|Tom Swihart and Charlie Riedmuller
Tom Swihart of New Castle got more than the usual surprises Sunday at his 58th birthday party.
After nearly 40 years, the Coast Guard veteran was unexpectedly reunited with the man who engineered his rescue at
sea near Nantucket, Mass, after Swihart fell ill.
Swihart was introduced to his wife's cousin's brother-in-law, Charlie Riedmuller, who was visiting from Petaluma, Calif.
Riedmuller retired from the Coast Guard in 1977 as an E9 Master Chief Boatswain Mate, a rank Swihart said is "like
"You don't often find a brother Coast Guardsman," Swihart said; and when you do, you naturally start sharing
As they chatted, Swihart told of being rescued in March 1968 after a week with a high fever on Pollock Rip Lightship.
The skin was peeling off the E5 2nd class electrian's mate's hands and feet and the Coast Guard had attempted several times
by water and air to get him off the anchored ship. But rough seas made it impossible.
A third lifeboat crew was about to give up when Swihart, then 20 jumped off the lightship and his fellow Guardsmen
Because he thought he was going to die, the risky jumped seemed like his only chance.
"I know I had to do it," Swihart said.
As a retired Pennsylvania State Police trooper finished his story, Riedmuller revealed an astonishing twist.
"He let me get through the whole thing," Swihart said. "After I was done, Charlie says, 'You crazy
nut! I was driving the boat!."
Riedmuller said the conditions were "deplorable" during the rescue attempts and the ship was "rolling
like a cork in a bathtub" the day Swihart was finally taken to a hospital.
Though he hadn't thought of the rescue in years, Riedmuller said as the two talked, it came rushing back "like
it was just yesterday.
"My heart almost stopped beating because I was afraid he was going to get killed," Riedmuller said of Swihart's
"I was ready to strangle you myself" He told Swihart, laughing.
Doctors never discovered what was wrong with Swihart, who had recently returned from a year in Vietnam. He spent about
a month in the hospital after the rescue.
The two men did more catching up Wednesday at A Place in the Woods Bed and Breakfast near Lake Wilhelm, which is owned
by Riedmuller's brother George and his wife Jo-Anne.
Swihart and his wife Christine have four children and four grandchildren. He retired after 25 years with the state
police, where he taught troopers in five counties how to deal with accidents, evacuations and medical incidents. He now has
a career in sales.
Riedmuller and his wife Delene have three children, six grandchildren and two great-grandchildren, and has spent two
decades teaching at the California Maritime Academy and is active in the Petaluma Sea Scouts.
Both said they are still in shock over rediscovering one another.
"You have a better chance of getting hit by lightning or winning the lottery than something like this ever happening,"
Riedmuller said. "It is absolutely phenomenal to meet him after all these years. Now I know he's OK.
Swihart said that being able to thank the man who likely saved his life was an "incredible experience" and
said they definitely feel like family.
|Then BMC Charlie Riedmuller at the helm of CG30369 at Block Island CG Station
|Pollock Rip Lightship