Wayne Swank may not have had the most exciting military service, but the period (during the Cold War) from 1960-63 defined his life like little else.

“I look back on it as probably the best thing that ever happened to me,” the 77-year-old native of Galesburg, Ill., who now lives in Bettendorf, said recently. “It taught me to grow up.”

That principle carried through the rest of his life. “It teaches you respect for authority,” he said. “It teaches you how to think. It changes how you deal with people, because no matter who you're with, you gotta get along with them."

Swank was the oldest of five kids, and his father was a farmer. He went to high school in New Boston, Ill., and didn't go to college, enlisting in 1960 because the war in southeast Asia was starting.

“My dad was disappointed I went in the service,” Swank said. “He wanted me to stay and farm with him. I didn't want to farm. I just did not want that lifestyle. I think he came to accept what I was doing.”

He had basic training at Fort Leonard Wood in Missouri, and medical training at Fort Sam Houston in Texas, to serve as a medic. Swank also was stationed at Fort Lewis in Washington State, and after a year, sent to McCully Barracks in West Germany, in 1961.

“It was kind of mind-boggling what you had to know and how to apply what you learned,” Swank said. “You hope you never had to use it. Knowing how the body works, and how to do immediate first aid in a battlefield situation."

He was with 8th Medical Battalion, but was sent to the motor pool to work mainly as a mechanic, for which he just had “on the job” training, and his responsibilities included inventory and guard duty.

He was at the barracks until June 1963. “The hardest part was when I'd go to bed at night, I didn't know if I'd get a full night's sleep or not,” Swank said. “We were on a ready alert system all the time, in case war broke out.”

“It was a tense situation,” he said of the Cold War conflict with the former Soviet Union. His fellow service members became friends. “We had to depend on each other,” Swank said.

After returning home, he worked at the Alcoa plant in Riverdale for 38 years, starting as a laborer and ending as a blacksmith. He didn't join a veterans organization. He said war protestors gave his service a black eye, in a way.

“I really didn't want to talk about it. Most people my age, they don't want to talk about it,” he said. During the anti-war protests of the '60s and early '70s, Swank said the best thing they could do “is get their pants out of the country.”

“If we don't support our military, we have nothing. We'd live in a dictatorship,” Swank said. “We need to support our military more financially, because some of our equipment is 30, 40 years old.

He called an Honor Flight to Washington, D.C. he went on this past September, “the best day of my life."

“The reception we had going and coming, you could not imagine being recognized for something you've done,” he said, noting after he came home in '63, “nobody cared."

“They're more supportive now, but I worry about the next generation, what's gonna happen,” Swank said.