LARGO — It might have started with his first car, a Model T, during the Great Depression.
Roger P. Swaine Sr. paid $35 for the car, a seemingly ancient clunker even in the 1930s. It must have felt like a fortune for the Des Moines, Iowa, teen.
Mr. Swaine didn't care. He tore off the fenders to make it look like a hot rod. Even 70 years later, Mr. Swaine joked he couldn't fill the gas tank because of the holes.
Mr. Swaine loved the freedom of that car, the sense of going somewhere, meeting people. But he got a speeding ticket, and Mr. Swaine's angry father made him sell the car.
But Mr. Swaine was already bitten by the travel bug.
He joined the Army Air Corps in 1940 and was assigned to Europe. He helped maintain and repair the B-17 bomber with creative moxie.
Once he and his crew took two bombers — one with a ruined tail, the other with a ruined nose — and combined the undamaged halves to make one good bomber.
But repairing planes wasn't enough. Mr. Swaine was accepted into a pilot training program. He fought air sickness. He got his wings. But World War II ended before he flew in combat.
His chance came in the Korean War. Mr. Swaine flew the F-80 Shooting Star, the first U.S. jet fighter, in six combat missions.
Mr. Swaine was later assigned to the Panama Canal Zone and flew a C-47 transport all over South America. He'd bring back toys to his children and stories about the people he'd met.
He retired from the Air Force as a major in 1965 and brought his family to Largo. He never piloted a plane again. He trained as a stockbroker and began a 23-year career with Merrill Lynch.
It was all prologue for retirement at age 65. Mr. Swaine wanted enough money to travel with his wife, June. They bought a 25-foot Citation travel trailer, towing it with a Ford Crown Victoria. They put 100,000 miles on it, once driving all the way to Alaska.
Mr. Swaine would entertain with stories about the wars, life in South America, of the time he shared a dance with movie star June Allyson. Once in a while, his wife would ask, "Roger, is this story going to take much longer?"
The trailer was in storage when Mr. Swaine died on July 3 at age 87 of a stroke.
His son Rex Swaine plans to drive the trailer with his own family to a campground in Melbourne where he traveled with his parents years ago. He recalls his father joking about a hairless raccoon they saw. Rex never forgot the trip, the laughter, his father's endless stories.
In the shade of the Citation, they will share memories of a man whose journey started so long ago with that Model T.
William R. Levesque can be reached at email@example.com or (813) 269-5306.