Yates City vet honored with Memorial Day medal ceremony

For The Weekly Post

Roy Swanson of Yates City holds a Purple Heart certificate while flanked by Maj. Gen. David Wilson (left) and U.S. Rep Eric Sorensen. Photo by Jeff Lampe.

YATES CITY – Roy Swanson doesn’t remember much from the night of Aug. 28, 1971, when shrapnel ripped into his foot after enemy rockets hit his U.S. Army sleeping quarters near Chu Lai, Vietnam.

Monday helped bring some closure, though, as Swanson was honored during a special ceremony that attracted more than 75 people to the Yates City Community Center.

On hand to make a formal presentation of the Purple Heart and Bronze Star to Swanson were U.S. Rep. Eric Sorensen (D-Moline) and a contingent of uniformed military officers that included Maj. Gen. David Wilson, commanding general of the U.S. Army Sustainment Command at the Rock Island Arsenal.

Though Swanson received medals while recovering in a hospital bed not long after the attack, he never had a ceremony or an explanation of how he earned the honors. And there was no record of the medals on his discharge record.

After Swanson called the Veterans Affairs office about the oversight, which affected his eligibility for disability payments, Sorensen stepped up and helped set the record straight.
It turns out Swanson saved a life during that 1971 attack, dragging fellow soldier Ken Meaney of New Jersey to safety, according to Wilson.

The memories are vague for Swanson, an artilleryman from Rock Island who was 30 days from leaving Vietnam when he was hit by a Viet Cong rocket and suffered a chipped bone and nerve and artery damage in his foot. Overall, 33 were killed and 83 were wounded in the attack.

“I was in a blackout most of the time. The pain was intense,” Swanson said. “I remember heading back to pick up Ken Meaney. I could hear him calling for help. I blacked out before I got there, I think. The next thing I remember is laying out on the helipad, waiting for a medevac chopper.”

Wilson said Meaney was there alongside Swanson.

“Despite facing life-threatening injuries himself, Roy saved the life of a fellow soldier himself that day,” Wilson said. “Your actions on that day in 1971 have upheld the highest traditions of military service and the armed forces. In facing danger you demonstrate the selflessness that inspires us all. Your actions serve as an example of the indelible spirit of the United States of America.

“We honor your bravery.”

Swanson, 74, moved to Yates City five years ago from Aledo with his wife, Pauline. He said they moved to the area to be closer to one of his four sons and his only granddaughter, who both live in Canton.

After the ceremony, Swanson said he was moved by the sizable crowd, which included nearly a dozen Elba-Salem Fire Department members in uniform, Knox County Sheriff Jack Harlan and several other uniformed police officers and deputies.

“I never expected this kind of a turnout,” Swanson said. “This is really something.”

That would seem to achieve part of Sorensen’s stated goal for the ceremony.

“Our veterans represent the best that Yates City and our entire nation has to offer,” the congressman said. “And I’m committed to making sure that every veteran is shown an appreciation and thanks. Not only through the benefits that are so rightly earned, but through these ceremonies where we come together as neighbors to give the recognition that has been many years in the making.”

Even with the medals and the ceremony, Swanson said Vietnam will still be on his mind frequently.

“I don’t suffer from flashbacks or anything, but I do think about Vietnam every day,” he said, “just because whenever I step on my foot there it is, a big old lump on the bottom, and I still limp a little bit, especially when I get tired.”