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February 24, 2010 > Sailors' Reunion coming to Newark

Sailors' Reunion coming to Newark

By Alyson Whitaker
Photos By Alyson Whitaker

In her 27 years of service, the USS Lyman K. Swenson (DD729) was both home and work to thousands of service men and women. The Destroyer carried the name of the Captain of the USS Juneau, a cruiser sunk by Japanese early in World War II. USS Swenson was fully commissioned in May, 1944 and served through three world conflicts - WWII, the Korean War, and the Vietnam War.

While sailors who served on the ship through its years of service may not have been on board at the same time, camaraderie is felt among them. A common interest of having lived on board, performed duties of the ship and mission, and experienced tensions involved in a time of world conflict brings with it a connection that is one-of-a-kind.

This common connection was the motivation behind formation of the DD 729 Sailors' Association. Membership includes original crew members (plank holders), commanding officers, career Navy veterans, officers, and other personnel of various rates, ranks, and service time. Because the ship was decommissioned in 1971, the youngest member of the crew at that time would now be at or near 60 years old.

During World War II, the Swenson saw action in the Philippines, the Battle of Surigao Straights, Iwo Jima, Okinawa, and bombardment of the Japanese home islands. At the end of the war, the ship headed home for some much needed repairs and modifications.

When the Korean War began, the Swenson was in Japan. She was immediately ordered to duty off the Korean coasts for recovery of aircraft and pilots, shore bombardment, reconnaissance, and securing transportation and shipping channels. As part of the planned Inchon Landing, the ship was assigned with other destroyers to draw enemy fire and spot enemy positions.

The squadron became known as "The Sitting Ducks" and was awarded a Presidential Union Citation. Subsequent tours during the war called for similar patrol duties, shore bombardment, operations with aircraft carriers and continuing patrol of Formosa (Taiwan) Straits to keep the mainland Chinese (Mao Tse Tung) and the Formosan Chinese (Chiang Kai Scheck) from attacking each other.

DD729 saw its first Vietnam action in October, 1964. Similar roles and duties were required as in previous conflicts. Her final deployment to "WestPac" was in March of 1970. After 27 years of service to the US Navy, the USS Lyman K. Swenson was decommissioned and eventually sold to the Taiwanese Republic of China government to be used as parts for other ships in service by the Taiwanese government.

Retired Newark Fire Chief Preston "Pres" Spalding served on board the Swenson from April, 1952 to November, 1953. Just 19 years old at the time his service began, Pres is a member of the Association and attended his first reunion of the sailors just a few years ago. "I have never felt so welcomed by a group of people I didn't know as I did by them." That feeling has kept him coming back, and inspired him to step up and assist with the coordination of the 22nd reunion to be held this October at the Newark Hilton.

The four-day event will bring attendees from all over the nation. Some will come alone, some with spouses or partners, some with extended family. There are several widows of sailors who continue to attend the reunions and are every bit as much a part of the group as if they had been on board themselves.

About 150 former sailors are active members of the Association. The activities of the weekend are still in the planning stage, but will include a day trip to Monterey, a special tour of the San Francisco Bay aboard the USS Potomac and a banquet, dance; a special memorial service for those members no longer living will conclude the weekend events. In addition to the scheduled activities, there will be plenty of opportunity for reliving the time spent on board the Swenson, and certainly no shortage of "sea stories."

For more information on the reunion, contact Preston Spalding at presspa@sbcglobal.net.

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