No one understands what it means to be a combat veteran except another combat veteran. No one understands the bond that is formed among individuals who have risked their very lives to battle a common enemy together in trenches, in jungles, on the ocean, or in the air.
On Thursday, Blanding will honor three such men as grand marshals of the 2019 Fourth of July parade. All three of these men call Blanding home and each saw combat in three of the major conflicts of the 20th Century, respectively.
They are Clisbee Lyman (World War II), Morris Swenson (Korean War), and Randy Bradford (Vietnam War). Naming a grand marshal is one way a community can honor someone who is exceptional, valuable to the community, and someone everyone should know better.
These three men all adamantly deny that they are war heroes, but in truth all three are, and they most definitely meet the qualification to be named grand marshal.
The freedom we all enjoy (and celebrate on July 4) in America is not cheap. It has always come at a high price. It is no accident that these men who all laid their lives on the line have been chosen to lead the parade in a year when the celebration theme is “History of Freedom.”
Speaking about the high price of freedom, Fourth of July Celebration Chairman Robert Turk pointed out that San Juan County has given five of its sons to cover that price since 9-11.
He said “We recognize those guys every year in our parade with the Jason Workman Legacy Motorcycle Ride.” He added that the opportunity simply could not be missed to honor these three gentlemen who fought on behalf of the entire country.
“We have one World War II guy left [in Blanding],” he continued. “The Korean War guys will be gone soon too, and the Vietnam guys didn’t get any thank you when they came home. But those guys did a lot.”
So this year, parade attendees will have an opportunity to express their thanks. In an effort to help readers understand a little bit about these men’s service, here are their stories:
Clisbee Lyman - World War II (Army)
At 95 years young, Clisbee Lyman is the sole WWII veteran still living in Blanding.
In December 1941, the very first broadcast he heard on a radio he built with his own hands informed him that Pearl Harbor had been bombed by the Japanese.
In 1943, he was told by the draft board that since he was a farmer, he had been classified as an “essential agricultural worker,” and wasn’t subject to the military draft.
But, Lyman said, “I was ready to join the Army like all my other friends had done.” At that time, an individual was allowed to enlist until they were 18, but after they turned 19, they had to be drafted.
“I was already 19,” Lyman continued, “so they told me the only way I could join the Army was to write to the draft board and request that I be drafted.”
That’s what he did, and in August 1943 he was drafted and assigned to the United States Army’s 70th Infantry Division Artillery.
“When we went over to Europe,” Lyman explained, “we went in the cruise ship Mariposa. There were 4,000 of us on that ship. They had bunks from the floor to the ceiling on each floor.
“They ran with no lights on the ship, and you could look down in the ocean and there would be all kind of lights down there. Some Navy people were on there who would send up balloons and shoot them for target practice.
“We landed at Marseille [France], which was already in American hands, so it was a peaceful landing.
“We drove up to a very high place and it was very cold,” Lyman continued. “Our commander wanted to make sure we knew he was in charge. He said we would wash our socks every day, so we did, and they were still frozen a week later when we left.”
Lyman described his trip from Marseille through France to Forbach, where Allied forces were on one side of the railroad tracks and Germans were on the other.
His job was to maintain communication between forward observers back to the artillery they directed.
“You could depend on the Germans,” Lyman said. “Every night around midnight they would shell the highway which came into the town and…knock out our communications.
“So we went out each night after they did that and we would find out where the wire had been blown apart and splice it.”
At one point during combat, a shell exploded within six feet of Lyman’s head and damaged his hearing. He was classified partially disabled upon discharge from the Army.
He described how the 63rd Infantry Division, to which fellow San Juan County men Lyman Redd and Kay Lyman belonged, flanked the Germans.
As a result of being cut off, the Germans decided to withdraw from that area, providing “clear sailing” for Lyman’s battalion from there to the Rhein River.
“We were very grateful for the 63rd Division,” Lyman said. “They made it possible for us to advance without any resistance all the way to the river.”
Lyman told of a C-47 that was forced to land near his location. “It had a picture of a thinly-clad lady painted on the side of the plane,” he giggled, above a caption that said “Sitting Pretty.”
Some additional garments were later added to a photo of Lyman looking out the cockpit of that plane so young grandchildren could safely appreciate the history of their grandfather.
Lyman said his unit stayed on in Germany for another year in occupation and was eventually assigned to the Third Infantry Division, which had seen a great deal of fighting and was highly decorated.
During his service in WWII, Lyman was recommended for a Bronze Star, but since the Army was only awarding Bronze Stars to members of the Infantry, he received a letter of commendation and a trip to Paris instead.
“I got to Paris just in time to see the celebration they were having at the end of the war,” he stated. “Of course, we celebrated right along with them.”
Lyman wrote these words in the spring 1997 edition of the 70th Division Trailblazer:
“As the war was ending, we left for Paris on May 7, 1945, passing through Rheims by train. Someone pointed out the school where the German surrender had taken place the previous day.
“By the time we reached Paris the victory celebration was in full swing and continued for another three days. It was unbelievable! I have never seen anything before or after that even comes near.
“On our way to Paris we passed open fields filled with German prisoners of war. It would be impossible to estimate how many there were. I do know, as a farmer, that there were hundreds of acres filled with them.”
Lyman was involved in combat in France, Germany, and Belgium, and was finally sent home in early 1946.
Clisbee Lyman was born in Oak City, UT in 1924. His family moved to Blanding when he was three, and he has called it home ever since.
He is the son of a farmer and reluctantly became a farmer himself. “When we were farming with horses,” he explained, “I had no interest in farming.
“But after we bought our first tractor, I became very interested. Our first tractor had about 14 horsepower and our last one had about 185 horsepower – quite a difference.
“It was hard work, but we made a good living. I guess we were successful in farming, because at one time I had assets worth $2 million. That would make me a multimillionaire!”
And that was about 25 years ago.
At one time, Lyman owned a private plane that he based at the Blanding airport. He said it was a big challenge to get his wife, Peggy, whom he married in 1957, into their small plane – or even a big plane for that matter.
But once the two took a Farm Bureau trip to Hawaii, he said he couldn’t keep her out of an airplane, and the two travelled extensively together. Peggy Lyman passed away in 2003.
Clisbee Lyman has four children, nine grandchildren, four great-grandchildren, and a fifth due in September. All but one of his children live in Blanding.
Morris Swenson - Korean War (Army)
In describing his time spent in the Korean War between 1950 and 1953, Morris Swenson said he was on the front lines for about eight days. The rest of the time he spent in “reserves” ready to be called into combat at a moment’s notice.
He jokingly said when he wasn’t directly involved in the fighting, he “sat around hoping that we wouldn’t be attacked.” But he recalled the fear of being on reserves each night not knowing what would happen.
Swenson spent most of his Korean assignment right outside P’anmunjom, where the armistice agreement was eventually signed.
“That area was a little bit of a neutral zone so there wasn’t a lot of fighting going on there, although we had a few little skirmishes,” he explained. “Most of the fighting was going on around us.
Swenson described three close calls while fighting the North Koreans. “On our way up to the front lines we were shelled and had to dive into the rice paddies,” he said.
“Another time we were eating our food with napalm over the fire and I looked up and saw an anti-personnel round coming towards us. I shouted a warning, we all dived away, and nobody was hit. The round landed right where we had been eating.
“We had a guy who liked to sit at the front of our hill and pepper their lines with his 50-caliber. One time I was standing next to him, and a bullet came right through the aperture he was aiming through and hit the sandbag right above my head.”
Swenson was born and raised in Orem and, after being drafted, completed Basic Training in Camp Roberts, CA.
After he got out of the Army, he attended Utah State University. He decided he wanted to be a coach, and eventually he was offered a job to begin the San Juan High School football program in Blanding.
“At the time,” he said, “my wife was working in Orem and I thought I should go back home and tell her before I made the decision. Then I changed my mind and thought, ‘Why do I need to wait? I need this job!’”
As San Juan Bronco alumni and fans know, he did accept that job and moved to Blanding in 1957 to begin a 30-year off and on career coaching football, wrestling, and baseball.
Swenson never obtained a football state championship for San Juan High, but he did take the Broncos to a second place finish in his third year.
He also ran the Blanding City pool for a time and taught driver’s education for 28 years. Swenson said it’s very rewarding to have former athletes and students come back and visit with him.
Even though Morris and Connie Swenson didn’t grow up in Blanding, once they moved there, it became their home. She passed away in November, 2016.
Sometimes Swenson still thinks back to his time in Korea. He reflected, “We were stationed on a knoll, we could see the enemy in their trenches about 500 yards from us, and I was sleeping in a cave with a South Korean soldier who didn’t speak English. We lived together and tried to communicate, and that was a great experience.”
“It makes you appreciate what we have here in the United States when you’re in a foreign country like that and you see people who have a hard time making a living.
“It’s very humbling and makes you respect our flag and everything the United States stands for.”
Swenson said it is a great honor to be selected as a Grand Marshal for the Fourth of July parade.
Randy Bradford - Vietnam War (Marines)
Randy Bradford served four tours of duty in Vietnam with the Marine Corps Logistics Command (MARCORLOGCOM) from 1968 to 1970. Marines in the MARCORLOGCOM were individually assigned to other units and fell under those units’ command once they reported.
Like the other two Grand Marshals in the parade, Bradford was drafted into the service – in 1968 when he was 19. He initially put in to be a pilot and thought he was going to be flying, but that’s not how it turned out.
In a massive understatement, Bradford said his experience in the Vietnam War “wasn’t a pleasant thing all the time.” He spent most of his two years there involved in heavy combat.
Bradford spent time on the demilitarized zone (DMZ) and said he made it as far south as Chu Lai. “You could set your watch for 6 o’clock when they would hit us with rocket attacks every evening,” he detailed.
“I would climb posts and string wire for communications,” he said. “When we were attacked, we had to come down, sometimes very quickly. The Viet Cong would destroy our phone lines, then set up an ambush for us when we would come in to repair them.”
Bradford spent some time as a security backup for Marine Corps snipers, which meant that he would set up alongside a sniper, and that sniper’s life was his responsibility.
He remembered a time he was particularly proud. “As a corporal I was a squad leader. There was a time when my entire squad was hit and we were all down, but we just kept going until the enemy finally withdrew.
“I was amazed that every single man was hit, and yet they kept going. It was a disgrace for a Marine to surrender, so that’s not what we did.
“You knew when you went in that you would either come out on a stretcher or hobble out. It used to bother me, but it became just another thing.”
Bradford described how the Marines were tasked with making friends with the villagers. He said sometimes it worked out, but sometimes the villagers were all Viet Cong.
“After a bad fight,” he remembered, “you would go around greeting guys and making sure your buddies weren’t left out there. Every time one of our guys was killed, we would bring him back; we made sure we never left anybody behind.”
Bradford received several commendations for his service, including the Vietnam Cross of Gallantry.
But back home in America, there was unrest. Unlike the time period of WWII and the Korean War, when the public supported U.S. efforts, many in the country protested the government’s involvement in Vietnam.
Sadly, returning military personnel who were required to follow the orders of their superiors bore the brunt of the public’s mistreatment.
“I got out in 1970 and the country wasn’t pleased with us Vietnam vets,” Bradford recalls. “I just wanted to forget it all. So I didn’t say too much about it.
“As you think back on it, you realize you were there for a reason and your outlook changes a lot on it.”
“It got to where you didn’t want anyone to know that you had been there – all the stuff going on in the U.S.,” he continued.
“But pretty quick I got fed up with that. I saw a lot of good men who lost their lives [in Vietnam]. If nothing else, that’s reason enough to respect them a little.
“It seems to get tougher as you go along, wondering what someone would be doing now,” he added. “I knew quite a few of them who were married and their wives lost husbands.
“War ain’t good, but sometimes you have to do it.”
Bradford said he understands that the perspective of the country has changed over the years. Many have expressed a respect and appreciation for Vietnam veterans that they withheld when the conflict was fresh.
When asked what advice he has for the current generation, Bradford said, “There’s no country that gives more and no country where you receive more than this country, so if you’re called to serve, I encourage you to serve.”
“It’s amazing how lucky we are to live in this country,” he reflected. “I get worried about this and that and realize sometimes it doesn’t matter. We have more rights than anybody else.”
Not surprisingly, many names of Bradford’s brothers in arms can be found on the Vietnam Veterans Memorial Wall in Washington, D.C. He said he’s thankful he was able to go see the Wall when his wife asked him to join her on a school trip.
Bradford is the only Grand Marshal in the parade who was born and raised in Blanding. He said the city is much different now than when he was a kid.
“I remember all the streets were gravel and it seems that it used to snow a lot more than it does now,” he said.
Bradford spent most of his life outside of military service working at the White Mesa Mill south of Blanding. He said he is surprised he was picked to be in the parade.
That’s the epitome of all three of these self-denying, quiet heroes, all of whom are very appropriately 2019 Fourth of July parade Grand Marshals as we celebrate a “History of Freedom.”