Swanson family experiences joys and heartache in three generations of service | News | The Press and Standard

by | May 26, 2017 5:00 am

Last Updated: May 24, 2017 at 11:55 am



The Swanson family of Walterboro has more than 110 years of combined military service spread over three generations — and it all started with a man called Pop-Pop — grandfather Lester “Andy” Anderson, who wrote love letters to his wife, Eva, while stationed overseas with the Army Air Corp.

“My grandfather was in Papua, New Guinea, during World War II and wrote letters to my grandmother. My mother has kept them in a scrapbook for years,” William Swanson — part of the third generation to serve in the military — explained. (The breakdown: Pop-Pop did 20, and his son James did 23; other son John did 20 years; Lena, Pop-Pop’s daughter, put in eight; grandsons William pulled three and Timothy did 12; son-in-law, Ted did 20; and daughter-in-law Jane did four.)

Eva Darieng was from Richmond Hill, Andy from Houston. He was stationed at Hunter Army Airfield in Savannah, Ga. when they met.

“They saw each other while out with friends. Mom said, ‘Who’s the little guy?’ and it went from there,” their daughter, Lena Swanson, recalled.

“On their first date, Mom took him deer poaching —with a deputy sheriff!” (Who happened to be her father.)

They married in June 1941. Six months after the wedding they were driving to Texas when Pearl Harbor was attacked. Andy “came running out of a gas station, jumped in the car, got her to Texas and then went back to Hunter,” Lena said.

He spent three years, from 1942-45 in the tropics of Papua, New Guinea, as a plane mechanic “crew chief.” And he wrote letters — long and short, loving and practical — to his wife, plus a Western Union telegram or two. Lena keeps them in a scrapbook that the family treasures.

In his letters, Andy asks his wife to write more often, describes the weather and cautions her not to grieve “so much you make yourself sick” over an unmentioned loss.

Other lines include:

“We arrived in Australia after a long but pleasant voyage.”

“I love you with all my heart.”

“The days and nights sure go by slow.”

“Hello, my darling sweetheart…”

“Hello, Eva my love. I received your sweet letter today and sure was glad to get it.”

“Don’t forget about the allotments.”

“I am glad you decided to go back to work. It will make the time pass faster.” (Eva worked at a bakery and a paper bag factory.)

When Andy came home, the couple had James, John, and Lena, and enjoyed the post-war boom years. The family did most things together. “I basically grew up in NCOs and VFWs and American Legion halls,” Lena said.

What was the secret to their happy union? “Whenever they got mad, we didn’t know it,” Lena mused. “We learned from them, you don’t argue in front of the kids.

“And they taught us to believe in the marriage vows: When you say you’re gonna do something, you do it.” Andy died in 1983, Eva in 1992.

Lena and her husband, Ted, have been married since 1978. “We had a tech school marriage — those are notorious for not lasting long,” she said cheerfully. (According to their son Will, when Lena first laid eyes on Ted, she told a friend, ‘That’s the man I’m going marry.’”)

Lena grew up in League City, Texas; Ted hailed from Grand Rapids, Mich. They met at Chanute AFB in Illinois. During his military career, they lived in England, California, North Dakota, and Texas.

After Ted retired from the Air Force in 1997, he worked for Tivoli, a subsidiary of IBM, until 2001, when became self-employed as an IT consultant.  In 2007, “He was walking through an airport and noticed he kept tripping over his left foot,” Lena said. The diagnosis: Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis, or Lou Gehrig’s disease.

They were living in Maryland and decided to leave their split-level home and harsh winters behind.  Lena used to visit her mother’s relatives in Hampton each summer as a child, and always liked the Lowcountry. They settled on Walterboro, partly because of its proximity to the Ralph H. Johnson Veterans Administration hospital in Charleston.

The couple purchased a sprawling two-story home with a large master bath that’s been remodeled to be wheelchair-accessible. It’s been featured in This Old House and Charleston Home and Design magazines.  It also won the National Kitchen and Bath Association’s Best Universal Design and Best Before and After bathroom in 2012.

Ted, who can’t speak or move, is still a vital part of the family: His bed is the center of daily activity and conversation.

Lena said her parents’ loyal marriage set a good example. “Ted and I said ‘for better or for worse. If it was reversed, he’d do the same thing,” she said. “He’s my best friend.”

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