Keeping A Promise
U.S. Army Captain Reconnects With Vietnam War Buddy
Keeping a promise to an old friend can be a challenging task.
U.S. Army Capt. Thomas E. Jones was able to keep his promise of 47 years thanks to the Fenton History Center’s Vets Finding Vets program. Jones, a Greenhurst resident, said he had made a promise to U.S. Army Captain Roswell T. Swanson that they would reconnect back in the states while leaving Vietnam in 1970.
Unfortunately for Jones the promise he made proved to be a challenge, one that took him 45 years to fulfill.
Jones said he had no success searching for Swanson for more than four decades. He had no luck until he heard about the Fenton’s Vets Finding Vets program. While researching family genealogy at the Fenton, Jones spoke to Barb Cessna, who is the coordinator for Fenton’s Vets Finding Vets program.
“Roughly a year ago, I started working with the Fenton on family genealogy and I asked Barb to find my buddy,” Jones said. “It was a dead end for me everywhere I looked. She found him within a couple days.”
Jones said Cessna used the website Find A Grave to locate Swanson. Unfortunately, Swanson had passed away in 2012 at the age of 71. However, that didn’t stop Jones from keeping his promise. On May 22, Jones visited Swanson’s grave site in Hampton, Va., dressed in his Army service uniform.
“It was emotional,” Jones said about his visit to the Swanson’s grave site. “That was emotional too (when I discovered Swanson had passed away), but this was a little worse,” Jones said about visiting Swanson’s grave.
Swanson’s grave indicated he had been awarded the Bronze Star Medal, a distinction awarded for service or valor above and beyond the call of duty. Jones also received a Bronze Star Medal, the highest of the 12 medals he received while serving in the U.S. Army.
Jones said he met Swanson in 1969 when he was selected to lead a special Military Police Corps unit in Quang Tin and Quang Nye provinces in Vietnam.
He said this area was not heavily secured by the military and was outside the “wire.”
Jones said Swanson, who worked for the Provost Marshal’s Office of the American Division located in Chu Lai inside the “wire,” had been in the region for several months prior to Jones being assigned to lead the special MP unit.
“He took the time to show me where I was supposed to go. He gave me a good footing for what I had to do,” Jones said. “The information helped me get acclimated to the area. He shared intel about hot spots and where to stay away from until I got on my feet. I’m forever grateful to him. He gave me a good footing so I could assume my command.”
Jones said about once a week he would meet with Swanson to share information. A friendship grew between the two during these intelligence briefings during the next six months, which ended with Jones’ return to the states.
Prior to leaving Vietnam, a common question military personnel would ask each other before leaving was, “What will your first meal be when you get home,” Swanson had asked Jones. Jones replied, “A Johnny’s Texas Hot,” which Jones said surprised Swanson. This is when the two military captains stationed more than 8,500 miles from home realized, after knowing each other for six months, they were both from the Jamestown area.
Jones said while he was in Hampton, Va., he went to the local VFW post, but they had no information on Swanson. Jones also had been given a phone number for Swanson’s wife, but he hit another dead end because the line had been disconnected. Jones said he will continue to try and connect with Swanson’s family in Virginia and try to find his Jamestown relatives as well.
“He was a super guy. I would like his family to know that, which I’m sure they probably already do. I would just like to reinforce it,” Jones said.
VETS FINDING VETS
The Vets Finding Vets program was started on Veterans Day in 2014 and allows for free access to the Fenton Hall House Research Center, located at 73 Forest Ave., in Jamestown, for veterans, active military and reservists. It allows them to use the research facility, resources and assistance to begin or further their family history search, locate old service comrades or to help the volunteer research staff to collect information regarding the soldiers buried in Chautauqua County cemeteries. The veterans in the program are encouraged to contribute their military record, photographs and memories of their service so they will be preserved and shared.
The Fenton Hall House Research Center provides resources and assistance at no cost to local veterans. The Fenton benefits from the veterans’ work to build their cache of local veteran stories and genealogy, which in turn can be shared with the community.
For more information about the Vets Finding Vets program and to find out how to enroll, call the Fenton History Center at 664-6256 or email firstname.lastname@example.org. The Fenton History Center is open Monday through Saturday from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Call ahead to confirm Fenton Hall House Research Center hours before visiting on a Saturday.