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Vietnam Veteran and West Milford resident honored as Hero of the Game

by Gordy Stillman / New Jersey Devils
Surrounded by family, Vietnam Veteran Dan Swarts received a standing ovation from fans at Prudential Center as the New Jersey Devils' Hero of the Game. Swarts operated artillery in Vietnam for nearly a year after being drafted in 1968, earning many honors for his service.

United States Army Spc. Dan Swarts was drafted in May 1968 and spent a year fighting in the Vietnam War before completing his service in 1970. Awarded numerous accolades for his service with field artillery, the New Jersey Devils added to his honors on December 29, recognizing Swarts as the team’s Hero of the Game.

The 67-year-old West Milford resident recalled that as a 20-year-old at the time, he found it “shocking, but I understood that the country needed me at the time.” Originally from Menlo Park Terrace, Swarts reported to basic training at Fort Dix before going to Fort Sill in Oklahoma for advanced training. Swarts trained in the use of artillery, specifically 155mm howitzers, which used shells the length of his wingspan. “The shells weighed about 100 pounds each,” he explained.

In September of 1968, Swarts was sent across the ocean to spend nine months at various fire support bases where he’d use artillery to support other Army initiatives. “The howitzers that we were on were air-mobile and each weighed 15 tons,” Swarts said, as he described the special helicopters that would move the weapons from base to base. “The guns were moved, and then we were flown by helicopter to the fire bases. We probably moved at least once a month.”

In his eighth month in Vietnam, Swarts was reassigned to the role of battery clerk, which took him out of combat until the camp was overrun. “It was a thrilling experience.” After returning to the United States in September 1969, Swarts served as a clerk for a training company based at Fort Dix, until receiving his discharge in May 1970.

During his military career, Swarts received a number of medals, including the Army Commendation Medal with a “V” Device for valor. “On one of the firebases where we were being overrun, we actually turned the guns on ourselves to fire support…to do that you would turn the gun straight up in the air and the barrel would go up and come right back down.” On that occasion, Swarts’ group lost three of its six guns as it provided support. Swarts also received a bronze star for his service.

For his marksmanship skill, Swarts received an M14 Marksman Medal, and as a veteran from New Jersey, he received the New Jersey Distinguished Service Medal. “That one was awarded by the State of New Jersey. I got that one with my dad. He got his from World War II and I got mine from Vietnam at the same time.” When in Vietnam, Swarts’ inspiration from his father’s service as a marine helped him handle everything.

Upon returning to civilian life, Swarts went to work with Fedders Corporation, a company that manufactures air conditioners. “I eventually moved myself up into their data processing department, I was a programmer.” After leaving Fedders, Swarts reached the post of Chief Technology Officer, at other companies in the New York/New Jersey area.

Over the more than 45 years since his discharge, Swarts has also built a large family. “I married my high school sweetheart, Susan. We got engaged before I left and got married when I got back.” Joining him at the game were his wife, two daughters and four of his six grandchildren.

A longtime Devils fan, Swarts said his all-time favorite player is Martin Brodeur, and after consulting with his grandson, Jacob, said Patrik Elias is his favorite current player. After again consulting his grandson, who Swarts said is “a walking encyclopedia” when it comes to the Devils, Swarts chose when Adam Henrique sent the team to the Stanley Cup Finals as his favorite moment after debating between that and the team’s first Stanley Cup championship.

Swarts laughed briefly and called the honor “cool” when asked what it meant to be celebrated at the game. “I’m very honored,” he said before receiving a standing ovation from the crowd. “I think it’s great to recognize veterans and people who have devoted their service to their country.”

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