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First Lieutenant Joseph Fletcher Swift

  • Unit: 91st Division, 362nd Infantry Regiment, Machine Gun Company
  • Date of Birth: March 14, 1896
  • Entered the Military: May 12, 1916
  • Date of Death: September 29, 1918
  • Hometown: Safford, Arizona
  • Place of Death: near Gesnes, France
  • Award(s): Distinguished Service Cross
  • Cemetery: Plot A, Row 39, Grave 3. Meuse-Argonne American Cemetery, Romagne-Sous-Montfaucon, France
Contributed by Mrs. Stacey Trepanier
New Vistas Center for Education

Early Life

On March 14, 1896, Joseph Fletcher Swift was born to Theodore Tenney (known as T. T.) and Grace Swift in Marshall County, Iowa. Later, the family moved to the small mining town of Safford, Arizona. Joseph was the oldest, and was followed four younger siblings – Donald, Theodore, and Graceabel.

As a teen, Swift ventured away from home to attend Polytechnic High School in Los Angeles, California to gain skills not available to him in Arizona schools. After graduating with honors, he returned home to Arizona and accepted a job as a manual training teacher at Safford High School. Swift’s commitment to service led him to join the Arizona National Guard. 

Military Experience

On May 12, 1916, Swift joined the Arizona National Guard, which was called to serve as tensions rose at the Arizona-Mexico border. Recognized for his honorable service, Swift was promoted to sergeant.

On April 1, 1917, Swift’s National Guard unit was nationalized and mobilized for training at Camp Kearney, California. The young sergeant found himself quickly separated from his unit and sent to officer training school.

He was commissioned on August 15, 1917 and reassigned to the 362nd Infantry Regiment of the 91st Division, better known as the Wild West Division. This division, created on August 5, 1917, formed at Camp Lewis, Washington. On June 28, 1918, Swift sailed on the USS Cretic from New York City to Le Harve, France. The unit was quickly transported to the front.

Swift faced the realities of war immediately when he arrived in France. His luck saw him through several small battles, and even a railroad collision.

On September 25, 1918, Swift and his men faced fierce German opposition near Avrecourt, France. Heavily fortified machine gun nests halted American advances and forced battalions to retreat. Armed only with a pistol, Swift single-handedly raided one of the German nests, killing four German soldiers.

Swift and his men advanced on German positions Gesnes, France two days later. When faced with machine gun fire, he again tried a “daring attempt to perform a similar act,” but was shot in the head and killed instantly. For his valor, he was awarded the Distinguished Service Cross posthumously.

Swift was initially buried in an isolated grave north of the Bois de Cierges. His father indicated his desire for his son to be buried in France. He was re-interred in Meuse-Argonne Cemetery in Romagne-sous-Montfaucon, France.


Records show that Swift left his $10,000 life insurance policy to his 12-year-old brother, Theodore, which he received at age 21. His mother, Grace T. Swift, joined a Gold Star Mothers’ Pilgrimage in 1930 to visit her son’s grave.



179th Infantry; World War I Organizational Records, Records of the American Expeditionary Forces (World War I), Record Group 120 (Box 458); National Archives at College Park, College Park, MD.

Arizona. Graham County. 1910 Census. Digital Images.

Grace Swift. Photograph. 1930. World War I Burial Case File, National Archives and Records Administration – St. Louis. Image.

Haulser, W. M., F. G. Howe, and A. C. Doyle. Soldiers of the Great War, Volume 1. Washington, D.C.: Soldiers Record Publishing Association, 1920. Digital Images.

Iowa. Marshall County. 1900 Census. Digital Images.

“Joseph Swift.” American Battle Monuments Commission. Accessed April 30, 2018.

Joseph Fletcher Swift, Deceased Veterans Claim File, VA Master Index, Army Awards Card, World War I Pay Vouchers and World War I Officer Pay Cards; National Archives and Records Administration – St. Louis.

Joseph Fletcher Swift, World War I Burial Case File; Correspondence, Reports, Telegrams, Applications and Other Papers relating to Burials of Service Personnel, Records of the Quartermaster General’s Office, 1915-1935, Record Group 92; National Archives and Records Administration – St. Louis.

Seabrook, Sergeant First Class J. T. Bulger blowing “mail call” for men of the 91st Division…France. Photograph. September 1, 1918. National Archives and Records Administration (111-SC-31869-ac). Image.

Seabrook, Sergeant First Class J. T. Men of Headquarters…362 Infantry, 91st Division starting on their hike… Photograph. September 4, 1918. National Archives and Records Administration (111-SC-31870-ac). Image.

U.S. Army Transport Service, Passenger Lists 1910-1939. Digital Images.

U.S. Secretary of War. American Decorations, 1862-1926. Volume One. Washington, D.C.: Government Printing Office, 1927.

U.S. World War I Mothers’ Pilgrimage Records. Digital Images.

War Diaries – 91st Division, A. E. F. General Headquarters, Records of the American Expeditionary Forces (World War I), Record Group 120 (Box 2952); National Archives at College Park, College Park, MD.