Robert Swift, 83, was below deck on the USS Utah at Pearl Harbor wrapping souvenirs and writing Christmas cards to his family in Tennessee when he heard a loud commotion. It was an early Sunday morning and the men had just finished breakfast and were looking forward to a day of relaxation. Many sailors had gone up top to sunbathe and enjoy the beautiful Hawaiian sun, so the men below were confused by the loud, disturbing noises. Robert ran up to the deck and saw many sailors lying around – shot and lifeless. The commander told the men to get below, so they would be safe. However, torpedo and Japanese fighter planes had simultaneously attacked the USS Utah, so they didn’t realize the severity of the situation. As the sailors began to gather in a lower compartment, the water rose rapidly. Mr. Swift said, “We realized we were in trouble when the water got waist deep, so we ran out of there like a bunch of drowned rats.” The ship turned on her side and sank in 8 minutes. Like many sailors, Mr. Swift swam through the oil fires to the shore to survive. The USS Utah was the first ship attacked and wasn’t very far from the shore, which saved many of their lives.
Robert Swift’s wish was to return to Hawaii to be reunited with his ship and fallen comrades. The USS Utah still lies on her side, and just like the USS Arizona, contains the remains of those sailors who perished there on December 7, 1941.
What a huge undertaking this was for Forever Young, and it was going to take all of us to bring this wish to fruition. Channel 3′s morning show, Live@9, asked the community for financial help, as well as the Collierville Herald. The consensus was unanimous- we had to get Mr. Swift, 90, back to Pearl Harbor. It had been almost 70 years since he was there and this was something our community couldn’t ignore. With the help of the Durham Foundation and some loyal contributors, Mr. Swift was on his way within four short weeks.
One of the greatest surprises came when Jackie Ford from Northwest Airlines told us they were going to upgrade Mr. and Mrs. Swift’s tickets to first class. Ms. Ford said, “This is our gift to Mr. Swift for his service to our country.” Having never flown first class before, Robert didn’t know he’d be treated like a superstar, and he’d get to eat all the way to Hawaii!
On the day of the Swift’s departure, the Navy Band and the University of Memphis Naval ROTC, came to the airport to give him a formal send-off. Channel 3 did a story on Mr. Swift, which was an awesome tribute. You can view it by clicking here.
Mr. and Mrs. Swift and their daughter, Christie, spent 5 nights in Hawaii and were treated like royalty. Jim Taylor, Pearl Harbor Survivor Liaison, hosted the Swift family and arranged for a private tour of the island. This special trip on the Navy’s yacht took Robert to the USS Utah once again. Mr. Swift was moved by the amount of respect and attention he received at Pearl Harbor and couldn’t believe he was being asked to sign autographs. J His wife said laughing, ” He’s going to get a big head. I’m going to have to nail his feet to the floor.”
The Swift family is humbled by the love they’ve they been shown and could never thank everyone for making this trip possible. Mr. Swift said, ” This was a trip of a lifetime and I never would have gone without Forever Young. Thanks so much.”