Jeff Manes: Lowell vet was on firing line during World War II
November 9, 2012 3:38PM
Stanley Swanson of Lowell said he participated in six invasions in the Pacific Theater during World War II aboard the landing craft LST-270. | Photo provided
Updated: December 12, 2012 6:14AM
“There isn’t any finer folks living than a Republican that votes the Democratic ticket.”
— Will Rogers
Stanley Swanson has been married to his beloved wife, Laverne, for 68 years.
They raised five children and moved from Riverdale, Ill., to Lowell 24 years ago.
Swanson wears a hearing aid in his right ear and is missing part of his left ear due to bouts with cancer. After 14 surgeries, he ordered the doctor to remove it.
At nearly 90, Swanson, a World War II veteran, still is sharp as a tack. A more interesting man I’ve yet to meet.
You must be of Scandinavian descent.
“My parents were born in Malmo, Sweden,” he said.
What about you?
“The Highland-Beverly area of South Chicago. We had the gaslight streetlights. Our Democratic precinct captain, who was a hunchback, also served as the lamp lighter. Every afternoon, he’d climb a ladder and open up the glass top and light them. In the morning, he’d go around and snuff them all out.”
Another era, Stanley.
“Yeah, it was all horses and wagons back then. The iceman would come around every other day, and you’d put a sign in your window for 25, 50, 75 or 100 pounds of ice. Everybody had an icebox on their back porches. The iceman had a key to open the iceboxes.”
“There were two technical high schools in Chicago at that time. Tilden Technical High School was on the South Side, in Back of the Yards, and Lane Technical High School was on the North Side. It was male students only for both schools. I had a wonderful four years with a wonderful education at Tilden Tech.
“Everything was strict at Tilden Tech; nobody stepped out of line and nobody talked back. You greeted your teacher at the door of each class, ‘Good morning Mr. Arbuckle’ or ‘Good afternoon Miss Mahan.’ Female teachers weren’t allowed to be married in those days.”
Life after high school?
“I went to work for Goodman Manufacturing Co. We made electrical mining machinery. The Congress had stipulated that aircraft building, ship building and mining machinery workers had automatic deferments from the military.
“My brother joined the armed forces when he was 17; less than a year later, Bert’s ship was torpedoed by the Nazis in the North Atlantic off of Greenland.”
Did he survive?
“No, he went down with the USS Dorchester on Feb. 3, 1943. The German U-boats picked off those guys like sitting ducks. When we got the word Bert had been killed, I got mad.”
Although you had a deferment, you enlisted anyway.
“Within two weeks, I got a letter stating: ‘Greetings, you have hereby been nominated to represent the neighbors of your community in the Armed Forces of the United States — Franklin Delano Roosevelt.’”
Like your brother, you also were in the Navy.
“Yes, I started out at the U.S. Naval Torpedo Testing Range on Long Island, N.Y.”
How did you get transported from the East Coast to the West Coast, by train or boat?
“By Pullman coaches, which were loaded with sailors and soldiers. I was the only person to be in a room by himself. I noticed that the porter was sleeping on the stool of the men’s washroom, next to my quarters.
“There were two berths in my quarters. I asked the porter, ‘This was your sleeping area, wasn’t it?’
“Then, I told him: ‘There’s an empty berth in this room; you come in here and sleep. I don’t want you sitting in the (men’s room) all night. Come in here and we can talk; we can read.’ ”
The porter’s reply?
“All the porters were black; they were very polite. He said, ‘Well, I shouldn’t be in there.’
“I told him he had my permission to share the room with me, and he did.”
Good for you, Stanley.
“He tried to make my bunk every morning, but I wouldn’t allow it. I told that man I was taught to make my own bed.”
On what ship did you serve?
“The USS LST-270. We called them a large stationary target because our maximum speed was 8 knots.”
Were you in the thick of things?
“Our ship went through six invasions; we saw a lot. We went right up on the beach at full speed, where we would deliver all the troops and their equipment.”
Many of those poor guys didn’t make it very far once the plow doors opened.
“You got that right; it was something else. Our B29s were bombing the (Japanese) around the clock. We were (getting ready to invade) Japan in September.”
“My buddy, (President) Harry Truman, ordered the first (atomic bomb) dropped on (Hiroshima on Aug. 6) by the Enola Gay. On Aug. 9, Harry ordered the second one dropped (on Nagasaki).
“By the way, Lt. Col. (Paul) Tibbets (the pilot of the Enola Gay) spoke to us a few years ago at the Lowell Public Library. We had a nice talk. I told him, ‘You saved (us).’ ”
American casualties would have been unprecedented if Truman hadn’t ordered the bombings, and the U.S. would have invaded Japan.
“We were loaded for bear; they estimated we were going to lose 1 million men when we hit the beach.”
Are you a Democrat?
“No way, Jose. I’m a Republican, but I did vote for Truman — Jack Kennedy, too.”
The LST-270 earned four battle stars during World War II in the Pacific Theater, where she participated in several operations, including the occupation of Kwajalein and Majuro atolls, a campaign on Guam and the Battle of Leyte.
Today at 11 a.m. and 11 p.m., Lakeshore Public Television will air its version of Ken Burns’ “The War,” featuring World War II veterans from Northwest Indiana. Several have appeared in this column.
Hats off to all the men and women who have served in our armed forces, including Petty Officer 2nd Class Stanley Swanson, who made it home from World War II.
And to men like Bert Swanson, who did not.