Colonel James E. Swett, USMCR, (1920-2009)

James Elms Swett was born on 15 June 1920 in Seattle, Washington. He relocated to San Mateo, California with his family and attended San Mateo Junior College before enlisting in the U.S. Naval Reserve as a Seaman Second Class in August 1941. After training at Naval Air Station, Corpus Christi, Texas, he was designated a Naval Aviator and, in April 1942, commissioned as a Second Lieutenant in the U.S. Marine Corps Reserve. That December, following additional training, he was sent to the south Pacific and joined Marine Fighting Squadron Two Hundred Twenty One (VMF-221), which was operating in the Solomon Islands area after the end of the Guadalcanal Campaign. During this time, he was promoted to First Lieutenant.

Leading one of his squadron's divisions on 7 April 1943, Swett intercepted a large force of Japanese planes raiding the Guadalcanal and Tulagi area. Flying through intense fire from both the enemy aircraft and "friendly" anti-aircraft guns, he shot down seven enemy aircraft before running out of ammunition and having to ditch his badly damaged "Wildcat" fighter off Tulagi. For his "extraordinary heroism and personal valor" on this occasion, he was awarded the Medal of Honor.

Promoted to Captain, Swett provided air support to the Allied offensives in the central Solomons during much of the rest of 1943, destroying several more Japanese planes. He was himself shot down in an aerial battle near New Georgia Island, rescued by local residents and taken, by canoe, to safety.

In December 1943, Swett returned to the United States and was ordered to Naval Air Station, Santa Barbara, California. His squadron served on board USS Bunker Hill during the Iwo Jima and Okinawa operations in February-May 1945. Swett ended World War with credit for downing at least 15 1/2 enemy aircraft. Following the war, he commanded Marine Fighting Squadron One Hundred Forty One (VMF-141) at Naval Air Station, Alameda, California. He remained in the Marine Corps reserve until retiring in 1970 with the rank of Colonel. James E. Swett died on 18 January 2009 and is buried at the Northern California Veterans Cemetery in Igo, California.

This page features the only image we have concerning James E. Swett.

Photo #: NH 106456

First Lieutenant James E. Swett, USMCR

Halftone reproduction of a photograph, copied from the official publication "Medal of Honor, 1861-1949, The Navy", page 266.
James E. Swett was awarded the Medal of Honor for "extraordinary heroism and personal valor" while serving as Division Leader of Marine Fighting Squadron Two Hundred Twenty One (VMF-221) with Marine Aircraft Group Twelve (MAG-12), First Marine Aircraft Wing, 7 April 1943.

U.S. Naval History and Heritage Command Photograph.

Online Image: 66KB; 580 x 765 pixels


Medal of Honor citation of First Lieutenant James E. Swett, USMCR (as printed in the official publication "Medal of Honor, 1861-1949, The Navy", page 266):

"For extraordinary heroism and personal valor above and beyond the call of duty, as Division Leader of Marine Fighting Squadron TWO HUNDRED TWENTY ONE with Marine Aircraft Group TWELVE, First Marine Aircraft Wing, in action against enemy Japanese aerial forces in the Solomon Islands Area, 7 April, 1943. In a daring flight to intercept a wave of 150 Japanese planes, First Lieutenant Swett unhesitatingly hurled his four-plane division into action against a formation of 15 enemy bombers and personally exploded 3 hostile planes in midair with accurate and deadly fire during his dive. Although separated from his division while clearing the heavy concentration of antiaircraft fire, he boldly attacked six enemy bombers, engaged the first four in turn and, unaided, shot down all in flames. Exhausting his ammunition as he closed the fifth Japanese bomber, he relentlessly drove his attack against terrific opposition which partially disabled his engine, shattered the windscreen and slashed his face. In spite of this, he brought his battered plane down with skillful precision in the water off Tulagi without further injury. The superb airmanship and tenacious fighting spirit which enabled First Lieutenant Swett to destroy seven enemy bombers in a single flight were in keeping with the highest traditions of the United States Naval Service. "

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To the best of our knowledge, the pictures referenced here are all in the Public Domain, and can therefore be freely downloaded and used for any purpose.

<---20 April 2011--->

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