“I’ve had a great life and I’m ready to go.”
Marine Corps veteran and local author of The View from my Foxhole: A Marine Private’s World War II Combat Experience, from Guadalcanal to Iwo Jima, William “Bill” Swanson passed away quietly holding his daughter’s hand on March 20th at the age of 98.
Bill was born in Taft, California on August 10, 1924, to William and Helen Swanson. William and Helen had a wonderful marriage and were very excited to be starting a young family. In December of 1926 Bill’s younger brother Glen was born. In a letter home to her mother, Helen expressed her great joy and what a wonderful Christmas gift their new son was. Unfortunately, she had developed toxemia and passed away a couple of weeks after Glen’s birth.
An orphan himself, William became a widower with an infant and young son in his early twenties. He was crushed by the loss of his wife and had his hands full trying to raise the two boys and hold down his job. He tried various housekeepers and neighbors to help with the boys yet found no permanent solution.
When the depression took place, William had to travel to find work and he reluctantly left the boys in the care of their grandmother in Glendale, CA. Bill spent ten years in the loving care of his grandmother until he reached the age of 18 in August 1942.
After his birthday, Bill enlisted in the United States Marine Corps and served as a rifleman in the third division’s ninth marine regiment. The division left from the Broadway pier in February 1943 bound for New Zealand and then Guadalcanal. On November 1, 1943, his company was in the first wave landing for the invasion of Bougainville Island B.S.I. where he also contracted malaria during the campaign.
After the Bougainville campaign his outfit returned to Guadalcanal and then they were involved in the invasion of Guam in July 1944. After the campaign Bill contracted dengue fever which developed into yellow jaundice in the fall of 1944. He was critically ill yet eventually recovered and returned to his company. Of the forty men in his platoon that left San Diego, there was only Bill and one other marine who had not either been killed, wounded, or rotated out.
In February 1945 his regiment landed on Iwo Jima during the battle for the island. In the late morning of February 26th Bill was one of two thousand marines ordered to fix bayonets and charge across the island’s second airfield under heavy artillery and machine gun fire. Bill was wounded during the final stage of the initial assault yet not wanting to leave his fellow marines had to be ordered from the field to seek aid. Of the ten men in his squad who landed on Iwo Jima, seven were killed and three were wounded. In his memoir he wrote. “We were closer than brothers…our feelings for each other and the damned corps are probably beyond understanding.”
Bill returned to Glendale after the war. He met and married Rita Dolores Rockefeller and the two moved to the San Gabriel Valley where they raised two children and truly had a wonderful life together.
In retirement, Bill wrote his memoir and enjoyed playing golf. Bill and Rita enjoyed traveling to Marine Corps reunions and getting together with old friends. Rita passed away in 2013 and later Bill moved to Imperial Beach to be closer to family in his final years.
Bill was fond of a few sayings including, “Be thankful for small favors, and It’s a great life if you don’t weaken.”
Bill’s memoir was unpublished for over thirty years and then a series of events led the book to be published by Permuted Press in November 2022. He was both surprised and honored to become a published author at 98 years old. In his last year as his health was failing Bill was still upbeat and enjoyed signing books, doing book interviews with the Eagle & Times, John Waters with the Real Clear Defense website and Martha MacCallum with Fox News.
Bill is survived by his two children, two grandchildren and two great-grandchildren. His remains will join Rita’s at the Riverside National Cemetery.
Over the last several months Bill had much time to reflect on his life. Growing up in the depression, surviving the brutal battles in the Pacific. The wonderful life that he and Rita had raising a family together. He always came to the same conclusion. “I’ve had a great life and I’m ready to go.”
Submitted by the family