Archived Story

‘Cardinal Charlie’: Forging a fast friendship with fellow author Norbert Swierz

Published 10:28pm Thursday, April 7, 2011

First of two parts

In one’s waning years isn’t it great to be able to make a wonderful new friend?

gillWell, old Charlie recently had this privilege.

My new friend’s name is Norbert Swierz.

He is an old Dowagiac boy who graduated from DHS in 1938 (gee, I was only eight years old at the time).

It was more or less by fate that this happened.

I spotted a picture in my early morning Benton Harbor Palladium of a 92-year-od man standing in front of a B-17 bomber.

Under this was written in big letters “Former Dowagiac man, 92, WWII veteran, flies again.”

I told my wife I’ve written about this man before in one of my old articles, but not sure what it was about, but in the back of my mind was the old Moonlight Inn that used to be out on old M-40 North and Corwin Street.

I had my secretary, Helen Leich, find me his address and phone number.

I called him up and told him who I was and had seen his picture in the paper.

He seemed elated to hear from someone from Dowagiac.

We had quite a long conversation.

I told him I had a 1938 Wahoo from the year he graduated.

We talked of a lot of his classmates that I knew and other Dowagiac people that we both knew.

After hashing out a lot of Dowagiac memories, he said, Charlie, you have made my day.

I said likewise, Norbert.

It was on this first phone call that I knew that I had made a great new friend.

In the Associated Press article, Norbert’s son, Greg, said his father didn’t talk about his war experiences until about 10 years ago and persuaded him to write down the memories.

On the phone Norbert told me had written a book and was going to send me one, and I said, I’ll send you mine, which we did.

His book is If I Told You Once — a Remembrance of My Life for My Children and Grandchildren.

Norbert didn’t know where to start his book.

Should he concentrate on his World War II experiences? His prisoner of war ordeal?

Or maybe his early life in the 1920s, ’30s and ’40s, which is where his book starts.

My next article will tell some of his life.

“Cardinal Charlie” Gill writes a nostalgic weekly column about growing up in the Grand Old City. E-mail him at

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