By Starrla Cray
WRIGHT, CARVER COUNTIES, MN When George Sr. and Susan Swartzer of Montrose were raising their 15 children, they probably didn’t imagine that all 10 of their boys would enlist in the armed forces.
“We just thought it was the right thing to do,” said Joe Swartzer of Watertown, who joined the Navy in February of 1951.
“Eight out of 10 of us were in the Navy,” he said. “Some of us had it hard; some had it easy.”
Joe was assigned to the communications department, but bleeding ulcers in September 1952 confined him to six months in a naval hospital in Philadelphia, and a medical discharge in June of 1953.
“They said it was from nerves, but 30 years later, I found out it was a virus,” he said.
Joe’s older brother, John of Delano (who is now deceased), was the first to join the armed forces, going into the Navy the day after his high school graduation. He was stationed at the Philippine Islands, serving from May 1945 to August 1966.
Walter, the oldest son, would have been the first to join, but circumstances kept him away.
“I was drafted in ‘44, and then I got stuck working on the farm for awhile,” he explained.
At first, Walter had planned on joining the Army, but changed his mind and enlisted in the Navy in 1945.
“I was told that you always have a bed in the Navy, instead of a foxhole,” he said.
Walter’s time in the service was spent at the discipline office in San Francisco, working as a confidential mail carrier until he was discharged in 1948.
George Jr. of Watertown (who is now deceased) was the next son to enlist, but instead of the Navy, he chose the Air Force. During his service from 1953 to 1957, he worked in Korea, Fort Biloxi, MS; and the Wold-Chamberlain Field in St. Paul.
Number five was Robert, who now runs his great-grandfather’s farm west of Delano on Wright County Road 30.
Robert enlisted in the Navy in 1956, at the young age of 17.
“I wanted to go ever since I was 10 years old, because my older brothers were in it,” he said.
He became a gunner’s mate, taking care of the 40 mm and 5-inch guns. His ship operated with the sixth fleet in the Mediterranean Sea, and he had the chance to do a great deal of traveling.
“We went to Italy, Spain, Greece, and the Island of Crete,” Robert said. “It was fun.”
Being near the ocean was a highlight of Robert’s service.
“I love the ocean,” he said. “At night, when you’re in the middle of the ocean, you can see a million stars.”
Robert enjoyed his time in the Navy, but at age 21, he was ready to come home.
“I got married and we raised 11 kids,” he said. Now, Robert’s sons are carrying on the military legacy. One is a major in the Air Force, another spent five years in the Marines, and two went into the National Guard.
Robert’s younger brother, Marvin of Rockford, enlisted in the Army in September of 1958. He completed basic training and demolition training in Georgia, and served at Fort Rucker, AL and Berlin.
Marvin got out in 1961, but was called back with the Wyoming National Guard for the Cuban Missile Crisis a year later.
The next brother, Gene of Monticello, enlisted in April 1962. He was on the USS Putnam (DD-757) from 1963 to 1967, and did three Mediterranean cruises and two Caribbean cruises.
Anthony of Montrose also served from 1963 to 1967. He completed his basic training in San Diego, and served on both the USS Fulton (AS-11) and the USS Skylark (ASR-20).
The two youngest brothers, Ervin and Peter, served until 1968. Ervin of Buffalo spent his time at a Naval Air Station (NAS) in Corpus Christi and in the Philippines.
Peter, who now lives in Silver Lake, was stationed at the NAS in Beeville, TX. Later, he also spent time in Vietnam and on the USS Caldwell.
Coincidentally, Ervin and Peter once accidentally met at the airport in the Philippines.
“Ervin was being transferred, and Peter was coming back from Vietnam,” Joe explained.
Another chance meeting occurred between brothers Anthony and Gene.
“Their ships were parked next to each other in port in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba,” Joe said. “Tony stood up on the deck with a pair of binoculars, and here, he saw Gene’s ship right alongside of him.”
The oldest brothers, Walter and John, also met unexpectedly in San Francisco, as John was returning from the Philippines.
The Swartzer daughters stayed in the military loop, too. Betty’s husband, Lewis Bury, was in the Army during the Korean War; as well as Luverne’s husband, Leo Blackketer, and Marian’s husband, Thomas Kuka.
“I guess we all liked the military,” Robert said.