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Old 04-14-2007, 05:57 PM
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LCpl Steven W. Szwydek, USMC, 20, Warfordsburg, PA (Iraq)

Arlington National Cemetery

Steven W. Szwydek
Lance Corporal, United States Marine Corps

Fulton Marine died doing what he loved
Steven Szwydek seemed born to be a United States Marine.

His mother, Nancy Szwydek said looking at pictures of her son throughout his life is like watching an evolution from a young boy with toy guns and camouflage pajamas to a young man with the real articles.

The 20-year-old Lance Corporal from Warfordsburg died doing the only thing he ever wanted to do last week. Szwydek was killed along with two other Marines by a roadside bomb during Thursday combat in Iraq, according to the Department of Defense. He is the second Fulton County man to die since combat began.

Szwydek was serving in the Weapons Company Second Battalion, Second Marine Regimental Combat Team Eight, Second Marine Division based out of Camp Lejeune, North Carolina. He was awarded the Purple Heart for wounds received in battle as well as the Combat Action Ribbon, the Iraqi Campaign Medal, the Global War on Terrorism Expeditionary Medal and Service Medal, the Sea Service Deployment Ribbon and the National Defense Service Medal.

Szwydek was remembered as a young man who was fascinated with the military and history. Nancy Szwydek said her son constantly watched the History Channel. Todd Hoffner taught Steven Szwydek in seventh and eighth grade and as a junior and senior at Southern Fulton High School, Warfordsburg, where he graduated in 2003.

Hoffner described him as a walking wealth of information when it came to history of the military.

“Any time someone would ask me a question relating to the military or wars, I’d refer them to Steven. He did have a vast amount of knowledge,” Hoffner said.

As graduation approached, Steven Szwydek was still determined to become a Marine. However, his parents urged him to look at the other branches to see what they had to offer. Nancy Szwydek recalled listening to some of the benefits and enticements that recruiting officers were offering, then going back to the Marines recruiter.

“I asked him what he had to offer and he said, ‘He either wants to be a Marine or he doesn’t,” she said.

He wanted to be a Marine, so much that he attempted to return to Iraq early after his first tour. Szwydek returned to the United States in October last year after seven months in the Gulf. In January 2005 he volunteered to go back early, but eventually had to wait for a second deployment in July.

Szwydek's sister, Stephanie Bard, said her brother, who was single, was looking to take the place of a soldier who had a family back home.

“He didn’t become a Marine to just sit around a base,” Nancy Szwydek said.

Szwydek was proficient not only with history but also with a firearm. He was qualified as an expert when he was tested for sharpshooting and, according to his father, hit a bull’s-eye nine out of 10 times from 500 yards.

“He always said that ‘A Marine never misses,” Bard said.

Although he joined what is considered the toughest branch of the military, Szwydek is remembered as being a kind person who was generally concerned about people. Wallace Szwydek, Steven's father, said he always had time for people, especially children. Bard recalled bringing her brother to speak to her class of fifth-graders while he was on leave.

“He had their attention more than we could have ever had their attention,” Bard said.

The family received word of their son’s death after closing up their family's convenience store in Warfordsburg Thursday evening when two Marines arrived at their home. The Marines have been with the family ever since and will remain there until they’re no longer needed.

“They have been here almost nonstop every day,” Bard said.

The family has also received support from the families of other Marines in the area in addition to the Marine Corps League, which has made travel arrangements so Szwydek's older brother in Oklahoma can attend the funeral.

“They have been such a tremendous help to us. I’m sure that we’ll have a long-lasting relationship with them,” Nancy Szwydek said.

Visitation will be in the Needmore Bible Church Thursday from 2 to 9 p.m. and Friday from 10 to 11 a.m. Funeral services will be at 11 a.m. Friday in the church. Szwydek will be buried in Arlington (Virginia) National Cemetery in a private ceremony.

The family asks that donations in lieu of flowers be made to Fallen Heroes Fund of the Marine Corps League. Donations can be made to Nancy and Wallace Szwydek in care of the Warfordsburg branch of the Fulton County National Bank, 7781 Waterfall Rd., Hustontown, Pennsylvania 17229.

“He didn’t have to be a Marine, but he wanted to be a Marine,” Hoffner said.
Saturday October 29, 2005
At least 400 pay respects to Marine
NEEDMORE, PENNSYLVANIA - Red, white and blue bows fluttered on mailboxes for about six miles of U.S. 522 between Warfordsburg, Pennsylvania, and Needmore Bible Church on Friday morning.

Hundreds of little American flags lined both sides of the long curved drive leading up the hill to the church.

Inside, more than 400 people - parents, siblings, relatives, friends, plus a detachment of 15 Marines - came to pay homage to Lance Cpl. Steven Walter Szwydek, their 20-year-old son, brother, nephew, friend and fellow Marine.

Szwydek, of Warfordsburg, Pennsylvania, was killed in combat October 20, 2005, in Nasser Wa Salaam, Iraq. He was serving his second tour in Iraq when he and two other Marines were killed by an enemy explosive device.

Szwydek's body was in a flag-draped casket in front of the church Friday morning. Behind the casket, the Rev. Doug Poffenberger officiated the Marine's funeral service.

First Sergeant Dave Jobe said the Marines were at the church "to honor a fallen Marine and support the family."

Jobe stood by Steven Szwydek's parents, Wallace M. and Nancy Szwydek of Warfordsburg, while they and other family members greeted the mourners who filed one-by-one by their small reception line prior to the service.

Jobe provided reassurance to the family.

"We are OK," Jobe told Nancy Szwydek. "We got lots of Marines here."

A photo of Szwydek wearing fatigues and in a relaxed pose was on the counter near the reception line. The caption with the photo said, "You must not judge a life by its length, but by its depth."

Poffenberger opened the service by thanking the Lord for blessing the nation "and those who so willingly have given themselves to defend her."

Speaker after speaker, in their eulogies, spoke of Szwydek's childhood; his love of military history, hunting and things outdoors; his expertise with guns; achieving his goal of becoming a Marine sniper; and his love of country, community and family.

Szwydek signed up for the Marines while he was a senior at Southern Fulton Junior/Senior High School. He left for boot camp four days after he graduated in June 2003. The war in Iraq was in its fourth month by then.

The first to eulogize Szwydek was his uncle, Stanley Szwydek.

"I tried to write some different things about Steve, but I really didn't know what to say," he said.

He spoke of family history - how one side of the family came from the western Virginia coal fields, while the other side was a blue-collar family from Canonsburg, Pennsylvania.

"Some people are here today because they know Mike (Wallace) and Nancy," Stanley Szwydek said. "Ninety-nine percent are here because if ever they talked to Steve, he was your friend. That's just the way Steve was."

Another uncle told of how when Szwydek returned from his first tour in Iraq, the family held a welcome-home party for him. He spent much of the time watching the news on television.

"While he was glad to be home, he felt he needed to be back in Iraq with his buddies," the uncle said.

"When I close my eyes and see you, I see you standing at attention watching over us," the uncle said of his Marine Corps nephew.

When the service ended, the Marines who made up the honor guard for the service marched down the aisle and out a side door. Two Marines held the flag over the coffin as the quiet inside the church was shattered by three volleys fired from the rifles of the Marines outside.

Szwydek will be buried in Arlington National Cemetery.
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