Dowagiac resident Walter Swann has accomplished much during his 79 years of life. A Navy veteran and a retired professional boxer, Swann has traveled the world and experienced many things, but the whereabouts of his old Navy friend Francis Demaio eluded his grasp. Until now. After 58 years of searching for each other, Swann and Demaio were finally able to reunite over the phone this past spring.


“It was a long time coming,” Swann said. Swann and Demaio met as recruits in the U.S. Naval Training Center in Great Lakes, Illinois in August 1962. Swann, from North Carolina, and Demaio, from New York, became fast friends.


“He was working out one day, and he could stand up on his hands,” Swann said. “I thought that was amazing, so I started working out, too. We teamed up as buddies to do our studies and get through boot camp.”


“We just hit it off,” Demaio said. “We became good friends, and that was it. We spent a lot of time together.”


On the night of their boot camp graduation in October 1962, Swann went to Chicago on liberty, an authorized absence for short periods that gives sailors a break from their normal duties. While Swann was on liberty, U.S. president John F. Kennedy made an announcement that marked the beginning of the Cuban Missile Crisis.


“I volunteered not knowing where I was going,” Demaio said. “By the time I got back to the barracks, my bag was packed.”


Swann and Demaio had already decided that they wanted to keep in touch with each other after graduation. Before leaving for the Caribbean Sea, Demaio wrote down his name and his mother’s address, and asked a sailor to give it to Swann upon his return from liberty.


Swann never received that message. After completing his training, Swann was assigned to USS Tom Green County, which was stationed at the U.S. Naval base in Yokosuka, Japan for two years.


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Max Harden, Leader Publications