INDIANAPOLIS — Monday was a special day of reflection, recognition, restoration and honor for Greene County-based Indiana Conservation Officer Greg Swanson.
First Sgt. Swanson had been awarded the Purple Heart as a member of the Indiana National Guard’s 387th Military Police Company out of New Albany for injuries sustained in Afghanistan in 2012. Swanson remains active in the National Guard.
On Jan. 29, Swanson gave his Purple Heart medal to the family of Leonard Wayne McIntosh, just minutes before the funeral for the 88-year-old World War II veteran began at Tulip Church of God in rural Bloomfield.
Swanson’s act was a token of respect and honor for McIntosh, who never had the distinction of wearing the Purple Heart while he was alive.
The gesture by Swanson, who has nearly 20 years of service in the Indiana National Guard, has been described as a selfless act of love and respect for a late World War II veteran, who died Jan. 26.
McIntosh’s family had been seeking for years to prove the validity of the Purple Heart request.
There was plenty of government red-tape to battle through — a process that was complicated when it was learned that Wayne’s war service records had been destroyed in a 1973 fire at the National Personnel Records Center in St. Louis, along with up to 18 million other personnel files.
McIntosh was injured when a building in southern France was bombed while he was inside.
Just before his funeral, McIntosh finally received his military honor.
Swanson told the Greene County Daily World that he surrendered his medal to McIntosh because he felt the elder Army veteran had earned it — probably more than he did.
Monday morning, Swanson was surprised when he received a duplicate Purple Heart from Indiana Adjutant Gen. Martin Umbarger in a ceremony at the Indiana Department of Natural Resources in Indianapolis.
Swanson’s parents, David and Mary Ann Swanson, traveled from Michigan for the ceremony.
“It doesn’t surprise me. He has always been this way since he was a kid. When his sister didn’t want to do a job, he’d say, ‘I’ll just do it,’” his mother said. “He’s always been very helpful and always wanting to help people and family or anyone that needs help.”
His mother said her son’s military service changed him.
“He came back with the idea that he came back and some didn’t make it back. He kind of felt like he didn’t get hurt enough to get a Bronze Star or a Purple Heart,” she explained. “He’s always done the best job he can in whatever he’s been in.”
She said she was thankful that the government decided to replace the Purple Heart that he had given away.
The man at the state DNR headquarters who go the ball rolling was executive director Cameron Clark, who said he and others were inspired by stories of Swanson’s donation and decided to tell Umbarger.
“He (Umbarger) was very impressed with his deed and we kind of talked about it and said, ‘Is there any way that we might be able to find a replacement?’ He said, ‘Consider it done.’”
Swanson, 36, joined the Guard at age 17 in September 1994 while still in high school.
He was injured in 2012 when an armored truck was attacked by rocket-propelled grenades and small arms fire. The truck took two RPGs that penetrated the armor and everybody inside the truck was injured in some way.
The driver, Aaron Fields, from Clay County, was killed during the attack.
Swanson sustained a leg injury and still carries some shrapnel in his leg as a constant reminder of what happened.
Swanson has been assigned to Greene County as a conservation officer for the last 10 years.
East and Umbarger also had high accolades for Swanson during the presentation.
“This act of kindness and unselfishness to present a medal which he definitely earned to someone that he felt had a greater need of recognition than what he did, that speaks highly of the character not only of Greg (Swanson), but all of the law enforcement division of the Indiana Conservation Officers which he represents,” said Danny East, director of the DNR’s Law Enforcement Division.
Umbarger called it an honor to be a part of this special ceremony.
“When I heard of this, Director Clark made me aware that you were a conservation officer and the great gesture you did for this greatest generation of soldiers. He (McIntosh) went over to serve his country for three years and was in so many conflicts — for 531 days in constant combat and came home like many in that generation and said nothing about it,” Umbarger told the gathering. “He (McIntosh) just came home and did his job and was a great American and was proud to be a Hoosier.”
Umbarger said there are seven values that military members try to live by — duty, honor, respect, integrity, loyalty, personal courage and selflessness in service. He said Swanson is a perfect example of all of them.
Swanson said he appreciated the honor and never expected that his gift to McIntosh would be known outside the two families.
“I just did what I felt was right,” he said, his voice cracking.