Vietnam War Veteran Honors Fallen Soldier 54 Years Later, Builds Lifelong Bond with Family, US

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Updated: 12:12 PM, Fri November 10, 2023

Vietnam War Veteran Honors Fallen Soldier 54 Years Later, Builds Lifelong Bond with Family

It has been almost 54 years since Richard Hodnett, a Vietnam War veteran, volunteered for a duty that left even the toughest of combat-hardened soldiers with weak knees. Stationed at Fort Riley in Kansas after his service in Vietnam, Hodnett took on the difficult task of serving as a military escort to return the body of a young man killed in Vietnam to his grieving family in Kandiyohi County, Minnesota.

Hodnett’s decision was fueled by a deep desire to ensure that the fallen soldiers received the honor they deserved. He wanted to make sure that Waldon Jerome Swart, a soldier who died on January 3, 1969, at the age of 20, would always be honored for his service.

To this day, Hodnett never fails to send a birthday card to Joyce and Merle Swart, the surviving aunt and uncle of Waldon Swart. Along with the card is a generous gift of $100, with the request that the funds be used to help those in need during Thanksgiving. In the spirit of generosity, Joyce and Merle match the money.

For many years, the responsibility of providing assistance was handed over to their pastor at First Lutheran Church of Norway Lake. Each card from Hodnett adds a personal touch with a unique message every year. One such message reads, There’s never enough time to celebrate all the beauty that surrounds us. That is why God sets aside one day each year just to celebrate you. Love, Richard and family.

The duty of delivering Waldon Swart’s body to his family was undoubtedly challenging for Hodnett. However, with the passage of time, he now views it as a transformative experience. Hodnett believes that sometimes, the worst of situations can turn into something beautiful.

Since arriving in Minnesota in 1969, Hodnett has become an integral part of the Swart family. Aside from the annual birthday cards, Hodnett and Joyce and Merle Swart exchange letters, Christmas cards, and chat over the phone. They catch up on family news and engage in casual conversations about the weather. It’s a connection that seems to have happened naturally, fostered by genuine care and understanding.

Their bond transcends the physical distance that separates them. Joyce and Merle even made a trip to Orangevale, California, to visit Hodnett and his family. When Hodnett arrived in 1969 as a military escort, he stayed in the Swart family’s New London home. Hodnett and their young children quickly formed a close bond.

It’s unclear exactly when this long-distance relationship began, but Joyce believes it likely started with a Christmas card from Hodnett the year following Waldon’s funeral.

Now 80 years old, Hodnett served in the military for three years, reaching the rank of Staff Sergeant E6. After his military service, he returned to California and pursued a career as a plumber, pipefitter, and building inspector for Sacramento County. He has been happily married for 40 years and has raised two children with his wife.

Specialist 4 Waldon Swart was drafted into the military right after graduating from New London-Spicer High School. He worked for New London Concrete Products and a neighboring farmer before his service called him away. Those who remember him describe him as a friendly and hardworking farm boy.

Swart’s time in Vietnam was cut short when he tragically lost his life after only a few months of service. His parents, Marion and Willie Swart, were deeply devastated by his death. Willie passed away in 1986, followed by Marion in 2016.

The family still treasures the letters Waldon sent them from Vietnam, including heartfelt thank-yous for the homemade cookies they would send him. One of his last letters conveyed that he was heading to a dangerous location.

On January 3, 1969, a booby-trap bomb exploded at the Cu Chi mess hall, claiming the lives of 15 Americans, including Swart, and two Vietnamese individuals. Reports state that explosives hidden by a Viet Cong saboteur detonated when a soldier withdrew a food tray from a rack. It was later revealed that three female Cu Chi Base Camp workers were affiliated with the Viet Cong.

Hodnett served as an escort for the bodies of three servicemen killed in Vietnam, two of whom were from Iowa. While he maintained contact with their families, they have since passed away.

Reflecting on his experience in Kandiyohi County, Hodnett expressed gratitude for the warmth and kindness he received from the Swart family. They welcomed him with open arms, treating him as one of their own. Knowing he genuinely cared, they told him, We lost a son and a brother, but guess what? We gained you.

The support of family, neighbors, and their church community played a crucial role in helping the Swart family through the immense loss of their loved one. Today, they find solace in knowing that, after all these years, Waldon Swart is remembered, not just by their adopted family member, Richard Hodnett.

Waldon Swart’s final resting place is at the First Lutheran Church of Norway Lake Cemetery. Family members occasionally visit his grave, where they find mementos left by veterans with some connection to him. Coins, photos, and even his favorite snacks serve as reminders of the impact he had on others.

During football season, the New London-Spicer Wildcats honored Waldon Swart and all the veterans from their community who made the ultimate sacrifice.

For Hodnett, it is of utmost importance that Waldon Swart is never forgotten. His dedication to honoring a fallen soldier and building a lifelong bond with the Swart family serves as a testament to the enduring power of love and the impact one person can have on others.

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Michael Wilson
Michael Wilson
Michael Wilson, a seasoned journalist and USA news expert, leads The Reportify's coverage of American current affairs. With unwavering commitment, he delivers up-to-the-minute, credible information, ensuring readers stay informed about the latest events shaping the nation. Michael's keen research skills and ability to craft compelling narratives provide deep insights into the ever-evolving landscape of USA news. He can be reached at michael@thereportify.com for any inquiries or further information.

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