My oldest brother was 14 years old when I was born. My first memory of him was when he came home on leave from the Army, so good looking in his uniform. He was a paratrooper with the 101st Airborne Division. You better believe he was my hero. I loved hanging on his strong arms. He would swing my sister and me around by the arms until we were all dizzy.
He was a John Wayne type of figure: quiet, strong, quick with a laugh, always doing what was right because it was the right thing to do. I remember him giving his 1950 Ford to my parents when he was going overseas and didn’t need it. He also gave us our first television, a black-and-white console with a rotary dial for which I got yelled at by my parents for spinning too fast.
My sister and I took a Greyhound Bus to Ft. Campbell, Kentucky to stay with my brother for a week with his wife and two kids—soon to be three. They lived in a trailer that he called their “Little tin house.” We watched him jump out of an airplane, the blue sky filled with white mushrooms.
We knew when he was hurt from a jump gone bad. We knew the military wanted to medically discharge him, but he resisted and was allowed to stay. He was tough and determined. We knew when he was promoted to Warrant Officer. (He made light of it.) We knew when he went to Germany, and Hawaii, and Vietnam. He assured us that he was far removed from the fighting, that he was high in the sky doing photo-reconnaissance work. I wasn’t even aware that he went a second time. We didn’t call it “deployment” then. He was “sent.”
My brother was an avid letter writer and we loved getting letters from him. They were keepsakes, his penmanship revealing so much of his personality.
His legal name was John, but he was called Jack, like my dad. Therefore, when our son was born, to continue the family tradition, we named him John, to be called Jack, like Jack Kennedy, who was John.
After 20 years in the Army, my brother retired and his wife and he bought an acreage in Canon City, Colorado, next to the Royal Gorge. We loved going there. We rode horses and my kids shot BB guns and we walked across the Royal Gorge bridge. My daughter broke her arm falling off a horse. Uncle Jack had a mule that heehawed.
Life was normal for the Swarm family. My brother was a great wood worker, and we talked about insulation and fertilizer and front-wheel drive versus rear wheel. What I’m trying to say is, my brother was the most normal person I knew. He loved his family, he loved life, he was a great guy.
When I heard he was dying of cancer (Agent Orange) I wanted to see him. But COVID got in the way and we couldn’t see each other. Finally, with vaccinations, I was allowed. He was weak and frail, but still the same Jack. He could no longer hold a pen to write letters, so I offered to do it for him. He would dictate, I would write for him on my laptop.
I told Jack I wanted to write his story. He was surprised but opened up and told me the most blood thirsty, wanton tale of hand-to-hand combat, enemy atrocities, and his involvement in Cambodia and the Ho Chi Minh Trail. He also told me that Jesus Christ had entered his bedroom, wrapped His arms around him, and forgave him. Jesus was waiting for him in heaven and he looked forward to seeing Him.
Jack then proceeded to dictate the most wonderful, beautiful letters to me for our family. His hands could no longer hold a pen but they could emphasize words.
I was and still am shocked beyond belief. My whole worldview changed. I had no idea about his involvement in the horrific fighting in Vietnam. He kept it all to himself, inside him, as if nothing had ever happened.
John Swarm, to be called Jack, died on the 4th of July.
He was my brother, he was a hero, he was a veteran.