Korean War vet travels to Hampton sister city in South Korea
Story contributed by Kate Mishkin of the Daily Press
“The first time Marvin Swain was offered a trip to South Korea, he opted out. The Korean War veteran couldn’t handle any more painful memories from his time in the Navy.
But when the Korean-American Friendship Association asked again this year, Swain decided it was time for a second chance.
This week, Swain will be honored for his time in the Navy in South Korea with a certificate of honorary citizenship of Anyang, which is a sister city to Hampton. The city of Anyang and the Korean-American Friendship Association of Anyang are paying for the trip.
Swain and his wife Mary “Kay,” who now live in Williamsburg, left for Seoul Tuesday morning. They’re accompanied by their son-in-law Joel Hurford and Sean Chu, a NASA engineer who also sits on the board of Sister Cities of Hampton.
“Executive and student exchanges have provided opportunities to promote friendship, learn more about each other’s culture and create a strong, healthy environment for economic and community development,” Dianne Foster Peterson, president of the Sister Cities of Hampton, said in an email.
The two cities forged a relationship in 1987, and the South Korean government and Korean-American Friendship Association have extended invitations to veterans in 2015 and 2017.
It’s an invitation Swain had to mull over, but he decided it was time to go back. Maybe, he thought, this would be a time to replace the old memories with new ones.
An undiagnosed condition
Swain doesn’t like to talk about the Korean War.
He provided the Daily Press with a written statement that details his time as a forward observer for the 4.2 mortars , around late September or early October 1951. He won’t talk about his time in the war, but he’s learned he can write about it.
“We, the Chinese and Americans, had constantly fought each other so much until the mountaintops, sides and areas around the mountains were completely bare except for a splintered stump here and there,” he wrote.
“They say that was self-medicating,” Swain, now 85, said in a recent interview.After the war, Swain was constantly nervous. For the first 25 years of his marriage, he was what he calls a “functioning alcoholic” — he’d go to work at the Space Center at Cape Canaveral during the day, then come home and drink all night.
The Swains have been married 58 years. They went to high school in Florida together and reconnected when they ran into each other at a local skating rink near the Space Center, where they both worked.
“We were married 40 years before I ever heard a word as far as the war,” Kay Swain, now 83, said recently. “He still cannot talk about it. He still does not like to talk about it.”
He would later learn he had post-traumatic stress disorder — a condition medical professionals didn’t always recognize or talk about. In 1980, the American Psychiatric Association added PTSD to the third edition of its Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders. Now the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs has an entire center devoted to PTSD with guides for military personnel, information on types of trauma and links to resources. The center was created in 1989, and its website launched in 1995, said Peggy Willoughby, spokeswoman for the Veterans Affairs National Center for PTSD.
“It was sort of a relief —,” Marvin Swain started.
“ — to know why he was having such a hard time,” Kay Swain finished.
Still, sometimes at night, Kay Swain notices her husband’s arms and legs moving, and she’ll move out of the way. He’s re-fighting the battles.
An “entirely different place”
They landed Wednesday and will visit Anyang, Seoul and Paju. The itinerary includes a dinner with the Retired Veterans Association of Anyang and a lecture for high school students by Chu, who’ll be chaperoning them.“Since all my family had to escape from North Korea during the Korean War, I would not be here without the sacrifice of those great Korean War veterans,” Chu said in an email.
“It’s an entirely different place than it would’ve been, so it makes me feel good that someone appreciates what the United States does,” Kay Swain said.
Marvin Swain said he’s interested in seeing how things have changed. He didn’t get to see much of the country during the war.
“It surprised me, getting the offer again,” he said. “I’m rather looking forward to it.” ”
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To see more pictures from this trip veiw the gallery here.