get a Bronze Star. They just don’t put you in for it, they have to write what happened and you must go above and beyond what rank structure I could hold — so it is a really big deal.”
For Larry Swanbeck, who served five years in the military during the Vietnam War, he said he is “very proud, very proud” of his son earning the Bronze Star.
“He had some 20 guys under his command and he did some things and they wrote the letters for it and he received it,” Larry Swanbeck said, noting his son does not talk about specifics regarding the event.
He described his son as a natural born leader, “a person willing to give commands and to take commands and knows how to get things done.” At present, his son is training approximately 40 guys on weapons and tactics to prepare them for a tour of duty.
“He just loves his job,” Larry Swanbeck said. “I talked to him after his
first hitch about whether he was going to stay in or not and he said, ‘I love what I do and I am good at what I do so why I would ever think about leaving.’ ”
Larry Swanbeck said with Jeremy growing up the youngest of three sons he had to learn to be tough and scrappy to deal with his two older brothers often picking on him. He learned determination and toughness from them.
Larry Swanbeck, the son of Juanita and Lew Swanbeck, also reflected on growing up in Wapakoneta where he felt there was always more family time and leisure time as well as the chance to “have fun with friends because it was such a close-knit community.”
“I still keep in touch with a lot of my schoolmates from Wapakoneta,” Larry Swanbeck said. “It was just a great town to grow up in.”
The 1966 graduate of Wapakoneta High School said he misses his schoolmates and friends and encourages them to get into contact with him in Sanford, Fla.
Reflecting on his time serving in the Vietnam War, Larry Swanbeck said one thing is true — “We went in as kids and we came back as men.”
“I went into the service because I loved my country,” Larry Swanbeck said with no regrets.
He said being part of at least a four generation military family means much to him, as much as it does for his sons.
“We are just a big military family, we are very patriotic, we love serving our country and it is something I am very, very proud of,” Larry Swanbeck said.
“It means a great deal to me to be a part of a military family because I am the youngest son of three so I am following in everyone’s footsteps,” said Jeremy Swanbeck, who served tours of duty in Afghanistan and Iraq. “I just followed suit with the rest of them.”
He said he joined because his father, Larry Swanbeck, served and because he felt the “duty and honor” to serve. Today, Jeremy Swanbeck, 31, has served for 13 years after joining the service immediately after high school.
When Larry Swanbeck joined the service in 1966, his father, Lew, now 87, let his son make the decision and Larry Swanbeck said he let that carryover to his sons. All three of his sons talked to him about joining — one could not because of injuries sustained from bullriding — “but I told them this is a decision you have to make because this is going to affect your life especially in times when you have to serve during a combat situation.”
“They knew how important it was to me and to their grandfather,” said Larry Swanbeck, who now lives in Sanford, Fla., and works for Bass Pro Shops. “These were decisions that they made on their own.”
Jeremy Swanbeck said his father, who served in the U.S. Air Force in Vietnam from 1967 to 1972, does not talk about his time serving his country, but he now knows the “strain and stress that he went through” even when he and other Vietnam War veterans came home and he realizes how much more the people support the troops even when they return from a stint today.
His oldest brother, Larry Swanbeck Jr., also influenced his decision in joining, Jeremy Swanbeck said. His brother served in the U.S. Marine Corps and the U.S. Army.
Jeremy Swanbeck is the father of three children, Caitlyn, 10, Cody, 6 and Logan, 1. His oldest son realizes now what his father does for a living and has expressed interest in serving.
“I wanted to do this, much like my dad did in hopes that my kids wouldn’t have to do it,” Jeremy Swanbeck said. “I have two sons of my own and I tell the oldest that I hope I served my country well enough that he and his brother won’t have to it.
“It hurt my dad to see what we went through and it hurt my grandpa to see what my dad went through,” he said. “I just hope my kids won’t have to go through it — I tell them I served two deployments and I tell them that I hope that should be good enough for them.”