Tionesta’s John Swartzfager, WW2 Vet, Throws Out First Pitch at Tuesday’s Tigers/Pirates Game

LAKELAND, Fla. (EYT) – For 90-year old John Swartzfager of Tionesta, who was born in Ashland Township, Tuesday was a memorable day.

Game Day Photos courtesy of the City of Lakeland, Fla. See the City’s Facebook Page)

The World War II veteran was asked to throw out the first pitch at the Spring Training opener between the Pittsburgh Pirates and Detroit Tigers at Joker Marchant Stadium in Lakeland, Fla., the spring home of the Tigers.

“It was a big day,” Swartzfager said. “It was the first time I ever got to do something like that. I’ve never experienced this type of honor and attention before.”


Swartzfager has had plenty of big days in his life.

Born in 1925 in Ashland Township, he enlisted in the navy at 17 and served four tours in the Pacific Theater during the war on an LST (amphibious landing unit). He took part in the invasions of Peleliu, Leyte, Luzon and Okinawa.


After returning from active duty, Swartzfager became a pastor in the Tionesta area and is married to Marlene Swartzfager, who is the retired gym teacher at East and West Forest.

It was Marlene that helped set up his first-pitch opportunity.

“I am a member of the Daughters of the American Revolution,” Marlene Swartzfager said. “Through our region we found out the Tigers were looking for World War II and Korean War veterans to throw out the first pitch. We submitted info on John, and he was chosen because of being a World War II veteran and his age.”

Marlene said the reaction to John throwing out the first pitch was fantastic.

“The whole stadium stood up and clapped,” Marlene said. “It was unbelievable.”

According to Kevin Cook, Lakeland City spokesman, Swartzfager wound up like an old-time baseball player and the crowd loved it.

“I was taken back by everyone’s show of respect and appreciation,” John Swartzfager said. “I never realize how much people care about veteran’s service. I’d do it all over again even if I knew this recognition wouldn’t come. I didn’t do it for the honor. I did it because it as the right thing to do.”

The Swartzfagers winter in Lake Wales, Fla. John has seven children, 12 grandchildren and a two-week old great grandson. His daughter Sheri Luchs and her husband Sam of Tionesta, his daughter Lisa Williams with her husband Kurt and grandson Ty and his son Miles Furnish of Indianapolis along with some Florida friends and bus full of church family attended the game.


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