Second Lieutenant Walter Wade Swansberger


Insignia of VMF-221, The Fighting Falcons

Service Number: O-007538

Birth and Early Life:
Walter Swansberger was born on April 16, 1920. He was the son of Walter L. and Nan Swansberger, owners of a clothing store in Santa Ana, California. (1)

Enlistment and Boot Camp:
Swansberger enlisted sometime in 1941. He passed through aviator’s elimination training and nearly a year of flight school before being awarded his wings and a commission as a second lieutenant.

Wartime Service:
Lieutenant Pinkerton boarded the USS William Ward Burrows in January 1942, and sailed for the island of Midway, where he joined fighter squadron VMF-221.

On March 1, 1942, Lieutenant Swansberger was one of the Fighting Falcons chosen to form the basis of a brand new squadron, VMF-222, which was officially created on Eastern Island – right next door to Midway. (2) He started off flying a F2A-3 Brewster Buffalo in a strict training regiment as established by 221; in April, VMF-222 was recalled to Hawaii, but not before transferring all but two of their pilots to VMF-221. (3)

Swansberger returned to the main island of Midway and, in late May, was fortunate to exchange his obsolete Buffalo for one of the newer F4F Wildcat fighters delivered by the USS Kitty Hawk. He flew Wildcat #3989 in the squadron’s Fifth Division, under Captain John F. Carey.

Date Of Loss:
On the morning of June 4, 1942, Swansberger took off at 0350 to fly a morning patrol with the rest of his division. An hour later, they were recalled to the island to rearm and refuel for what the command believed would be a major Japanese attack on the airfield.

Swansberger was still getting familiar with the Wildcat; new pilots often had trouble with the narrow landing gear, and Swansberger’s plane ran off the taxiway and into the soft sand as he headed for the refueling revetment. As ground crews feverishly worked to dig the fighter out and assess any damage,  Swansberger watched anxiously as the rest of his division took to the sky to meet the Japanese.

Finally, his aircraft was freed and Swansberger hurried to catch up. He was unable to locate his own division, so he tagged on with Captain Kirk Armistead’s Third Division. Some of Armistead’s pilots, in their older Buffalos, noticed the lone Wildcat tagging on to their division, and at least one recognized Swansberger’s plane, Number 23. It was the last time he would be seen by anyone who survived – no trace of Walter or his Wildcat was found after the fight.

Lieutenant Swansberger was awarded a Navy Cross for his part in the battle.

The President of the United States takes pride in presenting the Navy Cross (Posthumously) to Walter W. Swanberger (0-7538), Second Lieutenant, U.S. Marine Corps (Reserve), for extraordinary heroism and distinguished service in the line of his profession while serving as a Pilot in Marine Fighting Squadron TWO HUNDRED TWENTY-ONE (VMF-221), Marine Air Group TWENTY-TWO (MAG-22), Naval Air Station, Midway, during operations of the U.S. Naval and Marine Forces against the invading Japanese Fleet during the Battle of Midway on 4 June 1942. Delivering a dauntless and aggressive attack against a vastly superior number of Japanese bomber and fighter planes, Second Lieutenant Swanberger aided in disrupting the plans of the enemy and lessening the effectiveness of their attack, thereby contributing materially to the success of our forces. As a result of his courageous and daring tactics and because of the circumstances attendant upon this engagement, three can be little doubt that Second Lieutenant Swanberger gallantly gave up his life in the service of his country. He displayed the characteristics of an excellent airman in keeping with the highest traditions of the United States Naval Service.

Next Of Kin:
Father, Mr. Walter Swansberger

Status Of Remains:
Lost at sea.

Tablets of the Missing, National Memorial Cemetery of the Pacific.
(1) The family name is sometimes spelled “Swanberger”
(2) Another VMF-221 pilot, Second Lieutenant David Pinkerton, would also be temporarily assigned to the new squadron, but was returned to 221 prior to the battle.
(3) VMF-222 War Diary, March 1942.

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