Retired Marine Still Lives the Day of Infamy

Local retired Marine and survivor of Pearl Harbor has one mission left

By Hank Tester and Todd Wright
|  Tuesday, Dec 8, 2009  |  Updated 6:30 AM EDT
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One Final Mission

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American ships burn during the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor.

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One Final Mission

Ceremonies across the country today marked the anniversary of the attack on Pearl Harbor, but for one South Florida vet, that day is crystal clear. And you might be surprised to hear what he has to say about the enemy he survived that day.
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Arnold Swartz can re-live the Pearl Harbor attack as if today were Dec. 7, 1941. 

"I looked up and I see the plane bank over and come down," said the 94-year-old Swartz, who lives in Coral Springs. "There it is a big red meat ball."

Swartz was a U.S. Marine on duty when the Japanese raiders decimated Pearl Harbor. Swartz got into the fight and can prove it.

In a rock steady voice he points at a crumpled piece of metal and says, "One of my machine guns knocked down a plane. We went there and ripped it off." The war trophy is what remains from the center section of a Japanese fighter plane's instrument panel.

Swartz reads without glasses, volunteers a 100 hours a month at a local library, and still acts in local plays. Old age forced him to give up golf, where he says he racked up a series of hole-in-one shots. His memory is sharp as a tack, particularly when it comes to painting a picture of Pearl Harbor with words.

Swartz acknowledges the brilliance of the attack but is critical of the end results, which he deems a failure.

The Japanese, he thinks, "made a horrible mistake. They did not send in troops as part of the attack. They could have walked right into Pearl Harbor and they failed to destroy the Pearl Harbor dry docks which proved critical in the swift repair of damaged U.S. Navy ships. "

He also notes that the Fleet's aircraft carriers were not in port, so some of America's most vital weapons were spared. But the attack has seared terrible images and horrible memories into Swartz's mind.

Men that Swartz knew were killed. He has visited the Pearl Harbor Memorial that spans the U.S.S. Arizona. Once his eyes gazed on the dozens of names he recognized, he cried like a baby while surrounded by a group of Japanese tourists.

They showed respect Swartz will tell you. The Japanese looked away, shielding their faces.

"They would not let me be embarrassed by them seeing me crying. I have much respect for the Japanese people," he is quick to say. "It was the leadership like Tojo that I hated."

Within weeks following Pearl Harbor, the newly married Boston native was shipped to Midway Island, and later to Guadalcanal. Along the way it was kill or be killed. 

"These are pictures that I captured from a Jap that I killed. It is his artwork." A yellowed sketchbook rests on a table full of war memories. The art is bold, Asian street scenes drawn by a soldier with time on his hands. A rare historical artifact from long ago and far away.

After the war Swartz says he took the sketch book to the Japanese Consulate in Boston. He had deciphered the artist's name and wanted to return the book to the soldier's family in Japan.  No luck. There was no connection.

There is a slight look of disappointment in Swartz's eyes. It is the one mission he has not completed. As for Pearl Harbor, he relishes telling the tales of one of America's worst defeats that spurred a great nation on to victory.

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