Veterans History Project

Lowell L. Swanson Private First Class United States Army 1944-1946

 

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Veteran's History Project: Lowell L. Swanson Private First Class United States Army 1944-1946

The Veterans History Project of the Library of Congress collects, preserves, and makes accessible the personal accounts of American war veterans so that future generations may hear directly from veterans and better understand the realities of war.

In 1957, growing up in Sidney, NE, Little League Baseball was an important thing to be a part of. A kid had to have some skills and he had to be a member of a team. He had to do his part.He had to practice as hard as the others, batting and fielding the ball, kicking rocks, and staring off into space. The positions weren't fixed...one could be a pitcher one game and a catcher the next or switch around in the same game. Probably the most important lesson was to listen to the Coach.

Our Coach was a good guy. He knew the game and his players –some of whom were his own. And we won lots of games...not all of 'em, but enough to have fun.About ten or twelve years before we were playing on the clay fields in Sidney, our Coach was in a different situation.

Lowell L. Swanson, "Swanny", turned 18 two weeks before he enlisted in the Army. Like many others before him, he wanted to do his part in the war effort. He had graduated from Holdrege, NE High School and knew what he had to do.

The US Army needed this young man to get more education. After getting his physical, the medics said he was "disgustingly healthy". They sent him first to Brookings, SD where he attended school for a time. He did get a haircut and new uniforms and some drill and ceremonies.Next, he was sent to Camp Blanding, FL. This was a basic training facility situated near Jacksonville, FL.

He got his real training here so he could be useful overseas. He was assigned to a heavy weapons platoon in basic training. These weapons were not necessarily wheel-borne...the soldiers had to carry them to the fight. One weapon was a water-cooled machine gun. The machine gun weighed about 40 lbs and the tripod to mount it on was another forty lbs. A soldier carried his own individual equipment and ammunition, in addition to this armament. (Swanny thinks he still has a bit of a bruise on his soldier from humping this gear.)

On graduating from the combined basic and advanced training, he boarded a troop ship to get to the fight. He was as in a replacement company. On the troop ship, the First Sergeant of his unit assigned soldiers to various tasks. If your name started with an "S", you were on KP (kitchen police). Swanny peeled a lot of potatoes going across the Atlantic- but he was never hungry.


The troop ship landed in South Hampton, in the UK and discharged some men. Soon, it disembarked across the English Channel to La Harve, Amsterdam. Once there, those-in-charge assigned all the replacement soldiers to the units they were supposed to be part of.

Swanny was a new member of the 106th Infantry Division. He was one of the "new guys". They found out where they were to put their gear and where to eat. They stayed in tents. Often times they were issued C rations. The accessory packet in the C rations contained a small package of four cigarettes. These smokes caused many young men to take up the habit. He didn't care for the cans of cheese or the squeeze containers of cheese...a soldier would trade them for whatever someone else didn't want.

He was settled in with his new unit at a small town in Belgium. The 106th Infantry was hit hard and suffered many losses during the Battle of the Bulge. Swanny was soon in the Ardennes Forest and was part of the Battle of the Bulge. This was the biggest fight of the War in the European Theater of Operations (ETO). It was very deadly and very cold. Earlier, when the troop ship arrived in LeHarve, the Army told the new guys they wouldn't need their cold weather gear...many men suffer to this day from frost bite they got here –but they survived when so many didn't. Swanny said that he saw enough combat that he didn't care to see any more of it. He could dig a foxhole pretty fast- even on frozen ground. Many of the German soldiers were dressed in American uniforms as a disguise to get closer for defeating the enemy. He spent Christmas during this frozen fight in 1944.

Once the unit disengaged from the Battle they moved to another area. One of his next duties was to walk /patrol the perimeter fence line of a nearby prison camp containing about 10,000 German soldiers. Walking the line, in the dark.

As time and efforts moved along, Swanny was next assigned to the Thirty-sixth Armored Regiment of the 3rd Armored Division (Commanded by LT Gen George S. Patton). There were many half-track vehicles here. They were assigned carbines, and/or automatic weapons. There were many casualties in his unit.

In early May 1945, the word being spread among the men was that the war was over. His unit was picking up supplies in Brussels. The Command regrouped the men and stood ready for their next assignment. They were to train to move out to the Pacific – where the war with Japan still raged. He was next assigned to the 1st Armored Division as sent to Wiesbaden, Germany. Swanny was crossed-trained as a truck driver. (Staying flexible!) One of the jobs was to take Hungarian prisoners back home. The effort was to transport the prisoners by train, then drive empty Army trucks back to Germany.

While assigned there, Swanny took advantage of short tours to Switzerland, Paris, France, etc. "Might as well, a guy might not get another chance?" The rest of the time there, his unit delivered food and supplies around the area of operations.

He kept in touch with his family by writing letters. For good luck, he carried a Boy Scout medal he had found as a kid. He still has it. The Army units were entertained by some USO troupes. Included here was Jack Benny and others. To entertain themselves, the soldiers read paperbacks, played cards, and read the Stars and Stripes newspapers.

In late July 1946, this soldier finally got the opportunity to head back to the States. He ended his career in Fort Sheridan, IL. Timed to check out, get any back pay that was coming to him, grab the duffle bag and head for parts unknown. He had earned several medals and service bars.

He had made several close friends in the service. The relationships fell by the wayside. He did get into the American Legion and the Veterans of Foreign Wars. He still is a member of the honor guard in Dalton, NE.

For his main life's career, he got into the telephone repair business then over time, became owner of the Dalton Telephone Company. He married Mildred Lockwood from Sidney and raised four fine sons. And he was a fine baseball coach! Good Job, PFC Lowell Swanson and thank you for your service!

 

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