Robert B. Swain

1920 – 2010

AUBURN – Robert Bennett Swain, of East Andover, World War II pilot and owner of R. J. Swain Dowel Mill, died Saturday, Jan. 30, at the Hospice House in Auburn, days short of his 90th birthday.

Robert was born on Feb. 4, 1920, in Rumford, to Robert John and Lucie Morse Swain. When Robert was two-years-old, his family moved “down the hill,” as he used to say, from Horseshoe Valley to Cold Spring Farm in East Andover where he lived the rest of his life.

Robert attended Andover High School for four years and took a fifth year at Gould Academy in Bethel, graduating in 1937. While at Gould, he participated in baseball, track and basketball. He had fond memories of going to dances and other events with his friends. He graduated from Bryant College in Providence, R.I., in 1939, with a BS degree in business administration. He returned to East Andover to work for his father at R. J. Swain Dowel Mill.

It was also in 1939, that Robert was taught to fly by the late Carmen Onofrio. He purchased his first plane, a Stinson, in 1940 for $900.00, and owned several planes throughout his life. He always took delight in talking about the flights he had made.

Robert left East Andover in 1942, after enlisting in the U.S. Army Air Corps. His preflight training was in Montgomery, Ala., then it was on to Americus, Ga., for primary training in a Stearman PT-17. After basic training in a BT-13 in Greenville, Miss., Robert went to Arkansas for twin-engine advanced training in the AT-9 and AT-10. It was in Blytheville, Ark., where he received his wings and was commissioned a 2nd Lt.

After training in Austin, Texas, on the C-47 transport plane, he went to Ft. Wayne, Ind., for a brief stint. From there he went to Fort Benning, Ga., where he received additional training in the skills that would serve him well in the months to come, including dropping paratroopers and towing gliders. Robert received his overseas orders and took the train back to Ft. Wayne, where he picked up a brand new C-47 and left for England.

The trip began in mid-December. With his crew, they followed the southern route to Brazil, then across the Atlantic to Ascension Island, a necessary mid-point refueling stop. They spent Christmas in Africa and arrived in England in time to celebrate New Year’s Eve.

In England, Lt. Swain joined the 78th Troop Carrier Squadron of the 435th Troop Carrier Group at Welford Park. He participated in the Normandy Invasion on D-Day, the air attack on Holland, and the Battle of the Bulge.

In February of 1945, the squadron was transferred to France near Paris. He participated in the airborne assault across the Rhine, simultaneously towing two loaded gliders to the east bank of the Rhine. He flew resupply missions to Germany in support of ground forces, which included General Patton’s troops. Wounded soldiers were evacuated on the return trip to France.

Robert recalled being on leave in Paris when an important announcement came through the wires, and he found himself celebrating V.E. Day in May, 1945, with throngs of jubilant people around the Arc de Triomphe.

After leaving France, Robert returned to Ft. Wayne, and then to East Andover where on July 25, 1945, he married the former Violet Peters, whom he had met when she moved to East Andover in 1938, to teach school. The East Andover School was located next door to the Swain home, and Violet walked by twice a day on her way to and from school. Robert decided that he should get to know “the good-looking school teacher.”

Robert returned once again to Fort Wayne, which served as the staging area for troops and supplies heading overseas. Violet drove to Indiana and they rented rooms in a private home for $4.00 a week.

Robert was expecting to go to Japan, but the war ended before his orders came through. He was discharged in December of 1945, and returned to East Andover, picking up where he had left off, prior to entering the service, working at his father’s dowel mill. He eventually became owner of the mill, operating it until his retirement in 1986.

After retirement, Robert, a self-taught engineer of sorts, could be found in his workshop making improvements on his various pieces of equipment and machinery.

Robert valued a hard, honest day’s work; the peacefulness and bounty of nature; the freedom and tranquility of flying, and the friendly competitiveness of sports. He and Violet raised three sons, passing these values on to them, and to their grandchildren, as well.

Robert loved telling stories of his growing up in East Andover, his service during the war and the adventures that the family had when they went on their traditional fishing trips. He also enjoyed watching the Red Sox play, working out on his Bowflex, and driving his Kubota tractor. Most recently, he had begun exploring the wonders of the Web.

He and Violet attended 15 reunions of his World War II squadron, including the final one in 2006, in San Antonio, Texas. They kept in touch with many of the squadron members and their families.

Robert was active in state and local organizations. He belonged to Mundt-Allen Post 81 of the American Legion in Bethel. He served locally as a State of Maine Fire Warden and as treasurer of the Andover Volunteer Fire Department. He was a charter member of the Andover Lions Club as well as the Kiwanis Club of Greater Rumford. He served as a trustee of the First Congregational Church of Andover. He was a member of SCORE, as well as an honorary member of the Andover Historical Society. He was a member of the Andover Alumni Association and received, with Violet, the Alumni of the Year award in 2006. He supported a variety of community events and organizations.

In June 1944, newly-promoted 1st Lt. Swain earned the Air Medal, “given in recognition of meritorious service while participating in aerial flights,” for his participation on D-Day. Lt. Swain also received three Air Medals in the form of Oak Leaf Clusters for flying additional combat missions. He received, with all members of the 435th Troop Carrier Group, the Distinguished Unit Citation for its role in the Normandy Invasion, an honor which denotes the same degree of heroism as an individual’s Distinguished Service Cross. In October of 2005, at a Troop Carrier group reunion in Washington, D.C., he and fellow pilots received the French Jubilee of Liberty Medal from the French Consul-General for participating on D-Day.

He is survived by their three sons, Robert J. II, and wife, Kay, of Lexington, Ky., Rodney L. of Vermont and Ross B. and fianceé, Christine Greenleaf, of Roxbury Pond. He is also survived by grandsons, Gregory and Matthew Swain; granddaughters, Hannah Noble and husband, Nathan, Courtney, Lucie and Jennifer Swain; great-grandchildren, Hope, Nathaniel and Benjamin Noble; his sister, Mrs. Amelia Entin and her family; and extended family, Kim Swain and Leigh Breidenbach.

Mr. Swain was predeceased in 2006, by Violet, his devoted and caring wife of 61 years. 

A heartfelt thanks are given to the Hospice House staff and volunteers for their care, kindness and respect during Robert’s stay.

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