21 January 2009

RIP: Col James E. Swett, USMCR

James Elms Swett
15 Jun 1920 - 18 Jan 2009

ZUI this article from the Redding (CA) Record-Searchlight:
James Elms Swett of Redding once said that notoriety can at times be a “damn nuisance.”

He got pulled over more times than he could remember by inquisitive California Highway Patrol officers due to the distinctive license plate on his car.

But it had its perks, too.

He rarely got a traffic ticket, and had a lot of autographed photographs from a number of U.S. presidents.

Swett, who was awarded the Medal of Honor in World War II for shooting down seven Japanese bombers within 15 minutes, died Sunday at Mercy Medical Center in Redding after a long illness. He was 88.


Over the course of his World War II service, Swett was credited with more than 15 downed enemy planes and earned eight Distinguished Flying Crosses, two Purple Hearts and a score of Air Medals.


After leaving active duty in the Marines in 1950, he joined the reserves, where he became a colonel before retiring in 1970.

He also worked in his father’s company in San Francisco, making marine pumps and turbines. In 1960, after his father’s death, Swett took over the company and ran it for 23 years.

He moved to Trinity County with his wife, Loie, in 1983 from Los Altos. She died in 1999 at the age of 75, and Swett remarried in 2007.


He is survived by his wife, Verna, of Redding; two sons, James Jr. of the Seattle area and John of Redwood City, three grandchildren and four great-grandchildren.

Col Swett was awarded the Medal of Honor for his first combat mission. His final tally for the war was 15.5 enemy aircraft - the ninth-highest score for a Marine Corps pilot. Wikipedia gives further details, and also has an article on VMF-221.

******* *** *******


First Lieutenant, US Marine Corps Reserve; Marine Fighter Squadron 221, Marine Aircraft Group 12, 1st Marine Aircraft Wing

Born: 15 June 1920, Seattle, Washington
Died: 18 January 2009, Redding, California

Citation: For extraordinary heroism and personal valor above and beyond the call of duty, as division leader of Marine Fighting Squadron 221 with Marine Aircraft Group 12, 1st Marine Aircraft Wing, in action against enemy Japanese aerial forces in the Solomons Islands area, 7 April 1943. In a daring flight to intercept a wave of 150 Japanese planes, 1st Lt. Swett unhesitatingly hurled his 4-plane division into action against a formation of 15 enemy bombers and personally exploded 3 hostile planes in midair with accurate and deadly fire during his dive. Although separated from his division while clearing the heavy concentration of antiaircraft fire, he boldly attacked 6 enemy bombers, engaged the first 4 in turn and, unaided, shot down all in flames. Exhausting his ammunition as he closed the fifth Japanese bomber, he relentlessly drove his attack against terrific opposition which partially disabled his engine, shattered the windscreen and slashed his face. In spite of this, he brought his battered plane down with skillful precision in the water off Tulagi without further injury. The superb airmanship and tenacious fighting spirit which enabled 1st Lt. Swett to destroy 7 enemy bombers in a single flight were in keeping with the highest traditions of the U.S. Naval Service.


Anonymous said...

He was my uncle. Heard about his passing through the newspaper!!! He could tell a great story. My favorite was when he was in pilot training at Quantico. Being 22 and full of vinegar, he "borrowed" a plane and went joy riding... AND feeling invincible, he flew under the bridge in Fredricksburg, VA. Unfortunately, he got caught because at that exact moment, the commanding officer was driving over the bridge. He must have been valuable because instead of being court martialed or thrown into the pokey, he was punished with a few days of round the clock sentry duty.

He was one in a million and will be greatly missed by everyone that knew him. Love Always, S. Swett

Hector Maldonado said...

Just learned about Col. Swett on an episode of a series called Dogfights, he was an amazing pilot, I am heartbroken that he is no longer with us. It would have been a great honor and privilege to have met him. R.I.P Col Swett and thank you for your dedicated service...