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'Always upbeat'

Friends and family say Marine fulfilled his lifelong dream of joining Corps

Friends and family say Marine fulfilled his lifelong dream of joining Corps

October 24, 2005|by DON AINES

WARFORDSBURG, PA.

chambersburg@herald-mail.com

From the time he was a boy, Steve Szwydek had set his goal in life: He wanted to be among "The Few. The Proud. The Marines."

"He told us when he was 5 years old," his mother, Nancy, said Sunday at their Fulton County, Pa., home, where family and friends had gathered to console the family over the loss of the son and brother killed last week during his second deployment to Iraq.

Lance Cpl. Steven W. Szwydek, serving with Weapons Co., 2nd Battalion, Regimental Combat Team 8, 2nd Marine Division, and two fellow Marines were killed Thursday when an improvised explosive device detonated while they were on combat operations near Nasser Wa Salaam, according to the U.S. Department of Defense.

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"He was a typical kid, but never had any problems," his mother said. Born in Portsmouth, Va., Steven Szwydek graduated in 2003 from Southern Fulton High School, where he played outfield and catcher for the baseball team, managed the basketball team, sang in the school choir and was chaplain for the FFA chapter.

Steven was active in the youth group of his church, St. Paul's Lutheran Church in Hancock, the family said.

"He was one of the nicest guys you ever knew," said his friend, Timothy Keebaugh of Needmore, Pa. "He'd do anything to help you out. He was a funny guy" who loved the outdoors, Keebaugh said.

In the summer before his senior year, Szwydek joined the Marine Corps through the delayed entry program, Nancy Szwydek said.

"We did try to talk him into - very strongly - looking into other branches of the armed forces," said his father, Wallace Szwydek.

"We told him the Marines were brainwashed," Nancy said, apologizing to two Marine sergeants who were with the family. Their son spoke with a U.S. Army recruiter, but was unwavering in his desire to join the corps, she said.

Nancy Szwydek told her son she would not sign the permission form necessary for those under the age of 18 to enlist in the program.

"He said, 'Mom, I love and respect you, but I'll wait 'til I'm 18,'" and sign up then, she recalled.

"So I signed," she said.

"He left for boot camp four days after graduation," she said.

Stephanie Bard of Warfordsburg, Steven Szwydek's older sister, said she read letters written to her brother by classmates when he was in first grade. In them, the classmates wrote that "he always wanted to be an Army man."

"He was a military history buff," his father said. His son was very proud of a military weapons collection that included American and foreign firearms from World War I to the present.

The family said he planned to make the Marine Corps his career. His younger brother, Corey, said he had discussed leaving the Marines to go to college and then returning as an officer.

Steven Szwydek, who has an older brother, Gregory Craven, in Oklahoma City, was deployed to Iraq from March to October of 2004, his father said. He was redeployed July 20, he said.

"He had leave and we also spent time with him at (Camp) Lejeune (N.C.) before he left," his mother said. About two weeks ago, they spoke with him by telephone.

Nancy Szwydek said her son had just finished a patrol and sounded tired, "but fine as always."

"Always upbeat," said his father, who noted Steven made the call at 3:30 a.m. Iraqi time.

Szwydek was the recipient of many awards during his service, including the Purple Heart. Other awards include the Combat Action Ribbon, Iraqi Campaign Medal, Global War on Terrorism Expeditionary Medal, Global War on Terrorism Service Medal, Sea Service Deployment ribbon and the National Defense Service Medal, his parents said.

"He had no regrets about what he was doing, and he made it clear we have no regrets, either," Bard said.

"My husband and I both believe that freedom isn't free," Nancy Szwydek said.

About two miles from the Szwydek home, there was a sign in front of Wilkins Farm & Home Supply bearing Steven Szwydek's name.

Below his name, the sign read, "The Last Full Measure."

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