Long-lost friends, Navy veterans reunite after 58 years

DOWAGIAC — Longtime Dowagiac resident Walter Swann had some extra pep in his step Thursday afternoon — and for good reason.

The Navy veteran was overjoyed to meet with his old Navy friend Francis Demaio in person this week for the first time in 58 years.

“We just grabbed each other and hugged each other,” Swann said. “It was just amazing.”

The moment was a joyous one for both Swann and Demaio, who reunited by phone last spring but were unable to meet in person until now due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.

Demaio and his wife, Karen, arrived in Niles Wednesday from Florida. The couple plans to spend time with Swann and his wife, Alice, for a few days before traveling to New Jersey.

Decked out in Navy gear, the dynamic duo talked and laughed as if they had not been separated for more than five decades.

“It was like heaven,” Demaio said. “I felt like I was reborn.”

Swann and Demaio met as recruits in the U.S. Naval Training Center in Great Lakes, Illinois in August 1962. Swann, from North Carolina, and Demaio, from New York, became fast friends.

On the night of their boot camp graduation in October 1962, Swann went to Chicago on liberty, an authorized absence for short periods that gives sailors a break from their normal duties. While Swann was on liberty, U.S. president John F. Kennedy made an announcement that marked the beginning of the Cuban Missile Crisis.

Swann and Demaio had already decided that they wanted to keep in touch with each other after graduation. Before leaving for the Caribbean Sea, Demaio wrote down his name and his mother’s address, and asked a sailor to give it to Swann upon his return from liberty.

Swann never received that message.

He moved to Long Beach, California, where he went to work at the naval shipyard there. In 1996, Swann retired from the shipyard and moved to Dowagiac with his wife, Alice, in order to help take care of her mother.

After being discharged from the Navy in 1966, Demaio held down several jobs before working for Amtrak from 1978 until his retirement in 2005. He also served one year in the U.S. Army National Guard in the early 1980’s.

Demaio currently lives in Orange City, Florida with his wife, Karen.

Swann and Demaio spent more than five decades searching for each other, but to no avail. Luckily for them, their wives came to the rescue.

After hearing stories about Demaio’s adventures with Swann for years, Karen searched and found Swann’s Facebook page and messaged his account. A few years later, Alice, who was setting up Swann’s Facebook on his new iPad, noticed the unread message Karen had sent and informed Swann.

“When I went on my first date with [Demaio], he talked about his buddy in boot camp,” Karen said. “He’s always talking about Swann this, Swann that. I think what I’ve noticed is that they’re both very unique guys. They’re buddies. They had each other’s back in boot camp, and then they got separated in the blink of an eye. It really had an effect on Frank’s life. I was determined I was going to find him. If he was still out there, I was going to find him.”

“I contacted her and told her that yes, this is the Swann you’re looking for,” Alice said. “They FaceTimed each other as soon as they could.”

Demaio believes he and Swann share a special platonic relationship that the passing of time could not erase.

“I think we’re life partners,” he said. “It’s not always romantic love between a woman and a man. This is something where we connected 58 years ago, and for 58 years, we’ve had our minds on each other. Neither of us lost hope, and here we are. I’d take a bullet for this guy.”

After spending much-needed quality time with each other after more than 50 years apart, the duo is determined to meet in person on an annual basis going forward.

“God really set this up,” Swann said. “I don’t know what his plans are for us but we cannot allow ourselves to not see each other at least once or twice a year. I don’t care where we have to go to do it.”

“This isn’t the end,” Demaio said. “It’s a new beginning.”

Berrien County

COVID-19 UPDATE: Michigan reports 892,469 cases, 19,548 deaths

Dowagiac

SMC Board of Trustees adopts 2021-22 budgets

Berrien County

South Bend man gets prison for robbery of Niles business

Dowagiac

PHOTO STORY: Dowagiac Elks celebrate Flag Day

Edwardsburg

Motorcyclist injured in Edwardsburg crash

News

PHOTO STORY: Niles Summer Concert Series kicks off with Bob Seger tribute band

News

Niles Police Log: June 2-9

Buchanan

PHOTO STORY: Buchanan High School graduates Class of 2021

News

Hit-and-run injures Niles woman

News

Niles natives collaborate on song

Dowagiac

Young Professionals of Greater Dowagiac visit Dowagiac Rotary

Cass County

Two sentenced on meth charges in Cass County Court

Edwardsburg

Drugs found in Ontwa Township residence

Dowagiac

Annual Sister Lakes wakeboard tournament to return in August

Cass County

Homeless man gets jail time for stealing vehicle in Dowagiac

Berrien County

Illinois man dead, Benton Harbor teen arrested after two vehicle Oronoko Township crash Monday

Dowagiac

Long-lost friends, Navy veterans reunite after 58 years

Berrien County

Honor Credit Union announces Tracy Sanders as VP of operations

Dowagiac

Dowagiac students named to Saint Mary’s College dean’s list

Edwardsburg

Local dispensaries donate to Ontwa Township/Edwardsburg Police Department

News

Brandywine grads aim to achieve dreams in the film industry

Buchanan

Buchanan schools will have shorter Wednesdays starting fall 2021

Education

Parents, district respond after homophobic Snapchat messages surface

Berrien County

Madeline Bertrand County Park expansion moves forward