KNOXVILLE, Tenn. (WATE) — Dec. 7, 1941, is an important date in our nation’s history. It was the day Japan staged a surprise attack on Pearl Harbor, killing 2,300 Americans. One of the few remaining survivors still alive today is about to mark another important date in his life.
Durward Swanson turns 100 years old on Saturday. He shared his memories of the past and hopes for the future. Birthday cards from all over, from people of all ages, have been pouring in to Ben Atchley State Veterans Home for an American hero.
“It means a lot to me,” Swanson said. “It means more than people will realize.”
Swanson’s service to our country started with his graduation from Crew Chief School at Chanute Field in Chicago near the beginning of 1941. Early on, he was trained by the legendary Gen. George Patton.
Then came assignment in Honolulu where he was quickly named chief of the Security Police Force, assigned a new motorcycle, and lived in newly built barracks seen in the background of a photo of the team he shared with us.
Then came Dec. 7, 1941, and the surprise attack on Pearl Harbor.
“I went downstairs, put my shoes on and shirt, and strapped my .45 on,” Swanson recalled.
He revved up the motorcycle and drove straight into the chaos.
“I went up Hangar Avenue, bombs falling. It’s a wonder I hadn’t got killed. Bullets, flying all around,” Swanson said.
His memory after that attack nearly 80 years ago is still sharp — too sharp sometimes. He’ll talk about Pearl Harbor, but not about another bloody battle to follow only six months later.
“Now, I would talk about Midway, but ma’am, if I talk about that, ” Swanson said, “I’ll have nightmares all night.”
After the military, Swanson pursued his love of music, becoming a front man for Hank Williams. He’ll sing for you today. You need only to simply ask.
Thank you, Durward Swanson, for sharing your stories with us, and for your service during one of our country’s most harrowing times in history.
Happy 100th birthday.
“I’m proud to be here. I’m proud to be an American living in the land of the free,” Swanson said.
Swanson also dedicated 51 years of his life to civil engineering by building bridges, dams and other infrastructure all over the country.
One quick note about his time with Hank Williams. He said he was in the car with Williams on a trip to Oklahoma for a concert, took a nap, and when he woke up, Hank had written three songs. One of them, his classic, “Hey, Good Lookin’.”