WWII Hero To Be Buried at Arlington National Cemetery
Norbert Swierz, 92, of Palm Harbor was a war hero whose planes were shot down twice. He escaped from a P.O.W. camp and was honored with multiple medals. Sadly, he died before recently-discovered war letters from his mother could be given to him.
Norbert Swierz, 92, a humble World War II hero from Palm Harbor who escaped from a P.O.W. camp three times and was recognized with the French Legion of Honor, will be buried at Arlington National Cemetery, according to a family member.
Swierz died suddenly on Saturday, July 21 a few days after undergoing hip surgery, according to his son-in-law, Richard Ray. Private services were held for Swierz on Thursday at the Highland Lakes Subdivision in Palm Harbor where he lived with his wife Muriel, 91.
Ray says Swierz will be interred at Arlington National Cemetery in December. A date has not yet been set, as many family members who would like to attend are currently deployed in the military.
Swierz was a war hero whose larger-than-life experiences were the type of stories that Hollywood producers drool over.
"If you looked in the dictionary for the word 'patriot,' it would say 'Norbert Swierz,' " said Ray. "He was an all American."
Swierz was a flight engineer gunner who flew on B-17’s. His planes were shot down from the sky twice during the war. The first time, he landed in the North Sea and was rescued accidentally, by a crew looking for a different downed plane. 14 months later, he was shot down over Stuttgard, Germany.
“They captured me the minute I hit the ground. I came down right in the middle of the city we were bombing. They weren’t too happy with me,” Swierz told Palm Harbor Patch during an interview in August of 2011.
He spent two years at Stalag 17, the infamous prisoner of war camp that became the subject of a Hollywood movie. Swierz told Palm Harbor Patch how he and a pal escaped in a garbage truck.
“Me and my buddy decided to get into these huge trash sacks and escape in the garbage wagon. It got approved, and we got people to put us in there. We had two gates to go through and they had probes — big metal rods they’d poke the garbage with. They missed,” he laughed
Swierz received multiple honors for his efforts during the war (see photos) including Purple Heart medals and the French Legion of Honor, according to Ray.
Sadly, Swierz's life ended before recently-discovered war letters from his mother could be given to him.
On July 25, four days after Swierz died, Palm Harbor Patch was contacted by a collector who came across letters that Swierz's mother sent to the Red Cross in 1943, after his plane was shot down in Germany. The collector wanted to pass the letters along to Swierz.
Collector Kevin Lamb said that after reading the letters from Swierz's mother and reading the responses from the Red Cross, he was saddened to learn that Swierz had died.
"I never met him, but I felt a profound sense of loss," he told Palm Harbor Patch.
Swierz is survived by his wife, Muriel, 91; three adult children, Greg Swierz, Jeff Swierz, and April Ray; and 11 grandchildren. He was preceded in death by his son, Frank, according to his son-in-law, Richard Ray.
The family has not announced where remembrances can be made. As soon as Patch finds out, we will pass that information along to you.