Wounded Warrior: The Rise and Fall of Michigan Governor John Swainson

Wounded Warrior: The Rise and Fall of Michigan Governor John Swainson

by Lawrence M. Glazer

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Few people today remember John Swainson. As a teenage soldier he lost both legs in a WWII landmine explosion. Back in the United States, following a meteoric political rise in the Michigan State Senate, Swainson was elected as Michigan's youngest governor since Stevens T. Mason.
     In 1970 Swainson was elected to the Michigan Supreme Court,


Few people today remember John Swainson. As a teenage soldier he lost both legs in a WWII landmine explosion. Back in the United States, following a meteoric political rise in the Michigan State Senate, Swainson was elected as Michigan's youngest governor since Stevens T. Mason.
     In 1970 Swainson was elected to the Michigan Supreme Court, becoming one of the few public officials to have served in the legislative, executive, and judicial branches of state government. Then, in 1957, he was indicted on federal charges of bribery and perjury, and convicted of lying to a federal grand jury. Forced to leave the state Supreme Court and disbarred from practicing law, he became a pariah, sinking into depression and alcoholism. He virtually disappeared from public view.
     Lawrence M. Glazer re-examines the FBI's investigation of Swainson and delves into his 1975 trial in detail. He reveals new information from eye-witnesses who never testified and, in a poignant coda, relates the little-known story of Swainson's rehabilitation and return to public life as a historian.

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Michigan State University Press

Copyright © 2010 Lawrence M. Glazer
All right reserved.

ISBN: 978-0-87013-971-0

Chapter One


The autumn rituals of high school football have changed little over the decades, and on the surface would have appeared, on a chilly Michigan afternoon in October 1942, much like those we see today. But the players' parents, huddled in the wooden bleachers, must have entertained mixed feelings as they watched their sons in the bloom of youth. Soon most of them would be going off to war.

The two teams represented the largest public high schools in their respective towns, Port Huron and Mt. Clemens, which hugged the east coast of Michigan's Thumb, about forty miles apart. They were playing before a crowd of about a thousand, renewing an annual rivalry that went back eighteen years and involved possession of a trophy known as the Little Brown Keg. The visiting contingent of Port Huron supporters was smaller than usual because of wartime travel restrictions.

The trouble began near the end of the first half when a large group of hometown fans invaded the visitor's side of the stadium. About one hundred of the Port Huronites mustered to repel the invaders, but the police got between them and broke it up, and the game continued. At the gun ending the first half, the host Mt. Clemens Bathers were leading the visiting Port Huron Big Reds 13-0.

Halftime commenced. After the Port Huron marching band had finished its performance, the Mt. Clemens band took the field. According to the Port Huron Times-Herald, "The Mt. Clemens Band, after a stirring march put on childish horse-play, making Port Huron the goats. This display of poor sportsmanship led to many near-fights and some exchanges of blows."

Once again order was restored, and the third quarter began. After an exchange of punts, Port Huron started on its own 20-yard-line. Quarterback Harvey Henry handed off to end Clarence Hodge, who executed a "beautiful run" to the Big Reds' 49-yard-line. Coach Frank Secory decided to give starting fullback Al Tuoma a breather and sent senior Johnnie Swainson into the huddle. Henry handed off to Swainson, who plunged into the line for a three-yard gain. As Swainson got up to go back to the huddle, a "near-riot" broke out on the Mt. Clemens sideline, and the officials halted the game.

The Mt. Clemens band director had the presence of mind to order his musicians to stand and play "The Star-Spangled Banner," which caused everyone not already engaged in the fighting to stand at attention, while the police waded in and broke up the brawl.

When play resumed, Swainson stayed in. Two halfback plunges gained successive first downs. Then Swainson got the ball again, taking it to the Mt. Clemens 11-yard-line, and the third quarter ended.

The teams marched to the opposite end of the field as the police nervously watched the crowd. The referee blew the whistle to resume play, and quarterback Henry handed off to Swainson, who broke free and ran into the end zone, for the first and only touchdown of his varsity football career.

The Big Reds' extra point attempt went wide, and the score stood at 13-6. In the fourth quarter Port Huron clearly outplayed Mt. Clemens, holding them scoreless, and adding a touchdown, but once again failed on the extra point attempt. Mt. Clemens won, 13-12.

By today's standards the players were not large. Port Huron's heaviest starter was a right guard weighing 196 pounds. No other starter weighed more than 182. The starting fullback, Tuoma, weighed 165. Swainson probably weighed in at about 165 or 170.

No one from Johnnie Swainson's family saw the game, or any game he played in high school. His parents were Canadian, with no experience of American football.

The Swainsons were descendents of a clan that lived in the Lancaster region of eighteenth-century England. Swainson family legend had it that a male ancestor emigrated to Canada as a "remittance man," sent abroad to earn the higher wages of the New World and remit a portion back to his family in the old country.

By 1904, when Carl Swainson, John's father, was born, the family had established a branch in Sarnia, Ontario. Carl attended local schools, taking business courses. He fell in love with a classmate, Edna Mae Burley, and after graduation they became engaged. In 1923 they married. Both were nineteen years of age.

Seeking work, Carl moved his bride to Windsor, Ontario (across the Detroit River from Detroit). There their first child, Carrol, was born in 1924. The next year saw the birth of their first son, John Goad Burley Swainson, on July 31, 1925. Seventeen years later he would score the touchdown against Mt. Clemens.

Carl got a job selling for the R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Company. Ironically, his religion prohibited smoking; he was a member of the Reorganized Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, an offshoot of the Mormon Church. He did not own a car, and commuted by ferry across the river to Detroit every day.

After a few years in Detroit the Reynolds Company sent Carl Swainson to Port Huron, Michigan, across the St. Clair River from Sarnia, Ontario. It was in Port Huron that the Swainsons' third child, Thomas, was born in 1928. Soon thereafter Carl was promoted, and the family moved again, to Detroit.

They lived in the city until 1937, when the company once again assigned Carl to Port Huron. The family rented a large two-story frame house at 1219 Ninth Street, a mile from downtown. John was then twelve, yet he would always regard this as the home where he grew up.

In the extended Swainson clan it had long been the custom to give one son the first name "John." As a result, each individual family had fathers, sons, uncles, and cousins named John Swainson. To avoid confusion, the custom had evolved of addressing each John Swainson by a "family" name. Thus, John Goad Burley Swainson, called "Johnnie" by his friends, was known within the family as "Goad."

Goad's childhood appears to have been normal and happy. According to his niece, Gail Main, "He made his first public appearance in a piano recital at age five, playing duets with his sister Carrol, and enjoyed being in the limelight from that time on. His great ambition showed early when he sold newspapers every morning before school, darting in and out of traffic to service his customers with his ever-present smile. He played the bugle with the Boy Scouts and marched in the parade dedicating the Bluewater Bridge. He later became an eagle scout."

The family did not own a car. The children walked to school, and each Sunday they walked to Sunday School. Their father was often absent, on the road, selling.

In high school, Goad was active in the Dramatics and World Affairs Clubs, and joined a social fraternity. He seemed to be a natural leader, according to his sister, who laughingly remembered that as far as grades were concerned, "[he] did all right, but he didn't break his neck studying." He and a group of friends managed to buy an old Model A Ford, which they worked on in the Swainsons' driveway. They drove it in parades and football rallies, and Goad used it as transportation. By his senior year he was steadily dating a pretty blonde Port Huron High student, Ann Ludlow.

In the summer of 1943 Goad graduated. To accumulate a little money, he went to work at the Grand Trunk railroad yards, as an "icer," hauling ice up the side ladders of freight cars and dumping it in through hatches, to refrigerate the interiors and preserve perishable cargos.

This was a temporary job. With his eighteenth birthday rapidly approaching, Goad knew that he must soon decide whether to await the draft or enlist. He decided to apply for flight training in the U.S. Army Air Forces, and was disappointed to learn that only officers could be pilots and only U.S. citizens could be officers. Swainson was, of course, Canadian.

However, he soon learned that if he volunteered for the army, he would qualify for immediate U.S. citizenship once he completed training. In the fall of 1943 he went to the local recruiting office and enlisted.

He was sent initially to Fort Custer in Battle Creek, where he lost a name. As he later related it, when he signed his name an army bureaucrat told him, "They only allow one middle name," so he had to choose one. At that moment he became John Burley Swainson.

Lighter by one name, he was shipped to Fort Benning, Georgia, for basic training. At the end of ninety days he was qualified for U.S. citizenship, and took the oath at Fort Benning.

Now legally eligible to become an officer, he volunteered and was accepted into a special officer training program conducted at the University of Pennsylvania. There he spent the first three months of 1944.

But then there was a change of plans. On D-Day, June 6, 1944, the Allies launched the largest amphibious invasion in history. It was a huge gamble, and it succeeded. The Allies controlled the beachheads on the Normandy coast. The Germans began to retreat across France, fighting all the way.

Concerned that the Germans might bog them down, the Allied generals called for more troops, as fast as possible, wherever they could be found. The men at the special officer school were needed, needed now, and the generals grabbed them. They could always train more officers later. Swainson's entire class was transferred to Indian Gap, Pennsylvania, for infantry maneuvers. Then John Swainson, still a private, was sent east to await a troop transport to Europe.

Chapter Two


Ten days after D-Day the Germans had been pushed far away from the coast, and the Normandy shore had evolved from a battlefield to a port. A New York Times correspondent described it as "a crowded beach where tanks, munitions and men were being unloaded in a steady stream." Britain's King George VI was escorted ashore the same day. He performed an open-air investiture, decorating seven British officers and men. He then walked about for a few minutes, returning the salutes of those who recognized him, and sailed back to England.

John Swainson would not have that option. He was infantry.

Specifically, Swainson was C Company, 378th Regiment, Ninety-fifth Infantry Division. The Ninety-fifth did not participate in the D-Day invasion; it was not until July that Swainson's troop transport landed at Omaha Beach on the Normandy coast.

Although the Allies had secured and expanded the Normandy beachhead, their attempts to break out into the countryside were resisted by the Germans, aided by natural and man-made obstacles. The weather, which had blessed the June 6 landings, turned nasty. The Normandy countryside was divided by hedgerows—shrubbery-topped earthen mounds built and maintained by generations of farmers. The Allied air superiority and tank production would have made it possible to launch a blitzkrieg-like attack against the retreating Germans in open country, but it was impossible while they were still among the hedgerows. The Germans, too, knew the advantages of defensive fighting in such a landscape, and they dug in their heels to keep the Allies from breaking out into the open areas favorable to the Allied air and mobile armor.

It therefore fell mainly to the foot soldiers—the infantry—to capture enough territory to get beyond the hedgerow country. It was a long, hard slog, and for a time the commanders feared that their invasion would bog down into the same stationary trench warfare in France that World War I had seen.

In late July the Americans broke out at St. Lo, and the Germans began to retreat. At this point, George S. Patton arrived to take over the U.S. Third Army. Patton had earned an unparalleled reputation as an aggressive mobile warfare commander in Sicily and Africa. When he saw an opportunity, he moved quickly to exploit it. And now that the Allies were out in open country, Patton saw many opportunities. He just needed more soldiers.

They were on the way.

According to the official 95th Division Institutional Training History,

In the first week of September the men of the 95th Infantry Division began packing their belongings and preparing to embark. Beginning September 8 a massive convoy of trucks moved from their training grounds to the storied port of Southampton on the English Channel. There they saw "silvery barrage balloons swinging high on cables around the harbor. Signs of the blitz were still here, though sufficient time had elapsed to allow nearly fully repair of the dock area. The Division, with all its vehicles, boarded Liberty ships and converted British commercial vessels. Passage across the English channel was delayed two and three days for most units as following embarkation, it was necessary to lay both in and outside the harbor pending availability of debarkation facilities at the landing point...." By September 14, however, the last of the boats had gotten underway—in convoy, the Division's first travel in a train of ships. Late that afternoon the tail ends of the convoy arrived off the Normandy coast, sailed past Cherbourg and anchored with the predecessors near Omaha Beach to await debarkation the next morning.

By September 15 John Swainson was in France, a member of a machine gun unit in C Company. He dashed off a "V-mail" to his mother, telling her, "That Channel is the roughest water I ever saw."

The Ninety-fifth then began a four-week bivouac in the Normandy apple orchards. Its men began to integrate into the Third Army, and saw their first combat October 20 when they were sent to defend a bridgehead over the Moselle River.

After the breakout from the Normandy beachhead, Patton's expanded Third Army had begun a dash across France, using U.S. air superiority and, where possible, mobile armor to drive the Germans before them. The Germans resisted at times, but mostly they continued to retreat. Patton's forces advanced so rapidly that they finally outraced their own supply lines and had to halt when they literally ran out of gas.

By the middle of November, elements of Patton's army had advanced to within two miles of the ancient fortress city of Metz, thirty miles from the German border in the province of Lorraine. The Ninety-fifth Infantry Division, which included Swainson's five-man machine gun squad, was advancing from the north and west, having established a bridgehead across the Moselle near the village of Thionville and successfully resisted German counterattacks.

War was not new to the province of Lorraine.

In the Franco-Prussian War of 1870 the French had surrendered a major army to the Germans at Metz, and they were forced to cede the entire province to Germany in the treaty that ended the war. Prussia, and then Germany, built numerous forts in the province and encouraged its nationals to emigrate there. In 1914 the French army suffered a disastrous defeat near Metz, and the French only regained the province when World War I ended in 1919. By that point, after nearly a half-century of German suzerainty, nearly half the population was German-speaking (the "Alsatian" dialect of German is spoken in Lorraine to this day). It was for this reason that the Resistance movement, which was of great assistance to the Allies nearly everywhere in occupied France, was far less so in Lorraine.

By autumn of 1944 the German LXXXII Corps assigned to defend Lorraine had run out of tanks. The corps commander, General Hermann Balck, had to find other means of slowing the American advance toward the German border. According to the official U.S. Army history of the campaign, Balck decided to fall back to a defensible position behind the Moselle River, "supplementing the river obstacle with a series of huge mine fields. Balck recognized the importance of such a defense and divided most of the antipersonnel and antitank mines in his depots between the LXXXII Corps, for use behind Thionville, and the LXXXV Corps, defending the Belfort Gap. The 19th VG Division alone planted some 40,000 mines along its front. The total number used to impede the progress of the American divisions in the attack north of Metz must have been tremendous."

As the Infantry Journal put it in a contemporary training manual, German mines were a grave danger, and antimine engineers did not always find them in time:

It is no longer a job just for engineer troops. The Germans plant mines on the shoulders of roads and seemingly unused roads, tracks and trails. Any terrain suitable for vehicles and tanks are apt to be mined. Road craters and the approaches to by-passes around blown bridges are generally heavily mined. The German likes to mine soft and sandy fords, scattering metal fragments around them to throw off the detectors. Long stretches of road will have a few mines buried far apart—just enough to cause "mine fever." Watch your step—and watch where you drive.


Excerpted from WOUNDED WARRIOR by LAWRENCE M. GLAZER Copyright © 2010 by Lawrence M. Glazer. Excerpted by permission of Michigan State University Press. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

Meet the Author

Lawrence M. Glazer has served as an assistant Michigan Attorney General, as chief legal adviser to Michigan governor James Blanchard, and as a State Circuit Judge.

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