Wednesday, February 07, 2007

Timothy Swanson laid to rest

Pastor Timothy Hoke stood silently at the podium at Faith Presbyterian Church, collecting his thoughts on a sunny but somber day.

A minute or so passed.

"Words fail me," he said. "When I got the call Saturday evening, just about to go to sleep, I couldn't think of anything more shocking. And I ask myself, what can you say in times like this?"

A large color photo of Army Cpl. Timothy Allen Swanson in camouflage uniform prompted that reaction. Young, vibrant, cheerful and proud, he was among three soldiers killed that Saturday, Jan. 27., by a roadside bomb in Iraq.

He was 21.

Fighting through their grief, Hoke, Swanson's father and a buddy who survived the blast found plenty to say Monday as the Army, Mayor Phil Hardberger and congregants gave him a fond farewell.

Still, it didn't come easily. A large crowd at Fort Sam Houston National Cemetery wiped sniffles and tears away as a horse-drawn caisson brought Swanson's flag-draped coffin to a shelter they gathered around.

Air Force Capt. James Covelli broke the silence with "Amazing Grace" on a clarinet, the notes taking wing on the cool southerly breeze that whispered through the shelter.

The eight-member Fort Sam Houston Honors Platoon slowly took Swanson's casket off the caisson and placed it on a bier.

"Ready! Face!" cried the platoon's commander, a sergeant.

Two platoon members remained, their white-gloved hands holding an American flag over the cherry wood casket.

Hoke led a prayer.

The crowd sang "Amazing Grace" as Covelli again played.

"He died for your brothers, your sons, your wives and your homes," Hoke said. "We thank God for Cpl. Timothy Swanson and the many others who've made this same sacrifice, and our hearts go out to Tim's family and to his friends. We weep with you, we grieve with you and we mourn with you."

A 2003 Clark High School graduate, Swanson was killed with Pfc. Jon St. John II, 25, of Neenah, Wis., and Pfc. David Toomalatai, 19, of Long Beach, Calif. The Army said they died after an improvised explosive device, or IED, detonated near their Humvee while on convoy in the Taji area — long a hotbed of the Sunni insurgency.

Swanson was the 29th Bexar County resident to die in combat since 9-11 and is among 309 Texans who have so far fallen in Iraq and Afghanistan, according to the Defense Department.

Swanson, who was on his second tour of Iraq, joined the Army after graduating from Clark, where he'd been in the ROTC program. He had been an M-1 tank crewman in his first tour. Swanson changed jobs before deploying again, this time serving with a personal security detail used for high-ranking officers and dignitaries.

His boss survived the blast.

Standing to one side of the casket, Staff Sgt. Cedric Frasier stood at attention, his broken left arm in a sling, until it was his turn to speak. He did so from the heart and wore it on his battle dress uniform this day.

"He was my soldier. I understand that you were his family," Frasier, 35, of Williston, Fla., told Swanson's parents, Keith and Dana Howard, through tears. "I was the other family."

Before the burial ended, Hardberger presented an award in Swanson's honor and a city proclamation to his family.

The Army posthumously awarded him a Bronze Star with valor, Purple Heart and Army Good Conduct Medal. The American flag that had covered Swanson's casket was folded, and a smart, slow salute given.

Moments later, his parents cradled the flag as they once did their boy. A line of people stood to pay their respects before returning to First Presbyterian, where a long procession of cars led by the Patriot Guard Riders began the day's proceedings.

In the sanctuary, Keith Howard, a church elder, led a service full of song and Bible passages. Tissue boxes dotted the pews.

Swanson was remembered as an outdoors enthusiast who hunted, fished and hiked. Hoke said he "will always be remembered for having a wonderful smile and strong and steadfast spirit. Not only was he an American hero, he was our hero who will always be missed."

In a deeply personal reflection, Howard recalled a conversation he had with Swanson before he married his mother.

The boy, then 6, asked, "Can I call you dad?"

From the Express News

Related Link:
Timothy A. Swanson dies of injuries from I.E.D.