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Training Pearl Harbor Midway Tulagi Guadalcanal Souvenirs
By now there have been thousands of stories written about the heroes and men and women who fought for our country during WWII. For every one that has been written, there are probably another thousand that should be and will probably never be written about. Many veterans simply do not want to talk about their experiences.. too painful. Others simply never had an audience or anyone interested enough to listen.
The sad part is, that in not too many years, maybe twenty at the most, they will all be gone. Many are already. I was not quite old enough to be amongst these men of what is now being called the "Greatest Generation" thanks to Tom Brokaw's book. I wish I had. I was fortunate enough to grow up during the war years and know the proud feelings that most Americans had about being part of a country involved in a war in which we were undoubtedly the "good guys", unlike perhaps some of the wars that followed.
My fascination has increased over the years thanks to the "History Channel" and the many books that I have read. I began to envy those great writers who actually got to speak to some of these heroes and hear their stories first hand. One day my loving wife, who always seems to have more insight and awareness than I do, suggested that I talk to her uncle Arnold. I have known Arnold Swartz for almost forty years. I would see him at family gatherings where the main topic of conversation might be when the hors d'oeuvres would be served but never thought about asking him about his wartime experiences. I finally did and what follows is the result of my talks. I hope you will be as fascinated and enthralled as I was.
Arnold Swartz was a U.S. Marine well before anyone would even care. Arnold graduated with honors from Miami University in Ohio with thoughts of becoming a doctor some day. He had already been accepted at Columbia University's College of Physicians and Surgeons. While at college he joined a platoon leaders program and when he graduated he became a 2nd lieutenant in the Marine Reserve, one of only 550 graduates to receive this honor. Shortly after accepting his commission, he was called to active duty due to the threat of possible war with Japan. Four months later he was stunned when the commander asked him to raise his right hand and renounce his commission as first Lieutenant in the reserves. Arnold was relieved when he was asked to raise his hand again and swear in to become a 2nd Lieutenant in the regular marines; one of six chosen out of over of 500 reserve officers.
Arnold's first assignment was to Company C, First Battalion, Fifth Regiment of the first brigade fleet marine force at Quantico Va. He tells a story of visiting a sort of beach club in Virginia with a couple of marine buddies. They encountered a sign at the beach which might have been a familiar site in 1941." No Jews or dogs allowed. There were several hotels on Miami Beach, I am told, that had similar signs. Arnold's three marine buddies were not Jewish. Arnold of course was. The guard at the gate refused to allow any of them entry because they all claimed to be Jewish. He said something to the effect of "We don't want any of you kikes around here. Go someplace else" to which the marines responded by tipping over his guard shack. He pulled his gun out, but the well trained marines immediately disarmed him which of course, brought the other guards running. The police soon arrived to break up the melee and got the marines to take their swim and not make any more trouble. That would not be the last time Arnold Swartz encountered anti-Semitism in the marines.
specialty became anti-aircraft which required a great deal of training in
mathematics to calculate range and speed of attacking aircraft. Anti aircraft practice was done at Hilton Head Island, at that time deserted
with no paved roads. They would set up their anti aircraft guns and fire at
targets towed by airplanes.
Arnold was soon assigned to head an anti aircraft group to be stationed at Midway island. He was to train at Pearl Harbor and then return to Midway. Before he left San Diego for Pearl, he purchased the first Ford convertible with an automatic top for eight hundred dollars. The Navy shipped it to Hawaii for him. One day after having lunch at a local Hawaiian restaurant, Arnold and his buddy Dick Rice came out to find the Ford surrounded by women. Dick immediately had to have one of these cars so he ordered one from Los Angeles. Dick had to pay four hundred dollars to have it shipped after paying twelve hundred for the car. Several things happened during this time. Swartz's bride to be, Rose Cetlin from Haverhill Mass. sent him what she now refers to as a "Dear John" letter. In other words, in today's jargon, asking for commitment. Arnold was not about to let this beauty get away and invited her to join him in beautiful Pearl Harbor. Rose left and began her long journey across the US where she ran into an old boyfriend of hers while changing trains in Chicago. He helped her with her bags, but that was the end of the meeting. Rose still had far to go. She had to make her way to Los Angeles and wait a week until October 15, 1941, to board the S.S. President Madison for her trip to Hawaii. Arnold had a surprise for Rose when she was about to arrive in Honolulu. Arnold had cajoled the captain of the pilot boat sent out to guide the President Madison into the harbor, to allow him aboard. He climbed aboard the ship and surprised the hell out of Rose. They were married shortly after on October 26th by the Navy chaplain, Lt. Cerf Strauss
Rose were given a great wedding present by Rear Admiral (then Lt. Commander)
Solomon Isquith of the Battleship
Utah. The Utah was an old battleship
that was occasionally sent out to sea to serve as a practice target for navy
bombers and bombardiers. The superstructure had been removed and wooden plank
platforms were placed on the on the deck to serve as targets for the bombs. Small bombs with no explosives were used for training.
Commander Isquith ordered the electrician's mate of the Utah to make two lamps
out of some of these practice bombs to be given to the newlyweds as a wedding present. Of course, during the attack on
Pearl Harbor, the Japanese could not tell one ship from another and the Utah,
with the newly made lamps was sunk. Isquith ordered divers to locate the
electricians mates locker and retrieve his wedding present. It was done and as you can
see in the photo, the lamps survived in great shape. Arnold and Rose still have them today.
Commander Isquith was also awarded the Navy Cross for saving 90 percent of his crew after the Utah was attacked. He almost lost his own life while attempting to escape through a porthole when a table he was standing on slipped out from under him as the ship began to list. Another crewman grabbed his arm at the last minute and saved his life.
Arnold, Lt. Swartz, was just finishing up his "Officer of the Guard" stint at Marine Barracks at around 8 AM on the morning of December 7th 1941. Military men try to avoid having to clean their own weapons so rather than use them, when possible, they would draw one from the armory to be returned at the end of their watch. Arnold had just given his Colt .45 pistol to the Field Music (Marine name for Bugler) to return it to the sergeant at arms. Just at about this time he noticed a swarm of planes flying over Pearl. He, as did nearly everyone else, thought " Look at those damned-fool army guys (There was no Air Force at that time) out on maneuvers and they haven't even had breakfast yet. Suddenly one of the planes turned and he saw the "meatball" or big red circle representing the rising sun, Japan's symbol. He screamed "It's the F-----in Japs!" He yelled to the bugler to bring his .45 back and sound call-to-arms . He then informed, officer-of-the-day, First Lieutenant Cornelius C. Smith who at the time was having his morning coffee with Marine Gunner Floyd McCorkle. They too ran out on to the lanai outside and watched the first Jap planes begin their attack on Ford Island. Swartz was unable to reach Colonel Harry B. Picket, 14th Naval District Marine Officer, Colonel Jackson, or Captain Samuel Shaw so he sent runners to begin waking all the sleeping Marines in their barracks for what was to come. Then they began to prepare the anti-aircraft batteries for action. There were several 3-inch batteries lined up on the baseball field awaiting shipment to Midway. Of course no large caliber live ammunition was ever allowed in Pearl Harbor other than 30 and 50 caliber shells. At about 8:15 AM he ordered some sent to him on the double from the ammunition depot about 8 miles away. In the meantime, he sent his "gunny sergeant" to the armory to get as many 30 and 50 caliber machine guns as they could to at least offer some defense. The quartermaster sergeant in charge of the armory would not release them because he had no authorization. Arnold told his men to go back to the armory and get those machine guns whatever way they could. Rumor has it that these guys knocked the sergeant in charge on his ass and took the guns that they needed. Once they were in place, his men managed to shoot down one of the few Jap planes during the attack. As proof, Lt. Swartz salvaged a piece of the instrument panel from that Japanese dive bomber and sent it home to his father, a lieutenant in the Brockton, Mass. Police department. I actually saw that piece of junk in Arnolds cellar some years ago and didn't place the importance on it that I do now. I would "kill" to have that as an addition to my war room at home, but as most invaluable souvenirs of WW II, I thought that it somehow got lost along the way. (I just learned that his son Jerry still has it.) As a side story, Swartz says that the steel on this piece of equipment was stamped with U.S. Steel on it. Here we were, blockading oil shipments to Japan but still selling them steel. By the way, the 3" ammunition finally arrived at 10:15 AM just as the last Japs were leaving AND it was the wrong ammunition anyway. The shells were for Naval ships broadside guns and not suitable for anti aircraft use.
Hear a few words as Capt. Swartz describes the event!
Lt. Swartz was unable to see his new bride for four days. He contacted her by phone on Tuesday. When he finally did get home on Thursday, Rose said 'He stunk like anything!" No doubt she was happy to see him, stink and all. Rose was put to work as a military wife doing nothing. For some reason the government thought this was the best thing to do until the dependants could be sent stateside some weeks later. Rose was bored out of her mind sitting at a desk with absolutely nothing to do. Rose was unaware of the tragedy that was happening at Pearl Harbor. She could hear explosions in the distance but that was not unusual around military bases. She did notice a great deal of activity with ambulances and police cars racing about with sirens blaring but wondered what fool had caused some type of accident. Little did she know! Her prime recollection of the event was the many Japanese people on the Island and how they began to walk with their heads stooped over and not making eye contact with anyone they met. Can you imagine living in a foreign country and having your own people perpetrating such a horrendous act.
Arnold of course was angry but more at the State Department and others in the U. S. Government who knew that because of our oil embargo of Japan, that they would eventually be forced into some type of action. He didn't think that the blame should have fallen as it did at the time, on General Short and Admiral Kimmel. There simply was no talk of preparedness in Hawaii...None whatsoever. It is reported however that on November 27th, Admiral Stark and General Marshall, the Army's Chief of Staff at the time, sent a war warning based on intercepted Japanese messages to their principal commanders to take appropriate defensive measures. Although they did take some measures, many though that they were not enough. There are those who say that President Roosevelt knew about the attack and allowed it to happen just to get the U.S. involved. Neither Arnold, myself nor most logical thinking people would believe that. That does not dismiss the fact that we were on a war footing at the time and orders should have been issued to at least be prepared, have ammunition at the ready and perhaps not have all of our ships and planes lined up in neat rows to be attacked.
Lt. Swartz did tell me of one story that I had never heard despite all of my reading and research on Pearl Harbor. He tells of a U.S. Submarine that heard the sound of many propellers in the distance, and surfaced to see the Entire Japanese fleet obviously on their way to Pearl Harbor, approximately three hundred miles away . A signal was sent to Pearl Harbor advising the Navy of this. The radio officer received the coded message and rather than wake his superior officer, a captain who had the key to the code, he would wait until he came on duty at 7:00 AM and hand it to him then. His fear was that if the message turned out to be 'not too important,' he would get his ass in a sling. A similar situation took place in France during the Normandy invasion, where German officers were afraid of disturbing Hitler's sleep just to request more tanks be sent to Normandy. There is also the well known story of the primitive radar station that actually saw a swarm of planes approaching Pearl and assumed that they were the expected twenty four B-17 bombers supposed to land that day. They were first seen by one of the men under a Lt. Lockwood, a "foul ball" with the Army radar group assigned to duty on this remote mountain top as a punishment. They were due to leave the post at 8:00 AM. Of course they were not the B-17s. Even if they knew they were mistaken they were unable to notify anyone because the cable that rolled down the hill to the communication center had already been retrieved on Lockwood's orders at about 7:30 AM and there was no communication available.
Both Rose and Arnold repeatedly told me that we were indeed lucky that the Japanese had not brought any troop ships with them as they could have easily taken over all of Hawaii with little effort. Even with our great industrial might, that scenario would have made the war quite a different event.
Of course Arnold had some comments on the recent movie "Pearl Harbor". Apparently the movie showed Japanese Admiral Yamamoto, the genius planner of the attack on one of the ships. Arnold claims that Yamamoto was in Japan at the time of the attack. The movie also showed some American Nurses being killed in the attack. According to Swartz, that too was untrue.
As another example of the lack of preparedness and unwillingness to see the Japanese as a potent enemy, Lt Swartz requisitioned through proper channels, several yards of concrete with which to build the bases for his anti-aircraft guns and radar on Midway island. The request went through channels; first through his superior officer, who then sends it up to his superiors in the Marines, then on up to the Naval Department who denied the request with an "absolutely not". Arnold was not to be denied. He gathered some of his men, dressed in civilian workmen garb, stole three cement trucks, loaded them with cement, and returned to finish construction of the much needed installation, including a bonus shelter and command post for his men to protect themselves during bombing attacks.
I had read in the past, Swartz said that none of his anti-aircraft ammunition
was defective. There was quite a bit written about shells with defective fuses
that would not explode at the correct altitude but this was evidently not a
problem for Swartz and his men. There were not too many Japanese planes shot
down at Midway but Arnold has movies of at least some. His huge collection
of 16mm films would be a treasure in the right hands, especially if
converted to video tape which would probably cost a fortune. At Midway Island,
our few fighter planes, mostly the old and slow Brewster Buffalos, made a
valiant effort to defend, but lost virtually all their planes and pilots in the
For an extremely detailed report on the Pearl Harbor attack and some additional information on Lt. Swartz's participation click here to visit this informative site.
was next put aboard a ship called the Chaumont. The letters in Chaumont stood
for the following:
For naval history buffs, the Chaumont became a hospital ship and eventually had its name changed to Samaritan.
Most of us know by now about the taking of Guadalcanal and its importance to the war. There was an airfield there later named Henderson Field for a Marine aviator, Major Lofton Henderson, who had been killed early in the war. The Japanese were determined to regain control of the island and began sending their powerful warships down what is called the "slot" between Guadalcanal and Tulagi. The American and Australian ships were lined up on each side of the slot. The Japs were able to cruise down between the lines of ships and being much better at night time fighting, razed havoc with the Allied fleet. In one battle, we lost four cruisers; The Chicago, Quincy, Astoria and the Australian Canberra. Radar was not quite effective or available on most U.S. ships and the Japanese had superior optics, better searchlights and their infamous "Long Lance" torpedoes. The fact that the Japanese ships were actually firing broadsides at the allied fleet by sailing right down the middle forced the U.S. Navy to be firing in the direction of their own ships on the opposite side. No doubt there were many "friendly fire" incidents in this most famous of all naval battles.
Arnolds ship, the Chaumont, was damaged and forced to ground itself off Tulagi where he and his anti-aircraft gunners had to make do for themselves. No shoes, no equipment, nothing but their side arms and some necessities.
While on Tulagi, Arnold was sitting outside of a small building used as an operations center with a warrant office who had been a gunnery sergeant in WWI. He described him as having one of those huge waxed handlebar mustaches that you see in old movies. As they were chatting, Arnold heard a noise off to the side, then a shot.. When he looked back at his new found friend, he had a bullet hole right in his forehead, just two feet from where Arnold was sitting! It turns out that there was a group of 8 Japs hiding in a cave, something they were fond of doing. Normally they would sneak out at night to forage for food and supplies but they thought this would be a good opportunity to shoot a U.S. officer. Arnold's men got a flame thrower and 'cleaned out' the cave.
Swartz soon received orders to move his men to two small previously captured islands connected by a causeway, Gavuto and Tanambogo. He and his men discovered an abandoned Japanese anti-aircraft site at the top of a small cliff. The men set about learning how to use the abandoned equipment. Not easy, since everything was written in Japanese. The shells were made up of four sections, powder charge, shell , projectile and fuse. They finally figured out how to set up the thing, and Arnolds Marine training in geometry, trigonometry etc. at Georgetown University helped them determine how to range the gun and cut the fuse setting. They test fired at a small island in the middle Savo Bay. They first attached a long lanyard to the gun's firing mechanism and hid under cover as they fired the gun. No one knew for sure what was going to happen when they pulled that cord. It worked! They bracketed the island first with one shell long by about 75 yards and another 20 yards short until they had it set perfectly.
One night Lt. Swartz was awakened by a hand over his mouth. His first reaction was that he was about to be killed by a Jap and reached for his weapon. It turned out that it was one of his own men who had spotted a Jap Cruiser not 150 yards away, down below a shear cliff; close enough to hear voices in the jungle. Captain Swartz saw an opportunity. They covered themselves with a tarp, so their voices would not carry and called the General in charge who was not available at the time. He spoke instead to his chief of staff and asked for permission to fire point blank at the cruiser. Then a voice came on and said "Don't you fire you F----in Jew." If you fire on that cruiser they will probably return fire and some of my troops could be killed by the over shots." The colonel chief of staff asked for the others officer's name and put him on report for speaking to a fellow officer in such a manner. Arnold would not let the opportunity pass and got permission to open fire. He did. They set the charge for muzzle blast which would ignite the shell almost immediately after it left the tube. Remember, the ship was only 150 yards away. The shell would reach it in an instant. He directed the shell at the bridge where he could do the most damage. Bulls Eye!! For sure, at least some key officers and men were killed instantly in the explosion. Control of the cruiser was immediately transferred to the stern control system and as Arnold described it, the cruiser virtually leaped out of the water in making its get-a-way. Not having any idea who or what was firing on them, the Japanese crew high-tailed it out to sea leaving a large wake, large enough to be spotted by an American plane that eventually bombed and sank the cruiser. The cruiser did manage to destroy a couple of PBYs on its way out. I was unable to get the name of the sunken ship as of this date. The officer who first spoke to Swartz tried to have him courts-martialed for disobeying a command. The second officer that Arnold spoke to reprimanded the first and had Lt. Swartz eventually awarded the silver star. He was made a captain in August of 1942.
On Guadalcanal Captain Swartz and his crew discovered an ice house also abandoned by the Japanese. Inside were some great delicacies. Cans of calves tongue, a real treat to some and some other cans with what appeared to be the equivalent of a Jewish treat called Teiglach, made with honey, raisins, nuts ginger and some other ingredients. Arnold told his men that this is probably what they were. Everyone enjoyed eating them until the Japanese interpreter came along and read the ingredients. The raisins were actually ants and cockroaches, Yuck!! Even the tough marines had a hard time dealing with this one.
Once on Guadalcanal Captain Swartz and his men learned of some cattle available just across the Tenaru River. There were still many Japs in hiding there but the thought of fresh beef outweighed even that danger, Swartz and his men managed to get hold of some metal plates that they used to armor protect a truck, then drove like hell through the Japanese outposts, rounded up some cattle and brought it back to their base. They cut them up and covered them with mosquito nets and then took some to General Vandergraf along with the cans of tongue and "Teiglach". They even made some kind of alcoholic drink using torpedo alcohol, dandelions and some other flowers. They shared this with Pappy Boyington, John Glenn, Joe Foss, and some of the other courageous pilots at Henderson Field.
Arnold's group even made Tokyo Rose's hit parade, She announced for all to hear, that the anti-aircraft battery commanded by Captain Swartz had been obliterated. Rose's Arbitron ratings must have gone up with that announcement!
Captain Swartz at one point managed to sneak in to a front line marine rifle unit on Guadalcanal just to experience the night action taking place at the time. While lying in his fox hole one night he heard a slight rustling sound. Soon he saw a Japanese soldier crawling right by his fox hole. Arnold took out his bayonet and stabbed him in the stomach. He though he was probably just out searching for food or provisions but he was still the enemy and had to die.
While visiting with Arnold he showed me some beautiful pencil drawings done by a Japanese soldier. Some time later he tried to get someone at the Japanese Consul in Boston to determine where this soldiers family was so that they could be sent back to them. Unfortunately the Japanese name was the equivalent of Smith in the U.S. and it would have been impossible to locate them. I asked Arnold how he happened by the drawings. He replied casually. " I killed a guy." Such was life in the Marines.
Click on pictures below to enlarge.
In 1943 Captain Swartz was hit by a bomb fragment on Guadalcanal. When he reached up to the top of his head to feel what had hit him, he found a complete flap of his scalp had been opened from the fragment. He was treated and then sent home to Chelsea Naval Hospital in Massachusetts. There they discovered that he was also suffering from malaria and jaundice. These two ailments accounted for almost half the battle casualties suffered by our armed forces in the Pacific theater. Arnold was discharged from the hospital on July 22, 1943
It seemed indeed strange as our interview ended that this tough ex marine took extreme pride in showing me his cherry tomato plants and a host of flowers and fauna that he spends a great deal of time tending to. At his golf club, Thorny Lea in Brockton Massachusetts, he is akin to a mayor or dignitary. Everyone at the club either knows him or has seen his name on practically every award plaque in the place. I am not a golfer but admit that even I was impressed. In 1994 Arnold Swartz became the fifth member of the exclusive Thorny Lea county club in over 90 years, to be awarded an honorary membership. Both Golf Digest and Golf World magazines noted that he was the 46th golfer in the entire world to become a Grand Master of Golf, having made a 'hole-in-one' on all four of the par three holes on a single course.( Thorny Lea Country Club, Brockton Mass.)
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