POW leaves his mark (George McSwain)

Debbie Haney first saw George McSwain when she was five.

Haney was watching a 1973 newscast of Operation Homecoming when she saw McSwain’s face flash across the television screen.

She remembers asking her father why the man looked so angry. He told her that McSwain had been a prisoner of war in Vietnam.

“I put my fingers on the television screen and I told my father that I would make sure he would never get hurt again,” she said.

Though neither knew it at the time, both would meet in Eastern Oregon more than 35 years later.

They became fast friends and Haney took care of McSwain as he suffered from the effects of prostate cancer and a stroke before dying Aug. 6.

Although he didn’t leave behind a spouse or family, McSwain made an indelible impression on the tight-knit circle of friends he made throughout his life.

The companion

After spending most of the month handling McSwain’s final arrangements, Haney is back to work at the Rainbow Cafe.

As she deep-fries potato wedges and takes orders on a quiet Wednesday afternoon, Haney said McSwain loved eating at the downtown institution.

She and McSwain met when she was a cook at the Doubletree Restaurant & Lounge in Athena in 2009.

McSwain began to come when she worked her shifts, and it took some time before she realized that McSwain matched up with the man on the television screen decades earlier. Haney described their meeting as fate. McSwain said it was proof their friendship was meant to be.

McSwain became an integral part of her and her children’s lives.

While some people didn’t know what to make of their age disparity — McSwain was nearly three decades her senior — she didn’t embrace the term companion until after his death. Haney said McSwain didn’t curry his time in the military for any special attention and would rarely speak of his time in Vietnam.

She remembered a time she gently ribbed McSwain in the arm to emphasize a joke, only to see him wince in pain.

After Haney asked, he pulled up his sleeve to reveal a scar he obtained during the six and a half years he stayed in a Vietcong war camp.

The cellmate

While on a U.S. Navy strike mission near the city of Vinh in North Vietnam, McSwain’s plane was shot down on July 28, 1966.

Forced to eject, McSwain was captured by North Vietnamese forces and sent to a prisoner of war camp where he would spend the next 2,411 days of his life.

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