“The Secret of Happiness”
Eulogy for Harry A. Swan
St. Clare’s Catholic Church, Clifton NJ Sept.
delivered by his son,
MAJOR Patrick A. Swan
Welcome. I am Patrick Swan and behalf of the Swan Family,
I thank you all for coming today to honor and celebrate the life of our
father, Harry Anthony Swan.
This has been quite a gathering at the visitation and for
this funeral service. I know Harry would have been justifiably proud at the
turnout – as well as the magnificent police escort that brought my father
past the police department and through the city he served for so many years.
You see, Harry agreed with that sage philosopher, New
York Yankees’ great Yogi Berra, who once remarked that, “If you don’t go to
people’s funerals, they won’t go to yours.”
There’s one thing you need to keep in mind here: Whether
it was working part time as a limo driver, or pallbearer or an usher for
Jimmy Minchin’s or Harold Kent’s or J.C. Fila’s or many others’ memorial
homes – Harry Swan went to a lot of funerals. So, to see so many people
assembled in his honor these two days, well, it would have brought a broad
smile to his face. “Yogi was right!” he’d have said, with a mischievous
As many of you know, Harry was the second of 14 children
of the late Harry Swan and Agnes Vreeland Swan, of Clifton, N.J. He was the
twelfth direct descendant of the original Dutch settlers of this area in
In the late 1930s, Harry quit high school to work in the
Civilian Conservation Corps in the Pacific Northwest. Sending back home
most of his earnings from his CCC forestry pay to aid his parents and
siblings during the Great Depression, Harry early established his modus
operandi in life for unselfishly helping others – with little gain to
Harry worked many side jobs during his 33 years as a
Passaic police officer. The funeral business was just one piece. He stood
for hours providing security at Foodtown supermarket. He guarded the parking
lot at Pope Pius High School against vandals and car thieves during Monday
bingo night – for more than a dozen years!
And while Harry Swan worked hard all of his life, he
never became financially wealthy. He gave too much of himself and his
treasure to his family, friends and the less-well-off.
Now, many guys with similar salaries worked with my Dad.
Some of them amassed amazing fortunes. Somehow, I don’t believe that was all
because of sound investing. This is New Jersey, after all.
Today, though, we recognize that Harry departed all this
messiness and has gone to his just rewards. His Rewards. And as his brother
Leonard reminded me this week, “Bums and crooks aren’t allowed where he’s
gone. Always remember that.”
This is part of why I believe Harry Swan died a happy
What do I mean by that?
Let me briefly explain with a quote from the ancient
Athenian law-maker Solon: “Let no man be called happy before his death,”
Solon said. “Until then, he is not happy, only lucky.”
This is because no one knows what misfortune may befall
any of us.
For the things we own and people we cherish, all could be
But, when we live a good life, when we unselfishly help
others, we turn our luck into opportunity. And that opportunity provides an
inexhaustible good fortune that keeps us blessed and happy throughout our
I’m here to give you a glimpse into the character of my
Dad so you’ll appreciate why he lived a long and happy life and died,
indeed, a happy man.
Harry’s story is a tale that will bring to you – not a
mischievous grin – but rather, a joyous smile of pride, pride that you have
been blessed to have been a part of the telling of this magnificent story
memorializing his long and happy life.
Where should we start?
Why don’t we start…in the middle, because that is the
part that composed the greatest portion of my father’s post-war life and to
which most of you are familiar.
Harry Swan walked the beat as a patrolman for many, many
years. If you broke the law, he either issued you a citation or he arrested
you. Without fear or favor.
One day Harry was ticketing illegally parked cars in
Passaic. One of those getting the pink slip was his own father’s car. The
newspapers and those who “knew better” all snickered. What kind of cop
issues a ticket to his own dad?
I’ll tell you what kind: an honest cop.
On the day of his mother’s funeral, he heard a man cry
out – thugs had beaten the man, a shopkeeper. Harry gave chase to the
suspects, whom he identified for uniformed officers who quickly apprehended
them. Harry returned to help the victim. He wasn’t on shift. All his
attention should have been focused on the loss of his mother. And much of it
was. But he never forgot who he was and what his duty was.
Who was he? He was Harry Swan, an honorable cop.
That year, Nineteen Seventy-three, the Knights of
Columbus recognized his excellence by naming Harry “Policeman of the Year.”
That award was merely a culmination of twenty years of
dedicated police work to Passaic, up to that time.
In Nineteen Sixty, New Jersey Governor Meyner awarded
Harry the New Jersey State Valor award for rescuing 27 families from a
burning tenement building on Monroe Avenue in Passaic.
Also in Nineteen Sixty, the Veterans of Foreign Wars
awarded him for rescuing more families during a separate fire on Pennington
Earlier, in Nineteen Fifty-Five, the State Board of
Commissioners presented Harry an honorable mention award for the capture of
a habitual criminal.
During the great Passaic unrest of Nineteen
Sixty-Eight, following the assassination of Doctor Martin Luther King
Junior, my Dad suited up in riot gear to protect people and property.
One of thirty special police selected for the mission,
his team faced down three hundred screaming, stampeding, pillaging rioters.
After they apprehended the rabble rouser leaders on a
Friday night. Harry recalled, the next night – a Saturday night – was the
most peaceful in Passaic in six months.
On the lighter side, during his long career, Harry
delivered more than a dozen babies, often in the back of patrol cars. One
such delivery was Craig “Iron head” Hayward, who grew up to be an
all-American running back for the Passaic High School Indians and a
professional football player for the New Orleans Saints. Harry long hotly
denied the rumor that he played part in how that odd nickname originated.
The story goes like this: During delivery in the back of the police
cruiser, Officer Swan accidentally bumped the newborn’s head on the door
frame. When the newborn failed to cry out in pain, Harry was said to have
exclaimed, “That boy’s got an iron head.” And the name stuck. Thus are
Harry once summed up his Police work by saying it had
been a great experience for him.
“I wouldn’t go so far as to say that I have enjoyed every
moment of it. But, it has given me a great opportunity to aid people in
distress. I will always remain dedicated to that cause.”
And why? Because Harry Swan was an honest, honorable,
He was also a cop of such discipline, he never once had
to unholster his pistol and fire in anger during his thirty-three-year
career. But he did unleash his great compassion many, many times for what
he called “the great opportunity to aid people in distress.”
He advanced far in the Passaic Police Department during
his long career. He might have advanced faster or even further. But he
didn’t have much time to study for the police exams.
In his off-duty hours, he was working those funeral jobs
and those security guard jobs. How could he do this when he worked full-time
during the day as a police officer?
The answer is, he didn’t. He volunteered for the police
department’s so-called Dog Watch or Graveyard shift – midnight to 8 a.m. –
so that he could be available during daylight hours for the funeral work or
security guard duties that would add a few extra dollars for his family’s
benefit. I sometimes wonder if he ever slept at all during the years I was
home growing up.
Seeing that the public schools were failing in Passaic,
he worked these various extra jobs to scrape up the money to send his
children to Catholic schools, where we learned the solid values about right
and wrong that have made us good, respectable citizens.
Harry’s eldest son Michael took his Catholic school
education to the University of Texas Law School. Today, he is a judge in
Chattanooga, Tennessee. My sister Lisa also took her Catholic school
foundation to the University of Texas. Today she is the online entertainment
editor for the New York Daily News and rants online about the New York
Yankees as part of the Subway Squawkers blog. My sister Karen made Catholic
School values her own as a homemaker. She’s instilled those values in her
two children, Zachary and Sydney.
As a side note, I must mention that those grandchildren,
Zachary and Sydney -- along with my own daughter’s Amy and Stephanie --
brought immeasurable joy and happiness to my father in his retirement years.
He subscribed to that adage, “If I’d known grandkids would be this much fun,
I’d have had them in the first place!”
For my part, I took my Catholic upbringing in to service
to country. In case you hadn’t noticed, I’m with the Army.
Some of you may have also heard – my Dad was with the
In a very real sense, it was my father’s service to
country that brings us all here today to Saint Clare’s Catholic Church for
In World War Two, he made it his business to jump out of
perfectly good airplanes into hostile combat zones teeming with enemy
Three of those jumps BEHIND enemy lines.
It was on one of these missions that my Dad became a
Roman Catholic. Cut off from supplies in enemy country in Leyte, his unit
went nine days without proper food, hunkered down in a place they called
“Rock Hill.” The men husked rice and dug up roots from the ground as they
Here are my father’s words recalling those hard times:
“It was miserable. Raining. No Shelter. No Rations. And,
No Resupply at all. We were surrounded by the enemy, with no hope of getting
out. You could not even imagine one day getting back home safely, or even
celebrating the Christmas that was soon to come. We were paratroopers and we
The Army Air Corps could not drop rations to the troops
because of the monsoon rainfall drenching their position. Located in
mountainous terrain, the Air Corps had no visibility that would allow them
to relieve the 511th paratroopers.
Then, one day, a Roman Catholic chaplain gathered the
soldiers together for a prayer service. He beseeched God Almighty to lift
the cloud cover so these brave soldiers suffering could be alleviated.
And you know what? After nine days of unrelenting
downpour, the clouds lifted, just long enough for a convoy of planes to find
the troopers’ position and drop provisions to sustain the men. As the last
plane passed by, the clouds converged again and the rains began anew. Later
that day, a rescue party arrived on foot to lead the replenished troops out
of harm’s way.
Harry saw that as a sign. He said to himself, “that
Catholic Chaplain is in good with the Lord. I think I’ll give his religion a
good looking over when this war is over.”
So he did.
He soon converted to the Roman Catholic faith. This is
why we are gathered here today at Saint Clare’s Catholic Church. And it is
why his children and grandchildren also call the Roman Catholic faith their
When he joined the Army, Harry stood six-foot-two, age
twenty-two, weight one-hundred ninety-five pounds and “hard as nails. In
Nineteen Forty-Three, he visited a recruiting sergeant who showed him a
poster and literature on Army paratroopers, whom he described as daring, and
their duty as very exciting. For at least once in the history of the U.S.
Army, the recruiter didn’t lie. Harry recalled, “I immediately wanted to
become a paratrooper.”
What the recruiter did not tell, Harry added, was how
difficult it would be to get into the paratroops: the tough physical
examination, the push-ups in the mud, the double-timing up and down Currahee
Mountain in Georgia, three times in order to qualify. After injuring his
ankle in training, Harry made two paratroop jumps in fifteen minutes so he
could complete his training, earn his wings and keep up with his G Company
buddies. All that just so he could surrender his safety and rush into battle
with the enemy.
Harry was assigned to Company G of the newly created
511th Parachute Infantry Regiment of the 11th Airborne Division. His unit
shipped out for the Pacific Theatre on May 8, 1944. As they passed under
the Golden Gate Bridge at San Francisco, he and his fellow band of brothers
shouted, “Golden Gate by ’48!”
Think about that for a moment. Americans had been
fighting World War II for more than two-and-one-half years at that point.
These soldiers expected another four years of fighting before they’d achieve
victory and get to come back home. What fortitude! What determination! What
endurance! Would that we, in our own times, could sustain such fortitude,
and such determination, and such endurance in staying focused in getting the
job done, when facing our nation’s mortal enemies today.
Harry’s division was in New Guinea for five months in
1944, engaging in ferocious fighting along the way. They then moved to three
more months of combat on Leyte -- which included those starving times I
related -- before the end of the year.
The 511th then made a combat parachute jump onto Luzon
Island in the Philippines on February 3, 1945. After landing, they force
marched thirty-two miles to the southern approaches of Manila, and locked in
close combat with the Japanese near Nichols Field. His unit earned a
Presidential Unit Citation for that engagement. For his part in the battle,
on February 5, 1945, Private First Class Harry Swan earned the Silver Star
medal – our nation’s third highest award for gallantry in action, just
behind the Medal of Honor and the Distinguished Service Cross.
What did he do that day more than 62 years ago? Well,
when his company was pinned down by heavy enemy machine gun fire, his
company commander, Captain PATRICK Wheeler – I knew I’d heard that first
name somewhere before – ordered a machine gun into a forward position to
attempt to silence the enemy fire.
In moving forward, both the gunner and assistant gunner
were disabled. That’s Armyspeak for getting shot. The Army’s narrative
details how Private First Class Harry Swan voluntarily and with complete
disregard for his own safety ran forward while constantly exposed to heavy
enemy fire. He picked up the heavy iron tripod for the machine gun and moved
it to a favorable firing position. Harry then ran back -- still under heavy
fire -- and retrieved the machine gun and placed it on the tripod. At this
time, he noticed that the ammunition belt was covered with mud. He called
for ammunition to be brought up but received no response. For the SECOND
time, Private First Class Swan ran back through heavy enemy fire. He
obtained a box of ammunition and ran forward…FOR A THIRD TIME, finally
reaching the position to load the machine gun and begin firing. His accurate
fire destroyed the enemy machine gun nest. That’s also Armyspeak. It means,
he knocked out the bad guys. This allowed his company to proceed on its
vital mission against the heavily defended GENKO Line.
The Silver Star citation recognizes Harry for
“outstanding bravery, daring initiative and sincere devotion to duty,
exemplifying the highest tradition of the United States Army.”
Why did he do this? Harry knew in his heart what the
Greek Historian Thucydides explained twenty-four centuries ago:
“The secret of happiness is freedom. And the secret of
freedom is bravery. The bravest are surely those who have the clearest
vision of what is before them -- glory and danger alike -- and yet
notwithstanding, go out to meet it.”
As you see, my Dad set the example of what to do when
your country is in danger. His bravery in the face of danger made him free.
That freedom kept him happy.
I noted earlier that I myself have been around the U.S.
Army for a few years. I’ve even advanced to a slightly higher rank than my
Dad did during his Army time.
When the call came nearly four years ago for me to step
up, leave family, friends and fortune behind, and head for the combat zone
in Iraq, I never doubted my course.
Bless their hearts, my mom and one my daughters, loving
me dearly, but desperately afraid they’d lose me, begged me not to go.
“You’ve got enough time in for a pension. You can quit the Army now. You
don’t have to go!,” they implored me.
My father was too ill even then to have a say either way.
But I knew what actions Harry Swan took for himself when
our nation needed him. All his life, he never ran from a fight and he never
shirked his duty. When war came, my Dad was willing to defend his country
with his life.
So was I.
And yet, I would be kidding myself if I thought for even
a second that anything I did for our country in 20-straight-months of
service in Baghdad came even minutely close to the valor and heroism my Dad
displayed that one February day in 1945.
Harry Swan was wounded in action during the morning of
the next day. He was then wounded again that afternoon, more seriously. A
mortar shattered his ear drums and left shrapnel lodged in his foot that he
carried with him the rest of his life -- through all those days walking the
police beat and standing security in his many extra jobs -- all so he could
provide for his family and help his children to an even better, more
prosperous life than he enjoyed. And he succeeded. Can you see more clearly
now why I say he died a happy man?
Following his hospitalization, Harry returned to his unit
before the surrender of Japan. He was selected for the “Honor Guard
Platoon” that accompanied General-of-the-Army Douglas MacArthur when he
first went into Japan. This was quite a high honor considering all the top
notch manpower the general had available to choose from. Harry’s photograph
and an announcement to that effect made page-one news in his hometown paper,
the Herald News, back in Passaic.
The Honor Guard was flown to Okinawa for special
training. Then, on August 30, 1945, they flew into Atsugi Airstrip in
Japan. General MacArthur arrived two hours later on his aircraft, the
Bataan, and was escorted to the New Grand Hotel in Yokohama. The platoon
then guarded all the ranking allied officers. On September 2nd, they
escorted General MacArthur to the U.S.S. Missouri for the Japanese surrender
ceremony. A photo of that signing hung in Harry’s den during his Texas
After three months in Japan, Harry started the final leg
of his military odyssey home via Yokohama. Instead of “Golden Gate by ’48,”
he reached San Francisco “back alive in ‘45” on Christmas Eve. What a
testament this was to American GIs’ guts, grit and determination to get the
job done and get home as soon as possible.
Discharged at Fort Monmouth, New Jersey on January 9,
1946, he returned home to Passaic. In addition to the Silver Star, the final
tally of Harry’s combat awards included the Bronze Star medal with valor,
the Purple Heart medal – twice- and the Combat Infantryman Badge. He
remained a proud member of Chapter 1919 in Austin, Texas of the Military
Order of the Purple Heart.
Before he left, however, another amazing thing happened
to Harry. What the cynics would call dumb luck, I call the good fortune that
accrues to the just.
During the early days of the occupation of Japan, one
morning when Harry was standing guard, a Filipino man recognized him from an
incident some months earlier when the 511th was in Manila. Harry and Felipe
renewed their acquaintance. It had happened one evening when Harry was
walking alone down one of the narrow Manila streets.
He came upon three American G.I.’s beating up one of the
locals, a very much smaller man. That didn’t look right to Harry. Now you
have to understand that Harry has always been a fighter. When he was a kid,
certainly as a paratrooper, and even later in life, Harry never ducked a
fist fight. He took on the three soldiers, saying, “You want to fight
someone? Fight ME!” Instead, they fled, and Harry assisted the victim -- who
turned out to be Felipe.
And Felipe was now one of General MacArthur’s kitchen
staff, a cook whom he had brought along to Japan. From that point on, Harry
was invited to come around to the kitchen anytime and receive the same meals
served at the General’s table. Harry took him up on the offer and he ate
pretty well for a time, certainly much better than the “10 in 1” rations
that the troops were eating at the time. I believe it was Aesop who said, “A
kindness is never wasted.”
My Dad rarely wasted -- or failed to offer -- a kindness
in his long life. During a hospital stay four years ago, he heard a patient
cry out, “Help me! Help me!” Without hesitation, Harry Swan – who’d charged
into enemy machine gun fire to save his Army buddies and who’d dashed into
burning buildings to save terrified citizens – moved to leave his bed to
It wasn’t necessary. Nurses and orderlies quickly arrived
to aid the patient.
It also wasn’t possible. Harry was himself confined to a
hospital bed, attached to a cat’s cradle of tangled tubes and wires, and
could no longer walk. But none of that really mattered. To anyone who knew
“Officer Swan,” his willingness to help was no surprise. “That’s just
Harry,” they said.
And they were right!
Besides his gentle side, we’ve already noted Harry’s extraordinary
toughness. He knew well that life is tough, so he made himself tough in
return. In the last, toughest fight of his life, he battled old age, from
which no one comes out the victor. But Harry gave old age a helluva battle,
just the same.
How tough was he? After initially being admitted to
hospice, after a while, in exasperation, they dropped him as a patient.
Reason? He wouldn’t die!
That, my friends, was more than two years ago. A total of
three hospice centers dropped Harry from their roles and the fourth was in
the process of doing so when Harry finally accommodated them last Monday.
Despite the physical pain he endured as his body declined
steadily in his later years, my father “toughed it out” without complaint.
That he had no complaints is a tribute, in no small part,
to the love and devotion of his wife – and my mother – Marilyn Swan. She was
the anchor who allowed him to weather harsh seas. She maintained the hearth
so that he had a warm, safe home to return to after battling the world’s
dragons. And she was the guardian who remained an immovable, loyal sentry
at his side throughout his long illness and decline.
As his last hours approached last Sunday night, my mom
held his hand in consolation to reassure him it was ok to let go.
Then a funny thing happened. My Dad gripped her hand
back, strong and firm, as if to tell her, with the last full measure of
strength he had left, that HE wasn’t going anywhere. Rather, he would stay,
as he had always done, to protect and provide for his family. Now that’s one
A few hours later, on Monday morning, a nurse and a
priest entered his room. By that time, my Dad had faded so much they could
detect neither a pulse nor any blood pressure. His breathing was faint. To
send him on his way cleansed to see God the Father, the priest administered
the last rites of his Roman Catholic Church. No one anticipated any
response. But then suddenly, unexpectedly, my father opened his eyes and
blinked. It was a signal.
He had heard.
He had understood.
And he was signaling us that he had accepted.
It was the final way he could help those he loved in
their grief at his passing.
It was the final way to show that he understood what his
duty called for in that moment.
And, it was the final way to show to all, that he was
departing us… a contented and HAPPY man.
God, please bless the soul of Harry Anthony Swan and
continue to bless his beloved United States of America.