The wife and children of Captain Jon E. Swanson receive the Medal of Honor from President Bush on 1 May 2002

Medal of Honor



The President of the United States of America, authorized by Act of Congress, March 3, 1863, has awarded in the name of the Congress the Medal of Honor to


for conspicuous gallantry and intrepidity at the risk of his life above and beyond the call of duty:

Captain Jon E. Swanson distinguished himself by acts of bravery on February 26, 1971, while flying a OH-6A aircraft in support of ARVN Task Force III in the Kingdom of Cambodia. With two well-equipped enemy regiments known to be in the area, Captain Swanson was tasked with pinpointing the enemy's precise positions. Captain Swanson flew at treetop level at a slow airspeed, making his aircraft a vulnerable target. The advancing ARVN unit came under heavy automatic weapons fire from enemy bunkers 100 meters to their front. Exposing his aircraft to enemy anti-aircraft fire, Captain Swanson immediately engaged the enemy bunkers with concussion grenades and machine gun fire. After destroying five bunkers and evading intense ground-to-air fire, he observed a .51 caliber machine gun position. With all his heavy ordnance expended on the bunkers, he did not have sufficient explosives to destroy the position. Consequently, he marked the position with a smoke grenade and directed a Cobra gun ship attack. After completion of the attack, Captain Swanson found the weapon still intact and an enemy soldier crawling over to man it. He immediately engaged the individual and killed him. During this time, his aircraft sustained several hits from another .51 caliber machine gun. Captain Swanson engaged the position with his aircraft's weapons, marked the target, and directed a second Cobra gun ship attack. He volunteered to continue the mission, despite the fact that he was now critically low on ammunition and his aircraft was crippled by enemy fire. As Captain Swanson attempted to fly toward another .51 caliber machine gun position, his aircraft exploded in the air and crashed to the ground, causing his death. Captain Swanson's courageous actions resulted in at least eight enemy killed and the destruction of three enemy antiaircraft weapons. Captain Swanson's extraordinary heroism and devotion to duty are in keeping with the highest traditions of military service and reflect great credit upon himself, his unit, and the United States Army.

--- General / Personal ---

Last name: SWANSON
First name: JON EDWARD
Home of Record (official): DENVER
State (official): CO
Date of Birth: Friday, May 1, 1942
Sex: Male
Race: Caucasian
Marital Status: Married

--- Military ---

Branch: Army
Rank: CPT
Serial Number: 522520429
Component: Reserve
Pay grade: O3
MOS (Military Occupational Specialty code): 1981
Major Organization: 1st Cavalry Div

--- Action ---

Start of Tour: Friday, February 26, 1971
Date of Casualty: Friday, February 26, 1971
Age at time of loss: 28
Casualty type: (A3) Hostile, died while missing
Reason: Air loss - Crashed on land (Pilot - Helicopter)
Country: Cambodia
Province: Unknown/Not Reported
The Wall: Panel 04W - Row 007

1 May 2002

Remarks by the President at Presentation of Medal of Honor
The Rose Garden

THE PRESIDENT: Good afternoon, and welcome to the White House, and welcome to our beautiful Rose Garden. We gather in tribute to two young men who died long ago in the service to America. In awarding the Medal of Honor to Captain Ben Salomon and Captain Jon Swanson, the United States acknowledges a debt that time has not diminished.

It's my honor to welcome to the Rose Garden the Secretary of Veterans Affairs Tony Principi, Secretary Tom White of the Army, General Eric Shinseki, General John Jumper, Brigadier General David Hicks, the Chaplain -- thank you General Hicks for your prayer -- Congressman Brad Sherman, Congressman Charlie Norwood, Congressman Mark Udall, World War II veterans, Vietnam veterans, fellow Americans.

Joining us in this ceremony are four men who themselves earned the Medal of Honor: Barney Barnum, Al Rascon, Ryan Thacker, and Nicky Bacon. Thank you all for coming. (Applause.)

President Harry S. Truman said he would rather have earned the Medal of Honor than be the Commander-in-Chief. When you meet a veteran who wears that medal, remember the moment, because you are looking at one of the bravest ever to wear our country's uniform. We're honored to welcome these gentlemen.

I'm also pleased to welcome the family of Captain Swanson -- Sandee Swanson and their daughters, Holly and Brigid. We're so glad you all are here. (Applause.) I know how proud you must be of the man you have loved and missed for so many years. And seeing you here today, I know that John would be extremely proud.

For Captain Ben Salomon, no living relatives remain to witness this moment. And even though they never met, Captain Salomon is represented today by a true friend, Dr. Robert West. Welcome, sir. (Applause.)

Five years ago, Dr. West was reading about his fellow alumni of the University of Southern California's Dental School. He came upon the story of Ben Salomon of the class of 1937, who was a surgeon in World War II, and was posthumously nominated for the Medal of Honor. The medal was denied on a technicality. Looking into the matter, Dr. West found that an honest error had occurred, and that Captain Salomon was indeed eligible to receive the Medal of Honor.

He earned it on the day he died, July the 7th, 1944. Captain Salomon was serving in the Marianas Islands as a surgeon, in the 27th infantry division, when his battalion came under ferocious attack by thousands of Japanese soldiers. The American units sustained massive casualties, and the advancing enemy soon descended on Captain Salomon's aid station. To defend the wounded men in his care, Captain Salomon killed several enemy soldiers who had entered the aid station.

As the advance continued, he ordered comrades to evacuate the tent and carry away the wounded. He went out to face the enemy alone, and was last heard shouting, "I'll hold them off, until you get them to safety. See you later."

In the moments that followed, Captain Salomon single-handedly killed 98 enemy soldiers, saving many American lives, but sacrificing his own. As best the Army could tell, he was shot 24 times before he fell, more than 50 times after that. And when they found his body, he was still at his gun.

No one who knew him is with us this afternoon. Yet America will always know Benjamin Lewis Salomon by the citation to be read shortly. It tells of one young man who was the match for 100, a person of true valor who now receives the honor due him from a grateful country.

The Medal of Honor recognizes acts of bravery that no superior could rightly order a soldier to perform. The courage it signifies -- gallant, intrepid service at the risk of life, above and beyond the call of duty -- is written forever in the service record of Army Captain Jon Swanson.

A helicopter pilot in the Vietnam War, Captain Swanson flew his last mission on his second tour of duty, on February 26th, 1971, over Cambodia. As Allied forces on the ground came under heavy enemy fire, Captain Swanson was called in to provide close air support. Flying at tree-top level, he found and engaged the enemy, exposing himself to intense fire from the ground. He ran out of heavy ordinance, yet continued to drop smoke grenades to mark other targets for nearby gunships.

Captain Swanson made it back to safety, his ammunition nearly gone, and his Scout helicopter heavily damaged. Had he stayed on the ground, no one would have faulted him. But he had seen more -- he had seen that more targets needed marking, to eliminate the danger to the troops on the ground. He volunteered to do the job himself, flying directly into enemy fire, until his helicopter exploded in flight.

Captain Swanson's actions, said one fellow officer, "were the highest degree of personal bravery and self-sacrifice I have ever witnessed". Others agreed, and the Medal of Honor was recommended by the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs, and by the late Admiral John McCain. However, only the Distinguished Service Cross was awarded, until a recent review of the case made clear that the nation's highest military honor was in order.

And so today, on what would have been his 60th birthday, the Medal of Honor is presented to the family of John Edward Swanson.

The two events we recognize today took place a generation apart, but they represent the same tradition. That tradition of military valor and sacrifice has preserved our country, and continues to this day. Captain Salomon and Captain Swanson never lived to wear this medal, but they will be honored forever in the memory of our country.

Jon Edward Swanson was born on May 1, 1942 and joined the Armed Forces while in Denver, Colorado.

He served as an aviator in the United States Army, B Troop, 1ST Battalion, 9th Cavalry, 1st Cavalry Division, and attained the rank of Captain.

John Edward Swanson was listed as Missing in Action.

The remains of former Boulder resident Captain Jon Swanson were laid to rest Friday morning at Arlington National Cemetery along with his flyng partner, Staff Sergeant Larry Harrison, in a ceremony 31 years in the making.

About 75 people, including Army Chief of Staff General Eric Shinseki, attended the funeral at Fort Myer Chapel near the grounds of the cemetery.

Swanson and Harrison's helicopter was shot down over Cambodia in early 1971 during the Vietnam War, and their remains were only recently recovered. Swanson's daughter, Brigid Swanson-Jones, was the only person other than the chaplains to speak at short service. She thanked the Army for taking care of its own and never forgetting them, even after three decades.

Swanson-Jones, 33, looked at the flag draped casket holding the remains of both men and said, "Welcome home, Larry. Welcome home, Dad." Swanson's widow, Sandee Swanson, said she thought this day would never come. "You go through a year at a time, and after a while you figure that everything that could be done (in finding his body) has been done," she said. "I never knew people cared so much."

The procession took a mile-and-a-half trip from the chapel to the gravesite on foot following the caisson drawn by white horses.

Once at the gravesite, the two fallen scout pilots were treated to military honors including a seven-man rifle company firing three volleys, a playing of "Taps" and flag presentations to the families.

Sandee Swanson said the family was told in February the remains had been recovered; however, due to the commingled condition of the bodies, separate burials would not be possible. The Swanson family had no problems with the joint burial, though this is the first time a Medal of Honor winner — which Jon Swanson was posthumously awarded Wednesday by President Bush — has been jointly buried at Arlington National Cemetery.

After 31 years without her husband, Sandee Swanson said the ceremony was tougher than she thought it would be. "It was very hard to make it through the ceremony. I was over come with a lot of different feelings and emotions," she said.

The entire week, including a trip to the Oval Office, has been an incredible experience for her, she said.

"This was a wonder tribute for a wonderful man," she said.

Sandee Swanson, joined by her daughters Swanson-Jones and Holly Walker, who now lives in the Washington area, knelt beside the coffin after service had ended to say their final goodbyes to a person they had not been able to even say "hello" to in 31 years.

From a press report: 1 May 2002

Thirty-one years late, life is about to come full circle for a Colorado soldier.

Just before he shipped out for his second tour of duty in the Vietnam War, Army Captain Jon E. Swanson, 28, took his wife, Sandee, and their two baby daughters on a trip to Washington, D.C.

At Arlington National Cemetery, they paused at the Tomb of the Unknowns and he explained the significance of thousands of simple, white markers for soldiers who died serving their country.

Within a few months, he met their fate.

His helicopter was shot down on February 26, 1971, in Cambodia. But only now, after an agonizing wait for his family, his remains were finally recovered and are about to come "home" to the nation's most hallowed ground.

In a White House ceremony today, President Bush will award Captain Swanson with the nation's highest military honor, the Medal of Honor.

On Friday, his remains and those of his flying partner, Staff Sergeant Larry Harrison of North Carolina, will be buried with honors at Arlington National Cemetery.

To Swanson's family, it does not mean "closure," but represents an acknowledgement of the quiet sacrifice so many soldiers made fighting one of the country's most difficult wars.

"It's really a part of a healing process for all of us," said his widow, Sandee Swanson of Boulder. "It's not only for our family in what we've all lost, but it's for the Vietnam veterans, those souls who served with him, and what they sacrificed."

Captain Swanson, born in San Antonio, was raised in Denver and settled with his wife and their two young daughters in Boulder before he died.

His love for nature was great. He could name every tree and flower in the mountains west of Denver where his family had a cabin.

If someone told him to go pick up weeds, "He'd say,'There are no weeds -- only flowers.They just have different names.' "

After graduating from Mullen High School in Denver, he went on to study at Colorado State University. There, he enrolled in an ROTC program and during the height of the Vietnam War he followed in the footsteps of his father, a World War II veteran, and joined the Army.

During his first tour of duty in Vietnam, he was shot and wounded on a helicopter mission in May 1967. Later that year, he married Sandee, his teen-age sweetheart, while on leave in Hawaii.

He was eventually transferred to helicopter training duty back in the United States. But by 1970, when the United States was conducting covert operations with the South Vietnamese army in neighboring Cambodia, he volunteered for a second combat tour.

He had only been there a few months when, according to a Department of Defense synopsis, he launched a mission that likely saved many others' lives -- even as he lost his own.

He piloted a small, scout helicopter to fly low and locate targets for better-armed Cobra gunships.

That day, he evaded ground-to-air fire and destroyed five bunkers. But then he spotted a .51-caliber machine gun position and attempted to mark it with a smoke grenade for a Cobra attack.

He circled around to assess the damage and saw the weapon was still intact, with an enemy soldier crawling to man it. He shot and killed the soldier, but soon his helicopter was hit by fire from another machine gun.

Although he was low on ammunition and the helicopter was already "crippled," he continued the mission to attack the other anti-aircraft position. But soon, the helicopter was hit by more gunfire, exploded in midair and crashed to the ground.

The Department of Defense determined his actions likely prevented "the destruction of many more helicopters and crews."

For three decades, his remains were never found and returned, even after tense negotiations with Cambodian and painstaking archaeological searches in the 1990s.

It was only this February, after Congress cleared the way for his posthumous Medal of Honor award, that the family learned that a small amount of the Swanson and Harrison remains were finally coming "home" to Arlington.

The family credits Rep. Mark Udall, D-Boulder, Sen. John Warner, R-Va., Sen. Charles Grassley, R-Ia., and the late Rep. Floyd Spence, R-S.C., for helping them win the overdue honors and coordinate them this week.

They're still amazed at how the posthumous award and discovery of the remains coincided after all these years.

"Believe me, it has been a long 31 years," said Sandee Swanson, who married Capt. Swanson's younger brother, Tom. "Why now? Why is all this coming together?"

"I've been asking him to tell me why -- why is it happening now? What kind of message is he trying to send us?"

His younger daughter, 32-year-old Holly Walker of Fairfax, Va., said it is strange that the father she barely remembers is finally being honored in the middle of the country's new war.

"This has additional significance because of the war on terrorism," she said. "Before we commit troops to war, a lot of people say, 'Is this worth losing a son for?' I say, 'Is it worth losing a father for?' Every time we send our troops in, that's what I ask."

Her sister, Brigid Swanson-Jones, 33, of Westminster, said even though she has few memories of her father, he has inspired her to be a quiet leader.

"It's not really closure because he will always be with us," Swanson-Jones said. "Instead . . . this means we're able to bring him home."

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