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Veterans groups have provided support, solace to Swensons

Patriot Guard members riding 100 motorcycles visit Dave and Kay Swenson's house in southeast Rochester last September. They held a ceremony to honor Marine Cpl. Curtis Swenson's service to the country.

Curtis Swenson, 20, died a year ago while serving as a turret gunner. While trying to come to the aid of a vehicle damaged by a roadside bomb, Curtis' Humvee hit another explosive device, flipping his vehicle and killing Curtis.

One thing hasn't changed for the Curtis's parents, Dave and Kay Swenson of Rochester. The impulse to share their son's story with others remains as powerful a force in their lives as it did when they first learned of his death. The couple have started a scholarship program. The Cpl. Curtis Curtis M. Swenson Memorial Scholarship Fund plans to hold its first golf benefit on June 4.

And today, on the first anniversary of his death, the Swensons will gather with friends at Soldiers Field Veterans Memorial to offer a tribute to their son.

"I'm not going to go two years down the road, and they're going to go, 'who?'" said Dave, who also served in the Marines. "If you know me, you're going to know my son."

Even the Marines who participated in Curtis' funeral were impressed with the way the community rallied around the family, Kay said. One of them told her that of all the funerals he had attended, he had "never seen a community come together like that."


Old world shaken up

Even so, the ensuing months saw a shakeup of their social world. Old friendships withered and were replaced by a new network of friends, many of them associated with veterans groups.

Dave said friends he has known his entire life stopped calling him after his son's death. And despite the widespread media coverage, Kay said she still encounters people who ask her how her son is doing, not knowing that he died in Afghanistan.

A memory, a photo or an association still has the potential to tumble the Swensons into grief. But whereas the bouts of heartache used to last days and even weeks, both are able to bounce back a little faster now.

Many of Curtis' fellow Marines are now getting out of the service, getting married and having children — constant reminders of where Curtis' life should be. Curtis had harbored a dream of going to school. And weeks after he died, his wife, Katie, was still receiving the brochures and pamphlets he had asked colleges to send him.

Waves of support, honor

New bonds have helped bring stability to the Swensons. The support of veterans groups, like the Patriot Guard, Tribute to the Troops and Tee It Up For the Troops, have in many ways been life-saving.

"If you haven't been in our shoes, you can't realize the support from the veterans community," Dave said.


Last September, six months after Curtis' death, a cavalcade of motorcycles rolled up to the Swenson's house. They came in roaring waves, 100 motorcycles strong, many of them ridden by members of the Patriot Guard.

Every year, they visit the homes of fallen soldiers around 9/11, a reminder of why America fights in far-flung wars. An overflowing crowd of 140 people gathered around the flag on the Swenson's front lawn and a ceremony was held in Curtis' honor. Kay and Dave were presented with a photo of their son and a set of dog tags.

"That was the single biggest impact I've had in the last year — when they rode up to our house," Dave said. "I think we hugged 140 people in person."

Both also can spend hours at a time talking with members of veterans groups via Facebook.

'Remember our son'

Experiences like that have created an indelible bond between the Swensons and veterans organizations. The roar of a motorcycle has taken on the association of a patriotic hymn.

Several months after Curtis died, Dave bought a custom-built Harley-Davidson motorcycle with the Marine insignia etched on it. A photograph of his son sits on the windshield, to the left of the rider, so that Dave can see his son wherever he goes.

"I just want everybody to remember our son. That's what it's all about," Dave said. "Remember him and not forget him. He died serving his country for everything we have here."

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