Thursday, February 23, 2012

My Uncle Harry - April 19, 1922 - February 23, 2012‏

My Uncle Harry passed away this morning, just two months short of his 90th birthday. My Aunt Ellen was at his side, as she had been for their 68 years together.

Harry Clifford Swendsen
Private First Class
Company A, 8th Medical Battalion, 8th Infantry Division
Enlisted: October 5, 1942.

My uncle Harry was a combat medic in WW II. He was an ambulance driver. He landed at Normandy, was in the Battle of the Bulge, liberated a concentration camp and went all the way through France, Belgium and into Germany until the war ended.

I had a chance in 2007 to talk with him about his experiences during the war, and he had amazing stories to tell. Just amazing stuff. Once crawled out of a foxhole to find his ambulance full of holes from an artillery barrage, but it still ran so he drove it anyway.

He heard General George Patton give that speech to his troops, and said it was exactly like in the movie.

Woke up one time to find wounded German soldiers in the back of his ambulance...the Germans would leave their wounded with the American medics because they knew they'd be cared for.

In a town in Belgium, a German fighter dove down almost to street level to strafe his unit. Harry was plastered up against a wall, and as the plane passed, he and the pilot made eye contact for a split second.

At one point, he told me about driving his ambulance with one hand while holding a bandage on the chest of a wounded soldier with his other. He said it was hard driving in the dark with one hand over a muddy road while trying to get to the aid station as fast as possible. He said the soldier didn't survive the trip, and I asked him how that felt to him. He just gave his gentle smile and said "I feel OK, because I did my best for him".

At our last family reunion in 2009, I told him about what I was doing to help support our medics and wounded overseas. He put his hand on my shoulder, looked me in the eye and said "I'm proud of you". Nothing ever meant more to me than that.

Here's to you, Uncle Harry.


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