The memory of Lance Cpl. Aaron Swanson will live on at Southwestern High School indefinitely.
While that statement has been indisputable since he was killed while in active duty in Afghanistan on Feb. 7, it became official at a memorial ceremony Wednesday when the school received a large American flag that will hang in its gymnasium in his name.
''May it be a constant reminder of the courageous man Aaron was, and of the strength and resolve of his family,'' said Michael Cipolla, Southwestern High School principal, during the schoolwide ceremony. ''Without heroes like Aaron, the America we all know and love would not be as it is today.''
Members of the U.S. Marine Corps stand in honor of the American flag as ‘‘The Star-Spangled Banner’’ is played by the Southwestern High School Band during a memorial ceremony for Lance Cpl. Aaron Swanson at the school Wednesday.
P-J photo by Dave Emke
Don Shriver, Aaron Swanson’s former scoutmaster, makes the Boy Scouts’ hand salute while speaking about Swanson during a memorial ceremony Wednesday.
P-J?photo by Dave Emke
The Southwestern Central School varsity track team is pictured during a moment of silence in Lance Cpl. Aaron Swanson’s honor before Tuesday’s track meet.
Photo by Scott Reagle
A plaque bearing a photo of the 2007 SWCS graduate will be mounted next to the flag, said Pete Carlo, a local Korean War veteran who organized the ceremony and made the donation. Carlo said that he has been working in cooperation with the school for the past two months in preparation for Wednesday's ceremony, which included the participation of color guard units from veterans' organizations representing numerous communities in the Jamestown area.
''I just feel that any veteran who loses his life for the country certainly deserves our respect and dedication,'' Carlo said. ''You just can't let this go without mentioning his name here (at the school).''
Among the speakers during the ceremony was Cpl. Theo Collins of the U.S. Marine Corps, a 2006 Jamestown High School graduate who served alongside Swanson as a member of the India Company, 3rd Battalion, 25th Marine Regiment based in Buffalo. Collins said he first met Swanson when they were both criminal justice majors at Jamestown Community College. He said that he will always remember Swanson as a true patriot, and he implored the students in the audience during the ceremony to individually honor Swanson's memory by living life as he did.
''Not necessarily by joining the military, but by participating in the community,'' Collins told students when urging them to be like Swanson. ''Help your neighbors. Strive to be the best citizens you can.''
As he has spent nearly three months reflecting upon Swanson's life, Collins said he believes he would most like to be remembered as ''a fun-loving and hard-working guy ... a good Marine and a better friend.''
Don Shriver, Swanson's former scoutmaster, spoke about a young man he knew for about 10 years and who exemplified scout values throughout his short life.
''(The) 12 parts of the Scout Law are something that Aaron lived every day, and one of the ones I remember most is 'cheerful' - he always had a smile on his face, and that was one of the things I liked most about him,'' Shriver said. ''I was proud to know Aaron, and I miss him.''
The memorial ceremony included the playing of ''The Star-Spangled Banner'' and the military march by the Southwestern High School Band as well as performances of ''Omnia Sol'' and an Irish blessing by the school's Choraliers. ''Taps'' was also played by a bugler from Jamestown Vietnam Veterans of America Post 865.
In addition to the active members of the U.S. Marine Corps on hand for the ceremony, representatives from numerous local veterans' associations were in attendance to show their support. Among those represented were Falconer American Legion Post 638, Lakewood American Legion Post 1286, Celoron American Legion Post 777, Jamestown American Legion Post 149, Frewsburg American Legion Post 556, Jamestown AMVETS Post 726, Bemus Point VFW Post 557, Jamestown Disabled American Veterans Chapter 47 and Jamestown Vietnam Veterans of America Post 865.
To go along with the flag that will hang in the Southwestern High School gym, Swanson's legacy will be honored by a scholarship set up by his parents through the Chautauqua Region Community Foundation. The scholarship will go yearly to a graduating SWCS senior going on to study criminal justice or education at either JCC or the State University at Fredonia.
Brigiotta's Garden Center has also donated a red maple tree to be planted on Southwestern Central School property in honor of Swanson, Carlo said, at a time of the school's convenience. In addition, Jay Sirianni - Swanson's government and economics teacher as well as his football coach during his senior year - said that no player on the team would wear Swanson's No. 33 jersey during the 2011 season. However, he said, the entire team would wear it in the form of a sticker on the back of their helmets.
''We will always remember Aaron's courage, honor and loyalty,'' Sirianni said.
Swanson's mother, Julie, also spoke during the ceremony about her son, saying the memories that have been shared by countless members of the community since his death have been a comfort to his family. She added that her son was well-loved by his fellow Marines, and she took time to note the other Marines who were severely injured in the attack that took Swanson's life.
''Aaron is our hero, as are all of the brave men and women who have served and are currently serving for our country,'' Mrs. Swanson said, ''as well as those who have sacrificed their lives so that we may continue to live in freedom.''