CWO-4 Thomas F. Swearingen
10 October 1924 - 16 December 1999

By Charles Q. Cutshaw

The world firearms community and the United States recently suffered a great loss with the passing of CWO-4 (Ret) Tom Swearingen, United States Marine Corps. Tom was a true American hero, warrior and patriot and was loved and respected by all who knew him. Tom’s best known contribution to the firearms community is his authoritative The World’s Fighting Shotguns. If this had been Tom’s only achievement, his place in firearms history would be assured, but his contributions to the firearms industry, the literature and to his country are far greater, despite being less well known.

Tom came from a family who had been Texas ranchers, but his father was a Marine Corps Sergeant Major in the days when sergeants major truly were only somewhat less authoritative than God. Given his Texas background and youth as a Marine Corps brat, it was only natural that Tom would develop an early and abiding interest in firearms and ammunition and that he would himself join the Marine Corps. Tom enlisted in the Marines in August 1943 and was trained as a specialist in combat intelligence. He was preparing for special operations in the expected invasion of Japan when the war ended. After the war, Tom entered the field of explosive ordnance and soon achieved recognition as a true expert in the field, whose knowledge and expertise far surpassed that of others in the field. With the coming of the Korean War, Tom was assigned to the 1st Marine Division. He participated in the Inchon Landing, where he and his men cleared the beach of mines and explosive ordnance so that the landing forces could make it ashore with a minimum of casualties. Tom was involved in every subsequent 1st Marine Division combat operation, including the Chosin Reservoir. Tom was reassigned to Marine Corps Headquarters in 1952, where he served as a staff expert in explosive ordnance disposal and ammunition until 1956. Tom was selected as a Marine Corps Gunner (Warrant Officer) in 1957 and from 1958 until 1962 was assigned as an EOD instructor at Indian Head, MD, a reflection on his expertise in the field. Tom’s expertise was recognized not only by the Marine Corps, but by other services, as well. In 1968, the Army requested that Tom be assigned to Vietnam as a member of the Combined Material Intelligence Exploitation Center, where his analyses of foreign ammunition and explosive ordnance was recognized throughout the Department of Defense intelligence community as definitive. After his return from Vietnam, Tom lectured throughout the military and private industry on United States and foreign ordnance. Tom retired from the Marines in 1974 with over 30 years service. His decorations included two Bronze Star Medals with “V”, two Navy Commendation Medals with “V”, the Combat Action Ribbon, three Presidential Unit Citations, a Meritorious Unit Citation, a Navy Unit Citation and Marine Corps Good Conduct Medal with three stars. Tom also was awarded many service medals for his participation in three wars - World War II, Korea and Vietnam. His distinguished military career might well have been sufficient for a lesser individual, but Tom continued to excel after leaving the military.

After his retirement, Tom continued his vigorous research into the history and technology of both American and foreign ordnance and continued his consulting services to industry and government. His industry clients included Mossberg, Remington, Winchester/Olin, Wilson Arms, Sage International and Vang-Comp Systems. Tom designed the Mossberg 500 bullpup shotgun and contributed to the design of the Mossberg 590 and 5500, the USAS-12 shotgun, the Wilson Arms Executive Protection Shotgun and the High Standard 10A and 10B shotguns. Tom was a court certified expert firearms witness in several states. He also served as a consultant to the military services and law enforcement agencies. Tom was the author of many articles and his books. The World’s Fighting Shotguns and Tear Gas Munitions are standard references to this day. Tom was diagnosed with cancer in 1998, and was given only a few months to live, but he fought the killer disease and survived much longer than expected. Although he never suffered any pain, Tom grew progressively weaker and finally was unable to work. At the time of his death, Tom was working on a second edition of the World’s Fighting Shotguns that takes up where the previous volume left off. Realizing that he would not be able to complete the book prior to his death, Tom made arrangements for another author to compete the work and we can expect to see the new book later this year.

Tom was a life member of the National Rifle Association, a member of the National Defense Industrial Association (formerly American Defense Preparedness Association), the International Ammunition Association (formerly International Cartridge Collector’s Association) and the Association of Firearms and Toolmark Examiners. He is survived by his wife, Ruby: his son, Thomas Junior, his daughter, Barbara Swearingen Bradham and two grandchildren.

Tom Swearingen will be sorely missed not only by his family, but by those of us whose lives he touched. Although he is no longer physically among us, Tom’s spirit will continue to enrich the lives of all those who knew him. I am honored to be counted among those who had the privilege to have known and worked with Tom over the years.

Semper Fi, my friend!

Charlie Cutshaw

This article first appeared in Small Arms Review V3N7 (April 2000)
and was posted online on June 19, 2015


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