- The Washington Times - Monday, May 28, 2007

Lance Cpl. Steven Szwydek was a student in a Fulton County, Pa., high school just a few years ago. Now he is part of the schools history lessons.

On separate days this spring, students from his school and two others in the county visited Arlington National Cemetery, where they stopped for a moment of silence at his white tombstone.

The bus trips were paid for by a memorial fund established by Cpl. Szwydeks parents.

Their quiet son a history buff who loved to hunt deer was 20 when he was killed in 2005 by a roadside bomb during his second tour in Iraq.

His mother, Nancy Szwydek, is a strong supporter of President Bush and the Iraq war, but she said the trips are not about politics or trying to influence students to join the military. She and her husband dont accompany the classes on the trips.

Mrs. Szwydek sees the annual visits as a way to teach students “to respect our freedom.” Teachers say the trips are as much about establishing connections between students growing up in a rural county and world events.

Mrs. Szwydek and her husband, Michael, who own a country store, decided against creating a scholarship fund in their sons name because he chose the Marines over college.

“I think he would not want himself being the focus,” Mrs. Szwydek said at her home in Warfordsburg, Pa., near the Maryland state line. “But I think hed be real happy the students have had a history lesson.”

For some of the students, the stop at Cpl. Szwydeks grave is personal because they attended school with him at Southern Fulton Junior/Senior High. They recalled seeing their teachers cry the day they learned he had died.

“It was very nice of them to let us experience this, and were supporting Steven and thats the main reason were down here,” said Miranda Blackburn, 17, during her visit to Arlington.

A student from another high school, Kirstie Barton, also 17, said the cemetery brings home the reality of the war.

“Its kind of hard to grasp that people go over there, and they die every day and their families are missing them,” she said.

Tim Mills, 17, said that two relatives have served in Iraq and that he is considering joining the Pennsylvania National Guard.

“If I die, I die,” he said. “Theres no stopping that. Thats Gods plan. Just, thats how I look at it. Im ready to go. Maybe Ill be here one day.”

Angie Booth, a teacher from Cpl. Szwydeks school who helped lead one of the trips, grew up next to him and baby-sat him.

She pointed out to her students that since a school trip last year, two rows of graves for troops killed in Iraq had been added near Cpl. Szwydeks. Some were so fresh they didnt have tombstones yet just flowers.

Mrs. Booth said she wants the students to learn that “even though were a very rural community, were not isolated from this either.”

Cpl. Szwydek joined the Marines when he was 17, leaving for boot camp four days after graduating from high school.

On his original paperwork, he wrote that he wanted to be buried at sea.

“I said, ‘Steven, why do you want to be buried at sea? At this time, it was a joke,” Mrs. Szwydek said.

“He said, ‘No special reason, Mom, I just thought it would be cool. And I said, ‘Change it, so he just put buried with full military honors.”

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