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At least 400 pay respects to Marine

October 29, 2005|By RICHARD F. BELISLE

NEEDMORE, PA. - Red, white and blue bows fluttered on mailboxes for about six miles of U.S. 522 between Warfordsburg, Pa., 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, Pa., was killed in combat Oct. 20 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 Sgt. 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, Pa.

"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 (Va.) National Cemetery.

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