CS2 Lee Swann, U.S. Coast Guard (1952-1963)
CS2 Lee Swann
U.S. Coast Guard
(Veterans – read more stories like the following when you join http://www.togetherweserved.com)
PLEASE DESCRIBE WHO OR WHAT INFLUENCED YOUR DECISION TO JOIN THE COAST GUARD?
I quit high school at age 16 and worked a variety of jobs but none with any real future.
When I was 14 years old my cousin and I joined the Arkansas National Guard to see if we liked the Army but after serving 18 months, including two week encampment at Ft. Polk Louisiana, we concluded Army life was not for us. We were discharged from the National Guard around the same time the North Koreans invaded South Korea (June 25, 1950). The discharges came after the mothers of all underage guardsmen wrote letters to the commanding officer asking we be discharged. He was happy to comply.
I still had plans of joining the military service but I knew I was not Marine Corps material and had already ruled out the Army. My cousin enlisted in the Air Force and I picked the Navy. But since I was only 17 years old at the time, I needed my mother’s permission and she didn’t sign for me until January 1952 after months of putting pressure on her.
Following seven years in the Navy and two years of civilian jobs, I joined the Coast Guard in 1961.
WHETHER YOU WERE IN THE SERVICE FOR SEVERAL YEARS OR AS A CAREER, PLEASE DESCRIBE THE DIRECTION OR PATH YOU TOOK.
I spent four years aboard the Destroyer Tender, USS Dixie (AD-14) from April 1952 through September 1956. The Dixie was involved in some bombardment of the Korea coast during the “police action” but our primary duty was to have US Navy (and other UN navies) vessels tied up alongside for repairs/replenishment of supplies. Most of this activities occurred in Sasebo, Japan.
During the four years aboard the Dixie we made several ports: Manila, Philippine Islands, which included Quezon City (Old Manila) Subic Bay P.I., Hong Kong (before it was returned to Red China) and Beppu on the island of Kyushu, Japan, at the west end of Beppu Bay. We were the first US Navy ship to dock in Beppu after WWII. There was a US Army post in the outskirts of the city, but most civilians had never seen a US sailor. Because of it eight major geothermal hot spots, Beppu draws tourists from all over Japan and elsewhere. It was also a great Liberty town.
I had re-enlisted (early), aboard Dixie (March, 1955) when my initial enlistment had expired. As part of my re-enlistment package, I was awarded 2 years shore duty. I reported to Naval Air Station, North Island San Diego in October 1956. My first year was on the crash boat crew and the second year as Galley Master-At-Arms.
I transferred to North Island Naval Air Station, San Diego in October 1956 for two years shore duty. In September 1958 I was transferred to Guam, Marianas Islands. Guam’s beautiful beaches, warm temperatures and friendly people made it a wonderful duty station. We called Guam by the code name given it during WW II, which was, Duva Duva.
I enjoyed Guam so much, I requested to re-enlist 60 days early and be granted 30 days Christmas leave to return to the states and extend my duty on Guam for two years. My request was denied, so I requested early discharge, which was granted. That discharge took place in February 1959.
I returned to civilian life and was working for National Shirt Shops in Atlanta, Georgia (I had transferred there from Little Rock, AR, as assistant manager). After two years I felt I was not making a difference in life and “longed for” the structure of the military. I enlisted in the Coast Guard in March 1961. What appealed to me was the Coast Guard primary duty: Life Saving/Rescue people/Safeguard property.
During my limited CG enlistment, I was involved in two rescue missions; one routine, one rather dramatic. The first was a small craft that had capsized just off Dewees Island, SC. When the distress call came in, a 1C B’osun’s mate and I took the 40′ motor launch and fished them out of the water and returned them to Charleston. The father of one of them was an official of some sort, and put letters of commendations in our service jackets.
The second was more dramatic, as it involved seven members of one family. We received a distress call of people in trouble in the water at Isle of Palms, SC (about 5 miles from our CG Base). I happened to be the Senior Petty Officer in station so I was automatically “in charge.” I grabbed the only other person available at the time and we took off in the pickup truck (which always had a motor whale boat/trailer attached) to the Isle of Palms. We got the boat launched, got the seven in distress into the boat and landed them on the beach; the oldest was a 47 year old unresponsive male, so we began oral CPR and chest compression but failed to revive him. We continued until medical help arrived and pronounced him deceased. It was good to save 6, but painful to lose one.
I transferred shortly after that to Radio Station Jacksonville Beach, FL as their cook.
DID YOU PARTICIPATE IN COMBAT OPERATIONS? IF SO, COULD YOU DESCRIBE THOSE WHICH WERE SIGNIFICANT TO YOU?
While I played a minor role in the Korean War, my time in the Coast Guard did not include any combat operations. However, when I was stationed at CG Radio Station Jacksonville Beach the “Cuban Missile Crisis” took place. The Cuban missile crisis was a 14-day confrontation in October 1962 between the Soviet Union and Cuba on one side and the United States on the other side.
The crisis came about when President John Kennedy refused Soviet Premier Nikita Khrushchev’s request that the US remove nuclear weapons from Turkey. Khrushchev decided to secretly build missile sites in Cuba and transport nuclear weapon to the island. When aerial photographs proved the presence of Soviet nuclear weapons on Cuba, the entire United States felt we were going to be involved in a nuclear war. Those of us in the military service were more certain that would be the case. However, I don’t recall us going on any lockdown. We were a radio station, so I am sure a lot of chatter/traffic was passing through the airwaves. Since I was the station cook I was not involved in any of that.
Thank God the Cuban missile crisis ended peacefully—the Soviet Union withdrew the warheads in exchange for Kennedy pulling our missiles from Turkey—but we came awfully close to sparking World War III, a threat that forever changed Americans’ perceptions of the Cold War. There is no way to know today what our world would be like if it had not been resolved the way it was.
OF ALL YOUR DUTY STATIONS OR ASSIGNMENTS, WHICH ONE DO YOU HAVE FONDEST MEMORIES OF AND WHY? WHICH ONE WAS YOUR LEAST FAVORITE?
After my enlistment in the Coast Guard in Atlanta, since I was previous military, I did not have to go to “boot camp” and since I had my own transportation, I was given travel vouchers to drive to Miami Beach, obtain my uniforms and get duty my assignment.
I was assigned to CG Base Charleston, SC. After working at CG Charleston for about two weeks, an opening came up at Sullivan’s Island Life Boat Station and I transferred there.
My best memories are the time I spent at Sullivan’s Island; I was there in 1962 to witness the building of the last lighthouse to be built in the USA; and to observe many “new” innovations. It is the only lighthouse to be built in a triangle rather than a round footprint. It is also the only lighthouse ever built out of metal, and the only one ever built with an elevator in it. At the time it was built it had a 1,000,000 candle power light in it.
FROM YOUR ENTIRE SERVICE CAREER WHAT PARTICULAR MEMORY STANDS OUT?
One thing that really stands out from my service is a tradition observed by every Navy vessel. Every time a vessel enters or leaves Pearl Harbor, regardless of weather, all hands man the lifelines, completely around the ship, in full dress uniform to Honor and Salute the crew of the USS Arizona, the battleship that was sunk on December 7, 1941. The Arizona is still a commissioned vessel of the United States Navy.
One of the most “life changing” things I can associate with the Coast Guard is how fragile life is. One minute you are a viable human being, the next, you are a corpse, in spite of all efforts to save/rescue you.
Suffice it to say, I was very proud to have the opportunity to serve my country.
IF YOU RECEIVED ANY MEDALS FOR VALOR OR AWARDS FOR SIGNIFICANT ACHIEVEMENT, PLEASE DESCRIBE HOW THESE WERE EARNED.
In the Navy I received the Good Conduct Medal with Star; also the National Defense Service Medal, Korean Service medal, the United Nations Service Medal, the Republic of Korea “Presidential Unit citation.
I did not receive any CG recognition awards.
In 2012 I contacted my Congressional Representative, Kenny Marchant, about obtaining the military records from my Arkansas National Guard service. His staff not only did that, they researched all my military records and discovered I had earned more awards and medals than I knew about.
Once they obtained all my medals, (8 in all) they mounted them in a nice shadow box and presented them to me at a Veterans Day event in 2012.
OF ALL THE MEDALS, AWARDS, QUALIFICATION BADGES OR DEVICE YOU RECEIVED, PLEASE DESCRIBE THE ONE(S) MOST MEANINGFUL TO YOU AND WHY?
All my Medals and Awards are very meaningful to me. However, I guess the most meaningful would be the UN Korea War Medal because it recognizes the time and effort that was applied in trying to maintain Freedom for another nation.
The others would be a dual Honor: the Republic of Korea Presidential Unit Citation and the Republic of Korea War Medal, both issued by the Republic of Korea.
WHICH INDIVIDUAL(S) FROM YOUR TIME IN THE MILITARY STAND OUT AS HAVING THE MOST POSITIVE IMPACT ON YOU AND WHY?
A 1st Class DC I worked for aboard Dixie found out I did not graduate from high school, so he told me, if you do not try to get your GED, I will restrict you to the ship so you cannot go on liberty. I do not know if he could do that or not, but at the time I believed he could.
I made an appointment at the Naval Base in Manila, Philippines to take my GED. I sat for all the tests on one day; Praise God, I passed everything with very high percentiles.
Having my GED has been very beneficial in my life since then. I will always be grateful to him for “forcing” me to do that.
CAN YOU RECOUNT A PARTICULAR INCIDENT FROM YOUR SERVICE WHICH MAY OR MAY NOT HAVE BEEN FUNNY AT THE TIME, BUT STILL MAKES YOU LAUGH?
It was getting drunk in Hong Kong with five of my underage shipmates from the USS Dixie. It began when we asked an older swabby to get us some alcohol (we did not know the difference between scotch and bourbon). He got us Ballantine scotch which we took with us to a Chinese restaurant and started drinking scotch with coke. We got totally snockered to the point we started marching down a main street of Hong Kong.
The Shore Patrol (SP) picked us up and took us to the fleet landing to wait on our Liberty launch. Somehow we went under the radar of any authority in our chain of command but I did pay a terrible price the next day. I woke up with the worse hangover and after getting underway I got very sea sick. We all had a good laugh days afterwards and when I think of it now. I still have a smile at the image of us marching down a street in Honk Kong.
WHAT PROFESSION DID YOU FOLLOW AFTER YOUR MILITARY SERVICE AND WHAT ARE YOU DOING NOW? IF YOU ARE CURRENTLY SERVING, WHAT IS YOUR PRESENT OCCUPATIONAL SPECIALTY?
I have been in some type of sales for most of my life, however, at age 38 an opportunity opened at American Airlines in May 1973. I was Fleet Service with duties as a baggage handler, cabin cleaner and cargo loader. I hired on at Love Field Dallas and when Dallas Fort Worth International opened in January 1974. American and all other major airlines moved their operation there. I worked the first American flight to land there (co-incidentally, it was from my hometown, Little Rock) at 00:30 January 14, 1974.
I injured my back in 1980, which temporarily put me on total disability. I recovered to the extent I was able to return to work on June 30, 1983. I remained in Fleet Service until September 1989 when I changed job classification. I went into Airport Agent, which led to transferring to American Airlines Headquarter in passenger sales.
After 21 years, 6 months and 15 days American Airlines started a buyout retirement program and since I was qualified for it, I took “early retirement” on December 1, 1994. This enabled me to be the sole care giver of a grandson for 18 months for a daughter who had to work. To quote Sinatra, “It was a very good year.” It also enabled me to do more “time giving” to my church in different capacities.
My sharing of time continues today; I volunteer at our local hospital on each Friday and I volunteer at the Tarrant County Food Bank on Wednesdays.
WHAT MILITARY ASSOCIATIONS ARE YOU A MEMBER OF, IF ANY? WHAT SPECIFIC BENEFITS DO YOU DERIVE FROM YOUR MEMBERSHIPS?
Not a member of any associations. My experience has been that MOST of them are just “good old boys” getting together to drink and relive old times.
IN WHAT WAYS HAS SERVING IN THE MILITARY INFLUENCED THE WAY YOU HAVE APPROACHED YOUR LIFE AND YOUR CAREER?
Serving in the military influenced my life in many ways. I learned that each of us is responsible for our actions and our presence at our duty station which includes being there before we are on duty. The same is true in the airline business. An airplane cannot be met at the arrival gate one man short; all hands must be in place.
Personal responsibility impacts everyone, family, business, everything. I have worked in various jobs in which I handled the money and/or property of others and I understood completely that I was responsibility for safeguarding it.
I developed a deep respect for all who serve our country, in whatever capacity they chose.
BASED ON YOUR OWN EXPERIENCES, WHAT ADVICE WOULD YOU GIVE TO THOSE WHO HAVE RECENTLY JOINED THE COAST GUARD?
Today’s Coast Guard is somewhat different than I was in. In the 1960’s we were not into drug interdiction or illegal immigrant apprehension. At that time we were still under the umbrella of the Treasury Department. I guess that all changed after 9/11 and the CG became part of the Homeland Security Department which translate in the current CG having way more responsibility to Country/Duty than we ever did.
I especially like they have their own uniform now rather than sharing the USN uniform. To me that is a huge step up.
Anyone who is thinking about making the Coast Guard a part of their life for one enlistment or a 20-30 year career, as one poet said a long time ago: “Be true to yourself” first, but also, remember, your personal Honor is always on display—in or out of uniform.
I commend them their dedication to Honor, Duty, Country, Self.
IN WHAT WAYS HAS TOGETHERWESERVED.COM HELPED YOU REMEMBER YOUR MILITARY SERVICE AND THE FRIENDS YOU SERVED WITH.
The biggest value for me about Togetherweserved.com is reading the profiles. It fascinates me to see the careers others have taken and the experiences they had conducting search and rescue operation and law enforcement duties. Even more captivating is reading about what sailors did in combat during WW II, Korea and Vietnam. It’s like reading personal history books. I have spent many hours checking them out which also prompted me to share my military experiences with anyone who cares to read them. It has allowed me to delve into my past in a very meaningful way.
I highly recommend participation by all veterans, regardless of grade/rank/duty assignment.
Unfortunately, I have not yet come across any sailors with whom I served. Perhaps one day but until then, I very much enjoy reading about others and seeing their photos.