Berrien County, Ga. – 1920’s – My paternal grandfather, James A. Swindle, (Papa James) begins his life as a tough farm boy who survives diphtheria and pneumonia. He does not back down from a challenge. He may have got into a scuffle or two with other boys while growing up. But, most of them were bullies. As he grows older, his disdain for bullies increases.
Like other farm boys of his generation, he excels in tinkering with farm equipment and learning how large machines operate
This experience on the farm makes him one of the best crop dusters in the county. He would have to fly over fields at a very low altitude in order to properly spread the chemicals needed for maximum crop development.
He also starts developing a strong sense of national pride that will be a great benefit to him in the future.
Europe – 1935 – Papa James is aware of a charismatic leader in Germany who is quickly rising to power by using the same bullying tactics that he experienced in the schoolyard and bars. While most Americans are still weary from the brutality of World War I, and want no part in European affairs, Papa James knows that the humiliation suffered by the Germans at the Treaty of Versailles would set the stage for a much larger and deadlier war at some point in the near future.
Autumn 1941 – Germany has conquered all of Western Europe, with the exception of Great Britain, and convinces many French “allies” to join his war effort after he was filmed looking at the Eiffel Tower in Paris the year before. This is enough for Papa James to join the Army Air Corps (later known as the United States Air Force) as a bomber pilot.
He becomes the leader of a bomber squadron that flew over 100 sorties across occupied Europe including occupied France, the Ardennes in Belgium, and straight into the heart of the Reich, Berlin, Germany. His generals have one very important black and white rule. On missions that target military installations in occupied countries, only release bombs at the target location. However, when leading bombing missions into the Reich, do not come back with any bombs left in the airplane.
Many of his men never came back from those bombing missions. It is only by the grace of God that Papa James survived all of those journeys.
Berrien County, Ga. – July 1983 – I am 9 years old. Ronald Wilson Reagan is serving his first term in the White House. For the first time, I begin to form my political views, become determined to seek justice, like my hero Atticus Finch, and understand that the world is a dangerous place when good men do nothing to stem the flow of evil. The rise of the 3rd German Reich and the existence of the Soviet Union become the basis of my worldview regarding evil.
I am at the home of Papa James and my grandmother on his farm in South Georgia. This month and many months after, I will enjoy spending time with this great man and father figure.
My own father would often allow me to stay with my grandparents in Berrien County during the summers while he was working. During those times, I would follow Papa James around as he worked on his farm, traveled to Ray City for farm supplies or some RC cola, and fished in the ponds on their property.
I had no shortage of questions about life. I laugh when I think back and realize how patient Papa James was with my constant questioning.
Those times on the farm furthered my worldview and interest in history. Papa James was a “Reagan Democrat.” He would often tell me that “I am still a Democrat. I just haven’t voted for a Democrat in over 40 years.”
His influence on me promoted my beliefs in Goldwater conservatism, self-sufficiency, military preparedness, and the importance of protecting our precious right to own firearms.
Papa James was also a devout Christian. He gave me the type of Christian education that was fun and interesting to a young boy. He showed me how our Creator presents Himself to us in nature, human interaction, and in times of adversity.
When a man was facing adversity, Papa James was the first person to “get into the foxhole with him and fight.” He would often tell me that cowardice was the greatest human defect of all.
Papa James passed away in 1993. However, his influence and memory live on strongly today. He certainly is a part of me. In fact, when I am facing times of adversity, tough decisions, or preparing for challenging criminal cases, I pray that God will give me the strength to do His will. I also ask God to allow Papa James to steer me in the right direction just like he steered those bomber squadrons during World War II.
I am grateful to have experienced the time that God gave me with James Aaron Swindle. While I am imperfect and make mistakes, like everyone, Papa James instilled the values of integrity, courage, honesty, and “doing the right thing” into my young mind.
Let us all honor and reflect on those who serve as loyal and caring fathers, father figures, and grandfathers this year.
I love you, Papa James.