Sports announcers at high school athletic events not only mispronounced Myron Szwed’s last name, but his brother Jerry’s too, when the two competed against each other back in the early 1960s.
Both brothers lived in Jersey City at the time, but they were rivals. Myron attended St. Michael’s High School in Union City. Jerry attended Dickinson High School in Jersey City.
Their parents Mykola and Sofia Szwed were proud to be American, having immigrated to the United States with their children in the 1950s.
When Myron was drafted after high school into the United States Army, the family was proud but concerned.
Myron was a Warrant Officer during the Vietnam war. He flew Cobra helicopters during his tour. On one of these tours, his helicopter was shot down, and he suffered from a spinal injury that left him without the use of his legs.
“He didn’t want to come home,” said Jo Ann Falcone, who had graduated St. Michael’s High School with him in 1966. “He didn’t want his parents to see him like that.”
While in recovery in a hospital in Hawaii, he met his future wife, Susan, and eventually then moved to Colorado. He got an engineering degree, and taught robotics, computer animation, and electronics. But he still would not come home.
“He and his wife did come to the state hospital in New York, but he never came back to New Jersey,” Falcone said.
Last year, celebrating their 50th anniversary, members of the 1966 graduation class of St. Michaels, held a raffle in which all the proceeds would go to Myron, possibly as a way to encourage him to return to Jersey City and take his place among the other veterans who had served their country.
Most of his classmates had not been aware he had been wounded, or spoken to him since high school. They had all but made the arrangements, then they found out Myron had passed away from pancreatic cancer.
So his former school mates changed the plan and used the money to buy a stone marker that was unveiled as this year’s Memorial Day ceremonies in Jersey City’s Pershing Field. His wife Susan, his brother, Jerry and his wife, Deborah, came to pay tribute to him at Jersey City’s monument to Vietnam Veterans.
Oddly enough, Myron and Jerry grew up near Pershing Field. They and their parents were parishioners at St. Nicholas Church overlooking the park.
“He never talked about his experiences in Vietnam. But he fought to keep us safe.” – Jo Ann Falcone
She said Myron and other graduates were bonded by a number of common experiences. She recalled the assassination of President John F. Kennedy, and then, the equally tragic news that St. Michael’s would close after their graduation.
“He never talked about his experiences in Vietnam,” Falcone said. “But he fought to keep us safe. When he got drafted, he knew what he was up against. About 10 of our classmates were drafted. Not all of them went to Vietnam.”
A tradition at Pershing Field
Memorial Day was first observed on May 30, 1868 as Decoration Day, when flowers were placed on the graves of Union and Confederate soldiers at Arlington National Cemetery in Virginia.
Myron was among the nearly 70 deceased veterans honored at the May 29 Memorial Day service in Pershing Field, an annual ceremony to pay tribute to Jersey City residents who perished during the Vietnam War and the dozens who died later as a result of wounds or other problems incurred in the war.
Every year since 1998, there has been a Memorial Day ceremony at Pershing Field on Summit Avenue to remember veterans of all wars, especially the Vietnam War.
John Stanton, president of the Jersey City Vietnam Veterans Committee, pointed out that this ceremony held on Memorial Day wasn’t just in tribute to Vietnam Veterans, but all those U.S. military people who gave their lives in conflict.
Harsimus Cemetery ceremony
People also gathered at the Historic Jersey City and Harsimus Cemetery on May 29, a ceremony made even more solemn by the death of a Navy SEAL who fell to his death in the harbor off Liberty State Park hours earlier.
Ironically, the SEAL, Remington J Peters, was also from Colorado, but for the more than 50 people who came to the Harsimus Ceremony, his death in the Fleet Week skydiving demonstration came to symbolize how much risk military people face.
“People like this put their lives at risk every day,” said Eileen Markenstein, president of the volunteer group maintaining the cemetery.
Remington fell to his death when his parachute malfunctioned.
After a long moment of silence for him and others veterans past and president, this ceremony took on a more celebratory tone with a USO Show Musical Tribute performed by an Andrews Sisters-like trio called The American Bombshells.
Dressed in Army clothing straight out of the World War II era, The American Bombshells sang patriotic songs that a group like the Andrew Sisters might have performed, giving the graveyard the feel of a USO show.
Giving a solo performance was MTV singer Lovari, who sang, “I’ll be there for you.”
Al Sullivan may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.