Former American President Harry S. Truman once said that he would rather be a Medal of Honor recipient than be the Commander-in-Chief.
More than speaking to how difficult was his role as the nation’s top military commander, Truman was paying homage to the people who are honored with the Medal, people who are referred to here at the website as ‘Real American Heroes’. You can read stories of some of them by simply clicking into the label by that title at the bottom of this piece.
On the morning of February 26th, 1971, the Osmonds had the #1 song in America with “One Bad Apple“, and 28-year old U.S. Army helicopter pilot Captain Jon E. Swanson most certainly had his young wife Sandee back home in Denver with his two small daughters, Holly and Brigid, on his mind.
After all, besides his calling to the American military, they were his life. A life that none of them realized was seeing its final sunrise.
On that morning, Captain Swanson prepared for his role in a military mission that was going to take place that day in the Kingdom of Cambodia, which itself was directly related to the war going on in Vietnam.
The military guerillas of the Viet Cong used areas of neighboring Cambodia for their home base, and this frequently drew Cambodian territory into the conflict. Swanson’s job that day was to fly an OH-6A aircraft in support of the ARVN Task Force III, which was tasked with taking out two well-equiped enemy regiments in the area.
Swanson was to pilot his craft and pinpoint the exact positions of the enemy. To accomplish this, Swanson had to fly the aircraft low over the tree tops at slow speeds, making him a highly vulnerable target.
As the ARVN unit that he was supporting advanced, they came under heavy enemy fire. It was reported that Swanson “immediately engaged the enemy bunkers with concussion grenades and machine gun fire”, destroying five bunkers as he dodged heavy ground-to-air fire.
He then observed a strong .51 caliber gun position, but had used up all of his heavy weaponry in destroying the bunkers. So he flew over it and marked its position with a smoke grenade, and another aircraft swooped in to destroy it.
However, Swanson noticed that the weapon had survived the attack, and also observed an enemy soldier crawling towards it in order to man it and use it against the Task Force. Swanson engaged and killed this male, but his Scout helicopter was hit mulitple times by fire from yet another .51 caliber weapon.
Again Swanson flew over this weapon, marked it, and it was destroyed by an American Cobra gun ship. With his ship low on ammo and damaged by enemy gunfire, Swanson could have stayed on the ground. But he had spotted more enemy .51 caliber machine guns that he knew presented danger to American forces, and so he went back up to mark them.
In preparing to mark another big enemy gun, his craft exploded in mid-air and crashed to the ground. Captain Swanson was killed, but his actions had directly led to the deaths of eight enemy combatants and the destruction of three high caliber weapons, and countless American lives saved.
Swanson’s body was not recovered, and he was listed for decades as ‘Missing in Action’. However, remains were recovered eventually, and Swanson’s surviving family received his Medal of Honor posthumously from President George W. Bush on May 1st, 2002.
Captain Jon E. Swanson died in service to his country, and particularly so that many of his fellow soldiers could live. For his actions, Jon E. Swanson is remembered here as a Real American Hero, and again, you can read all such stories of those similarly honored by clicking into that below label.