Muhlenberg Township veteran receives medals 66 years after service as Marine
Sixty-six years ago, Earl Swartz, a Marine Corps reservist from Reading called to active duty during the Korean War, returned to Pennsylvania by train from the West Coast, where a troublesome appendix kept him from going overseas.
After a year at Camp Pendleton, Calif., where he had waited to be shipped to Asia, he arrived at the train station in Harrisburg in 1951, greeted by his parents and wife-to-be, believing that he had earned medals for his service.
He never got them.
Years went by and Swartz got married, got a job, bought a house in Muhlenberg Township and raised a family - children, grandchildren, great-grandchildren. He told them stories about his time in the military, including the medals that he never received.
But though the war was long over, Swartz's family was determined to get him the medals that he was due. With help from the staff at U.S. Rep. Ryan Costello's office, they obtained them, then staged a surprise ceremony to give Swartz, now 88, the recognition he had earned decades ago.
On Wednesday, Swartz was led into Costello's Wyomissing office on the pretense that he had to tend to a health insurance issue. When the doors opened, he was surprised by relatives, several local Marines home on leave and Costello, who awarded Swartz the Marine Corps Good Conduct Medal and the National Defense Service Medal six decades after he served his country.
How did it feel to finally get his medals?
"I tell you, don't ask me or I'll start to cry about it," Swartz said, holding them after posing for photos with family. "This is unbelievable."
Wearing a Marine Corps cap that's part of his casual attire, Swartz climbed out of a son's vehicle and was greeted at Costello's door by two saluting Marines from Recruiting Sub-Station Reading. He returned their salute.
Inside, more Marines stood with Swartz's family, and Swartz, short and gregarious, told them stories about his boot camp training at Parris Island, S.C. Costello presented the medals, and afterward Swartz was treated to dinner by his family.
"He'll talk about this the rest of his life," said a son, Stephen Swartz of Muhlenberg Township.
A 1948 graduate of Reading High School, Swartz joined the Marine Corps Reserves while in school, knowing that he could be called to active duty, he said. He, served from October 1950 to October 1951.
One night at Camp Pendleton, waiting to be sent to Korea, he became sick with dry heaves and went to a military doctor, who diagnosed appendicitis and sent him to a hospital. He spent a week in the hospital, missing his first opportunity to go to Asia. Though his appendix was not removed then, it was once his service ended and he returned to civilian life, he said.
He missed another opportunity to go to Korea when the military changed its criteria: He didn't have enough time in training to go to war, the Marine Corps decided.
He's always been proud to be a Marine. Sometimes, when he wears his Marine Corps cap to the grocery store or on other errands, a fellow Marine will greet him, or a civilian will thank him for his service.
"I think it shows this country isn't all bad," Swartz said.
Costello, a Republican who has represented Pennsylvania's 6th District since 2015, has presented long-overdue medals to veterans about 10 times a year and has enjoyed it.
"In this day, when there's so much divisiveness, any time you can find somebody who reattaches the fiber of patriotism, it's good for us all," he said.