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WILKES-BARRE, Pa. (Tribune News Service) — World War II veteran John Swiderski was a German prisoner of war for nearly 19 months and later worked underground as a coal miner upon his return home to Wilkes-Barre.

“Mining was harder,” Swiderski said Thursday, which marked his 100th birthday.

The lifelong Wilkes-Barre resident was quick to clarify: his initial experience — including 39 days in solitary confinement — at the Buchenwald concentration camp in Germany was worse, but his POW experience gradually got better until he was freed.

After coal mining, Swiderski worked seven days a week as a moving company foreman and a bartender to support his family. As he turned 100, Swiderski credited hard work for his long life. He also added, “Just live a good, clean life.”

His daughter shared his other secret: having several shots of rum daily at his favorite hangout, the Oak Grove Club in Wilkes-Barre.

He used to visit just about every day, but now they go several times a week.

Swiderski and his daughter, Patricia Goyne, planned to visit the club Thursday for his birthday. He was the star of the club Wednesday when patrons quieted down to watch a WNEP report about his milestone birthday recognition at the Department of Veterans Affairs Medical Center in Plains Twp., which presented him with a certificate and a cookie cake.

“Everybody raised their glasses to him,” Goyne said.

Goyne said her father is relatively healthy and active for 100 years old. He enjoys playing “Words with Friends” on his computer and staying in touch with people on Facebook. At his advanced age, his memories of his war service remain vivid in his mind, she said.

“It’s unbelievable to go through what he went through. Could you imagine?” Goyne recalled. “I’m amazed. I’m very proud of him. I love him dearly.”

After leaving GAR High School early, Swiderski joined the military in July 1942 and became an Army ranger. He served in Africa and Sicily before being captured in Rome, Italy, in November 1943.

“I got caught in Italy up in the mountains. They surrounded us. They trapped us. They said surrender or die,” Swiderski recalled.

Swiderski said he was frequently interrogated by the Germans about U.S. troop movements, but he wasn’t helpful with them.

After the war ended and he returned home, Swiderski said he got on with his life and didn’t dwell on his time in captivity.

“I was just glad to forget it and get away from there,” he said.

In addition to Goyne, Swiderski has another son, John Robert, 72, next door, and daughter, Sharon, 61, of Wilkes-Barre Twp. He has seven grandchildren and many more great-grandchildren and great-great-grandchildren.

Swiderski said he’s been watching the Russia- Ukraine conflict unfold on television.

“I’m afraid it might lead into something bigger. I’m wondering why the other countries haven’t gotten involved to stop it,” Swiderski said. “It’s not over yet. What the hell does Russia want with them? That’s what I can’t figure out.”

(c)2022 The Citizens’ Voice (Wilkes-Barre, Pa.)

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Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.


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