(Photo by Nick Schneider)
INDIANAPOLIS ---- Monday was a special day of reflection, recognition, restoration and honor for Greene County-based Indiana Conservation Officer Greg Swanson.
First Sgt. Swanson had been awarded the Purple Heart for injuries he suffered as a member of National Guard's 387th Military Police Company unit out of New Albany in Afghanistan for injuries sustained in 2012. Swanson remains active in the National Guard, a part-time job he's held for last 20 years.
Click here to see video from the ceremony:
On Jan. 29, Swanson gave his Purple Heart medal to the family of Leonard Wayne McIntosh, just minutes before the funeral for the 88 year old World War II veteran began at Tulip Church of God in rural Bloomfield.
Swanson's act was a token of respect and honor for the deceased McIntosh, who never had the distinction of wearing the Purple Heart while he was alive.
The gesture by Swanson, who has nearly 20 years of service in the Indiana National Guard, has been described as a selfless act of love and respect for a late World War II veteran, who passed away Jan. 26.
McIntosh's family had been seeking for years to get through the red-tape requirements to prove the validity of the Purple Heart request.
There was plenty of government red-tape to battle through ---- a process that was complicated when it was learned that Wayne's war service records had been destroyed in a 1973 fire in St. Louis. Missouri. On July 12, 1973, a fire at the National Personnel Records Center (NPRC) destroyed approximately 16-18 million Official Military Personnel Files (OMPF). Among the records destroyed were about 80 percent of the Army personnel discharge papers from Nov. 1, 1912 to Jan. 1, 1960 ---- including McIntosh's records.
McIntosh was injured when he was sent along with another soldier into a building in a town in southern France. While inside, the building was bombed.
Just before his funeral, McIntosh had finally received his military earned honor more than 50 years after the war had ended. A much younger Army comrade recognized a wrong had been done and did what he said "was the right thing to do."
The very humble and private Swanson told the Greene County Daily World that he surrendered his medal to McIntosh because he felt guilty that the elder Army veteran had earned it ---- probably more than he did.
Monday morning, in a well-planned and executed surprise plan, Swanson was presented with a duplicate Purple Heart medal by Indiana Adjutant General Martin Umbarger in a ceremony conducted at the offices of the Indiana Department of Natural Resources in Indianapolis.
Attending the service was a host of DNR Conservation officers, family members ---- including Swanson's parents, an uncle and aunt and his sister.
The effort came as the result of state Natural Resources law enforcement division leadership personnel reading about Swanson's touching gift to the McIntosh family in the Greene County Daily World. That set the wheels into motion with state and national military officials to see that the Purple Heart was promptly restored to the Greene County man.
It was another of day of closure for the McIntosh family that was deeply touched by the decision that Swanson had made to give his medal to Leonard Wayne McIntosh.
Some of the proudest individuals at the ceremony were Swanson's parents, David and Mary Ann Swanson, who live about 30 miles from Muskgeon, Mich. in the town of Rothbury.
"It doesn't surprise me. He has always been this way since he was a kid. When his sister didn't want to do a job, he'd say, 'I'll just do it,'" his mother told the Greene County Daily World. "He's always been very helpful and always wanting to help people and family or anyone that needs help."
His mother explained that the military service, for her son, changed him.
"He came back with the idea that he came back and some didn't make it back. He kind of felt like he didn't get hurt enough to get a Bronze Star or a Purple Heart," she explained. "He's always done the best job he can in whatever he's been in."
Swanson's mother said she was thankful that the government decided to replace the Purple Heart that he had given away. She acknowledged that the Greene County Daily World story in January about her son gave her hope that Greg would get the recognition that he deserved.
"I thought somewhere down the line someone would read this wonderful article and maybe somebody would know who to contact and maybe replace his medal and also find the paperwork for the man who passed away," Mary Ann Swanson said.
The man at the state DNR headquarters who go the ball rolling was executive director Cameron Clark.
"It really started when I was forwarded a copy of the article, which moved a number of us here. Director Danny East, who is the director of the Law Enforcement Division is the one who sent the article and he and I talked. Both of us know General Umbarger and thought maybe we need to let him know," Clark explained.
"He (Umbarger) was very impressed with his deed and we kind of talked about it and said, 'Iis there any way that we might be able to find a replacement?' He said, 'Consider it done.'"
The 36-year-old Swanson, who's married to the former Shawna Skinner, joined the Guard at age 17 in September of 1994 before his graduation in May, 1995 from South Putnman High School near Greencastle.
Swanson was injured in 2012 when an armored truck was attacked by rocket-propelled grenades (RPG) and small arms fire. The truck took two RPGs that penetrated the armor and everybody inside the truck was injured in some way.
The driver, Aaron Fields, from Clay County, was killed during the attack.
Swanson sustained a leg injury and still carries some shrapnel in his leg as a constant reminder of what happened.
Swanson has been assigned to Greene County as a conservation officer for the last 10 years.
East and Major Umbarger also had high accolades for Swanson during the presentation.
"This act of kindness and unselfishness to present a medal which he definitely earned to someone that he felt had a greater need of recognition than what he did, that speaks highly of the character not only of Greg (Swanson), but all of the law enforcement division of the Indiana Conservation Officers which he represents," East commented.
Umbarger called it an honor to be a part of this special ceremony.
"When I heard of this, Director Clark made me aware that you were a conservation officer and the great gesture you did for this greatest generation of soldiers. He (McIntosh) went over to serve his country for three years and was in so many conflicts -- for 531 days in constant combat and came home like many in that generation and said nothing about it," Umbarger told the gathering. "He (McIntosh) just came home and did his job and was a great American and was proud to be a Hoosier."
Umbarger said there are seven values that military members try to live by ---- duty, honor, respect, integrity, loyalty, personal courage and selflessness in service. He said Swanson is a perfect example of all of them.
"Sgt. First Class I am very proud of you and it's an honor to re-present to you an award which you richly deserve, the Purple Heart," Umbarger stressed when making the presentation of the medal that was authorized by the President of the United States.
Swanson was humble in his comments following the award.
"I appreciate the honor here today. I just did what I felt was right," he said with his voice cracking. "I really feel like when I gave that (medal) to Kenny (McIntosh) for him to do what he wanted to do with it for his dad, it would be just he and I," Swanson explained. "For this (ceremony) to end up being here (today) is kind of mind boggling. Like I said, it (giving the medal away) was the right thing to do."
To read the original story when Swanson first surrendered his Purple Heart medal to the McIntosh family in January , go to the following link: