On Veterans Day, a local veteran recalls a life of service
By Jack Kintner
“I’m not a hero. The bottom line for me is that it was an honor to serve,” said Cory Swinburnson, a naval officer who served for seven years, part of it during the Vietnam war, and is one of Blaine’s many military veterans.
When asked what people should be thinking about on Tuesday, Veterans Day, November 11, Swinburnson said “These are the real heroes,” indicating the names of Blaine residents who were killed in action in that conflict and are listed on the downtown war memorial on H Street.
Swinburnson said that the farther he gets from his years in the service the prouder he is of having served, something he sees in other veterans as well, but that people who didn’t serve seem to sometimes forget those who did.
“As time goes on we don’t pay enough attention to these people,” he said, adding that he served with “a lot of amazing people who sacrificed much more than I did.”
Swinburnson, recalling that he was once harassed while traveling as a uniformed officer at Boston’s Logan Airport said, “I think we’re obviously showing more respect to veterans now than we did then. These are people who deserve our respect and admiration, and the most should go to the men whose names are on the monument.”
Swinburnson, 59, is a Lynden native who has lived in Blaine for many years with his wife Julia. He retired this year as a customs broker.
Sons Ryan (Blaine high school class of 1991) and Tyler (’93) were on Blaine’s state championship baseball team in 1990.
Ryan is now an attorney in the Tri-Cities area and Tyler has a real estate appraisal business in Everett. Daughters Brianna, 16, and Rachel, 14, attend Blaine high school.
Swinburnson attended Western Washington University after graduating from Lynden high school in 1967.
“There was a lot of anti-war activity at Western then. One day some picketers told me I couldn’t go past them to talk to a Navy recruiter,” he said, “but I didn’t let that stop me.”
With a fairly high lottery number in the draft, Swinburnson volunteered for the navy in 1971 and ended up going to Officer Candidate School (OCS) in Newport, Rhode Island.
He served for the next eight years, five of which were at sea. He served on the helicopter carrier USS Okinawa as a division officer with the rank of ensign.
“We could put 500 marines on the beach with amphibious landings in very short order,” he said. The ship would later become famous as it loaded some of the last people to exit Saigon as the war came to a chaotic end in 1975.
He spent his last three years on active duty teaching Naval Reserve Officer Training Corps (NROTC) classes at the University of Southern California.
“That was fun,” he said, “because some very good students came through my classes.”
Among them were Maureen Farren who rose to the rank of captain and became the first woman to command a naval warship, the 553-foot USS Mt. Vernon.
Another student of Swinburnson’s was Mike Tillotson, who is an admiral in charge of explosive ordnance disposal for the Navy in Iraq.