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For Navy SEAL who died in El Salvador, family came first
Saturday, August 31, 2002
By CAROL SMITH
SEATTLE POST-INTELLIGENCER REPORTER
Cmdr. Peter Oswald was the decorated leader of an elite Navy SEAL unit and the youngest son in a Bellingham Navy family.
But he told friends that despite his SEAL training, which only the strongest, most determined men get through, his most challenging and rewarding job was being a father.
"He was a Gulf War veteran, and a platoon commander, but he always said that was a breeze compared with raising three energetic young girls," said Brian Thurston, who grew up with Oswald. "He was very much a family man, and very involved in the outdoors -- fishing, bird-hunting and hiking.
"He had a unique ability to switch from the military side of things to just being a regular person, which was amazing considering his responsibilities," Thurston said.
Cmdr. Oswald, 41, died during a training accident in El Salvador earlier this week. Cmdr. Oswald, who was head of a Puerto Rico-based special warfare unit, fell to his death while "fast-roping" out of a hovering Blackhawk helicopter, a technique routinely used by special forces for getting to the ground quickly.
The Navy is still investigating the accident, but the family has been informed that the rope separated during the fatal exercise.
Cmdr. Oswald grew up in Bellingham, graduating from Sehome High School. A star student and athlete, he played football for the Naval Academy, and was a center on the NCAA, Division 1A All East Football team in 1983. He graduated in 1984 with a degree in ocean engineering. In 1988, he graduated from Basic Underwater Demolition/SEAL School.
As a SEAL commander, he was a respected leader.
"He was on the fast track to being one of the top leaders in the community," said Lt. Cmdr. Darryn James, spokesman for the Naval Special Warfare division in San Diego. "This is a tight-knit community," he said. "Most of the SEALs knew him and are devastated by his tragic loss."
Cmdr. Oswald's unit of about 50 SEALs was training outside Comalapa, a city 25 miles south of San Salvador, when the accident occurred. The unit, which was in charge of naval special operations missions and training for the Southern Command, had arrived in El Salvador for exercises with Salvadoran military forces last Saturday. The accident occurred over land on Tuesday, and was a practice run for an exercise scheduled to take place over the Pacific Ocean later in the week.
"As a commander, he was automatically the best of the best," James said. "He was a warrior, and in this community, that's all that matters."
Before his latest command, Cmdr. Oswald had served as the aide de camp to the commander in chief of the Atlantic Command, and was an Olmsted Scholar at Kyoto University in Japan, where he studied the Japanese language and Asian cultures as part of a military assignment.
In Bellingham, Cmdr. Oswald was remembered as one of three high-achieving sons. His oldest brother, Stephen, now an admiral in the Navy, was a space shuttle astronaut who flew two missions and commanded a third. He heads Boeing's shuttle program. His brother, Michael, is a dentist in Bellingham. Their father, Harold, also a dentist, is a World War II veteran and former Navy pilot.
"Anybody who knew an Oswald just hoped they could achieve the level of quality they all insisted on in their lives," Thurston said. And yet the family never bragged of their achievements.
"You usually had to find out about them from someone else," he said. "Pete was a humble guy. It's a family tradition."
Cmdr. Oswald, who was living at Roosevelt Roads Naval Station in Puerto Rico, is survived by his wife, Jennifer, and three daughters, Sarah, Alicia and Margaret; his parents, Harold and Dorothy; and brothers, Stephen and Michael.
A memorial service is scheduled for 12:30 p.m. Sept. 8, at Squalicum Boat House in Zuanich Park in Bellingham.
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