CROSBY -- Russell L. Swearingen, 87, of Deerwood, one of the Brainerd area's few remaining survivors of the Bataan Death March, died Tuesday at the Cuyuna Regional Care Center in Crosby.
Swearingen was a maintenance officer for the Stuart Light Tanks which U.S. soldiers used on the Philippine peninsula of Bataan in World War II. He served with Company A of the 194th Tank Battalion, an outfit that included many Brainerd area soldiers.
Walt Straka, who served with Swearingen and also was a fellow Death March survivor and POW, remembered him as a good guy and a talented mechanic.
"We were pretty good buddies," Straka said.
As young men, Straka said they would go out and have a good time during their training stint at Fort Lewis in Washington. That military base was the soldiers' last stop before being assigned in the Philippines.
Nearly 10,000 troops, both Filipino and Americans, died in the Death March of about 100 miles. Their Japanese captors inflicted physical punishment on them and gave them little or no food or water.
Straka said Swearingen shared a perspective with him that they were fortunate to have lived as long as they had lived considering all they had lived through.
"Ninety percent of the guys who got back died before they were 50," Straka said. "He lived to be 87. He was pretty fortunate."
Charlie Extrand, 71, a retired colonel and Korean War veteran, became acquainted with Swearingen when he helped organize Bataan memorial ceremonies.
"I guess I always thought of him as kind of a little spitfire," Extrand said. "He was little but he had lots and lots of get up and go. He always enjoyed reminiscing and telling of his experiences."
One particular story Extrand recalled was that once the Japanese surrender was announced, Swearingen immediately went up to a guard and took away his rifle and bayonet.
"It showed how spunky a little character he was," Extrand said.
Brainerd Dispatch ©2013. All Rights Reserved.