World War II Army veteran Orville Swett of Port Orange, Fla., has seen a lot in his life.
The Purple Heart recipient sustained a brain injury that nearly killed him while fighting in the Battle of Anzio in Italy. Recovered, he went on to have a fulfilling career as an optician and eyeglass shop owner in Maine. In 1985, Swett retired to Florida and has been on a mission to help fellow vets see better.
Swett, now 91, inquired if the VA clinic in Daytona Beach could use a hand. “The VA had no optician when I started and I had experience. The ophthalmologist hired me immediately. I was the first volunteer in the system,” he tells the Daytona Beach News-Journal. “I do it because there was a need.”
Since then, Swett has racked up more than 38,000 hours volunteering at the VA, where he repairs and adjusts eyeglasses for vets. “I’m here for the veterans,” he says. “I work for the veterans, not the VA.”
Although Swett’s main work is to help veterans with sight-related needs, he also serves as an inspiration and source of historical information to everyone he meets — including VA interns in their 20s and fellow veterans. Dr. Dianne Kowing, who leads the ophthalmology department at the VA, says, “He gives them an understanding of their role. He’s inspiring to them. And he has a wicked Maine sense of humor.”
Swett volunteers consistently, except for three months in the summer that he spends in Maine. When he returns each fall, his coworkers are always thankful to see him. “I am committed 100 percent in helping [fellow veterans],” he said. “I was brought up that way, to help each other out.”