Marine Ace, James Swett

Captain James E. Swett USMCR

Medal of Honor, Guadalcanal

Artwork and Research By; Sir Ernie Hamilton Boyette, Aviation Artist/Historian

Marine Ace, James Swett

There are 600 limited edition prints in this series. Print Size; 12×18″

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Limited Edition Prints are signed and numbered by the Artist and the Ace. $65.00

All signatures by both the Aviator and the Artist is done in soft graphic pencil.

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Poster Print $14.95

Poster prints are autographed by the artist only.

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This is my painting of Jim’s Wildcat. All original paintings are for sale. This painting is not autographed by te pilot but is available for $1,500.00. You pay the shipping.

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Captain James E. Swett USMCR

By Sir Ernie Hamilton Boyette

James Elms Swett was born in Seattle Washington, on June 15, 1920. After high school he went on to attend San Mateo Junior Collage. It was while he was attending San Mateo when he signed up for a pilots training course. The government had started the Civilian Pilot Training Program for young men who were interested in flying. James took to the course with great vigor. He earned 240 hours of flight time while attending his other classes in college. He was motivated in continuing his flying and considered his options. The military required new pilots to have at least two years of collage before joining their pilots programs. James had the required amount of college and he also had a solid foundation in the cockpit. His dream was to fly for the Coast Guard. It all seemed very romantic to be able to fly up and down the coast. He learned that his training would have to go through the Navy which did not bother him one bit.

During his second year of college he quit school and enlisted in the Navy. He signed up for the flight cadet training program in August 1941. After he finished his basics he reported to a new training facility that was located at Corpus Christi, Texas. James was a proud member of the schools third class. This was an exciting adventure because naval aviation was growing. Plus the aircraft carrier was a new addition to the fleet and its importance was growing. During his training he flew the PT-17, the SNJ and many other trainers. He loved the feeling of flying. Half way through his training he was approached by a recruiter from the Marines. It wasn’t hard to talk James into switching to the ranks of the Marine Corp. James received his wings and was commissioned a second lieutenant in the Marine Corp Reserves at Corpus Christi, Texas on April 16, 1942. He was then sent for further training at Quantico, Virginia for more classroom courses.

As James was training the war in the Pacific erupted. The war then developed into a slug fest between the Imperial Japanese Navy and the United States Navy. James found himself in the right place at the right time with all the proper training. Once he finished his training at Quantico he was shipped to Hawaii as a replacement pilot. James was now excited and looking forward to seeing combat. It may sound crazy to some that a young man would be excited about going into combat but the psychological profile of the fighter pilot is one that seeks adventure and danger even if their death is quite probable. They were our generations Gladiators.

We have had such men all throughout our history. Men who have stepped forward to defend the peoples of their nation. James and the other aviators I worked with were special because they were “Gladiators of the Air.” We had air battles in the First World War but what was about to happen in this conflict would be history making and James would be in the middle of it all.

After a stop in California, James continued to Hawaii where he was assigned to Fighter Squadron VMF-221 in November 1942. He became a leader of a flight of four Wildcat fighters. James had been identified by his commanding officers as a potential leader and he rose to the occasion. They trained over Hawaii before their trip out into the Pacific. James told me that flying over Hawaii was some of the most beautiful experiences he even had. He also said they had a lot of fun because they got a lot of gun practice in their fighters in both attacking targets that were flying and in attacking targets on the ground. I asked him how it felt to fire the machine guns. He said it was a “Blast!” In January 1943 he found himself closer to the front lines as he landed his fighter with his men on New Hebrides. From here they then continued to the Marine airfield on Guadalcanal. Once he landed on Guadalcanal he entered the history books.

James arrived on Guadalcanal in March 1943. Guadalcanal had been a bloody battleground for both Marine and Naval pilots for the last eight months when James arrived. The Japanese were still trying to retake the island even though the brave Marine and Navy pilots had dealt them one defeat after another. The battle for the island would last many more months. Living conditions on the island had improved somewhat since the Marines first landed. The situation was still basic but not as primitive as in the beginning.

James began his stay on the island by flying formation flights around the island and then out around the other islands so that he would be familiar with the area he would be patrolling and defending. On April 7, 1943 he flew a mission over a new airfield the Americans were building that was located in the Russell Islands. After his flight landed back at base they grabbed some food and coffee and took off for another flight around the western end of Guadalcanal.

James landed back after the mid day flight and as he got out of his fighter he was told that the coast watchers on the islands to the north reported to Guadalcanal that a large formation of Japanese fighters and bombers were heading their way. James and three other fighter pilots were scrambled. Their fighters were fueled and rearmed. They took off and headed towards the coordinates of the incoming Japanese aircraft. He was leading a four-plane division on his first combat flight. They took off quickly two fighters at a time.

The Japanese were approaching from the northwest but changed course to the east to set up their attack. Their target was the American shipping in Tulagi harbor. The Marines took off and did not bother to form up because the Japanese were already starting their attack. At first the specks appeared as dots in the sky. Then they looked like a swarm of bees until they were close enough to be identified as individual enemy aircraft. The spinning props of the Japanese were reflecting the sun announcing their approach.

There were sixty-seven Japanese “Val” dive-bombers and over one hundred “Zero” fighter escorts. This was a huge formation for just four Wildcats to attack by themselves. By the time James and the other pilots engaged the enemy the Japanese dive bombers were close enough to the cargo fleet to start setting up for their attacking dives. James led his fellow pilots into the Japanese formation without hesitation. The Marines were both badly outnumbered and out gunned yet they flew straight into the formation of enemy aircraft.

To read more about James Swett then please consider one of our prints or one of our upcoming books. Thank you.

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Close up of painting.