LCpl. Franklin Sweger
As Christmas Eve descended on San Antonio with a whirl of last-minute shopping and holiday gatherings, the Sweger and Hernandez families drew together to bury their son.
Franklin Alan Sweger, a 24-year-old lance corporal in the Marine Corps, was killed Dec. 16 while performing door-to-door searches for insurgents in Anbar Province, Iraq.
Sweger's funeral, which filled the Porter Loring North chapel on a cold, gray day, was a painful reminder that even in times of celebration, war and death don't take a holiday.
Mourners filed toward the front of the chapel to view Sweger's body in a casket draped with a U.S. flag and flanked by a half-dozen flower arrangements. Then, during a somber, 50-minute service, they paid homage to a young man who had a fierce desire to protect both his loved ones and his country.
"Franklin gave his life in an effort to help protect ... freedom for each and every one of us," Chaplain Larry West said. "He joins the list of thousands before him who have paid the ultimate price."
Though the 2000 graduate of MacArthur High School was shorter than most guys, it didn't deter his mission.
"He was everyone's big brother, even if he was the smallest of the group," said Katie Costello, a classmate from high school. "He always acted like a big dog."
After Sweger graduated from high school, he spent less than a year at Lamar State College. He was a bright student with a penchant for chemistry and math, but he realized he wasn't quite ready for academia and joined the Marine Corps, his father said.
He'd been stationed in Hawaii the past three years and was assigned to the 1st Battalion, 3rd Marine Regiment, 3rd Marine Division, III Marine Expeditionary Force. He was sent to Iraq this summer.
Sweger planned to return to college after completing his duty with the Marines, his father said.
When he was young, his father's nickname for him was "Little Thunder."
"Frankie was always a handful," Sweger said. "It was tough to slow him down."
As a young boy, he would conduct his own chemistry experiments by mixing chlorine and bleach together.
"I'd walk out in the garage and there would be these foaming saucers," his father said.
Sweger's parents divorced when he was about 9, and his mother, Susie Hernandez, and her present husband, Steven, raised him from then on. He also has two brothers, Steven and Joseph Hernandez.
He had matured both physically and emotionally since joining the Marines, his father said.
He frequently told his best friend, Mitch Carlson, that he loved him.
"He touched the lives of everyone he came in contact with," said Carlson, 22, speaking during the funeral service. "He is still alive through his family, friends and everyone's heart he touched. We will always love you, Franklin."
Sweger was buried with military honors in Mission Burial Park North and was awarded the Purple Heart posthumously.
His stepmother, Becky Sweger, said her family won't forget Christmas this year, but "it will be really quiet," she said.
During the funeral, a family friend read the poem, "My First Christmas in Heaven," as if it were a message from Sweger:
"So, have a Merry Christmas and wipe away that tear.
"Remember, I'm spending Christmas with Jesus Christ this year."