Al Sweetman lives in Hauser, Idaho and served at Farragut Naval Training Center in North Idaho.
Jim: It sounds like you have a lot of really great memories.
Al: Oh yeah. Yeah there was more, more good times than there was bad times. Yeah I always considered it a great adventure. We're just like a big bunch of brothers is what we are. We are.
Jim: Why is it like a brotherhood do you think?
Al: Because we all done the same thing and we've got close.
Jim: Do, do you think about the guys that aren't around anymore much?
Al: Well I, I don't because, like I say, we didn't see a lot of combat and we never lost a man on the ship.
Jim: What about guys that you were friends with and served with, guys you probably wish you could sit around and dig it up with?
Al: Well I never run into anyone that I was in boot camp with, nor in the different schools I went through or anybody off my ship, I can't even find 'em.
Jim: There must've been something about Faragut though because you guys, you come back for the reunions, you still live here. What was it about that place that was special do you think?
Al: It was our, it was our second home wasn't it? I got off the train up there in the middle of snow and the minute I got off I knew it was a better place to live than L.A. and so I wasn't out of the Navy a week and I was on my way north.
Jim: Well it's interesting to hear that you feel so much for this old place that's not even there anymore, but its certainly still alive inside you guys I get the feeling?
Al: Like I said it was an adventure. Farragut was the biggest city in Idaho at that time, Faragut and the surrounding areas.
Jim: What should people today remember about what that place meant to Idaho, but also to the country do you think?
Al: Well you figure uh everyone that went through there contributed to the victory. So I, I myself never considered myself as a hero. Yeah they didn't come back.
Jim: What was it like back then when you got in what was your experience like?
Al: Well I got there and the first day there I got sick. I went to sick bay to get bicarbonate soda and they put me in the hospital with appendicitis. Then a week and a half of doing nothing in the hospital they let me go back to duty and then on one of those walk a mile run a mile, trot a mile I got sick again and they hauled me into the hospital and took out my appendix.
Jim: You said it was '43?
Al: '43.The war was going on I mean right in the middle of it, I mean in the heat of things over there.
Jim: What was the spirit like at Faragut?
Al: Well I think it was all dig, dig in and do your job you know I, like I said I was just a kid and it was all new to me, but I learned how to shoot a gun and it's funny I've never had home sickness that was the least of my worries and then I went on I learned a trade in the Navy and it was just I a big adventure.
Jim: Were the other people there excited?
Al: No not really. They were down to business. It was like they had something to do and they were going to do it. I only had one liberty while I was there and everybody looked forward to that and naturally getting the shots you didn't look forward to that.
Jim: Did you have liberty here just in town or?
Al: I came in to Coeur d'Alene, but some of the guys that were here for longer they, like my brother, he'd go to uh into Spokane.
Jim: What do you remember about Coeur d'Alene back then?
Al: Well the main thing I remember is the fort. I went to a dance in that log cabin there. I went there and had a to a dance on the one liberty I had and then I rode in on one of those cattle car buses and went back out to on a regular bus, it was like a fifth wheel trailer the cattle bus.
Jim: What do you remember about that dance?
Al: Oh some really cute girls. That's you know back then at that age that's the main thing is look for a girl.
Jim: And you were a dashing serviceman, I mean, they must've been falling at your feet.
Al: Oh yeah . . . hey . . . that uniform attracted 'em like flies to you know what. I think the Navy uniform attracted more than the soldiers.
Jim: A girl probably wouldn't admit to that today.
Al: I don't know, but I know my next base it sure did.
Jim: Did you like being in the Navy, did it feel like a family?
Al: There've been a lot of times I've kicked myself for not making a career out of it. I run into a guy last Monday that was an officer on a mine sweeper and he made a career out of it and I was telling him, "Boy, I loved the 4-8 watch, to watch the sun come up, that was the best watch of the day." You don't know how beautiful it is out at sea.
Jim: That's interesting. You traveled all around the Pacific and you don't hear many people talk about how gorgeous it was and what it was like being out . . . do you miss being out on the ocean?
Al: Yeah, I my wife and I took a cruise well we've taken several cruises, but the first cruise I was, she was amazed how blue the water is when you get away from civilization.
Jim: You were talking about how the state's just starting to realize what they have; what do you mean by that?
Al: Well, it seemed like when they first started that museum there wasn't a lot of interest in it. I tried to get guys to send stuff. I put an article in it about how they were starting a museum and about our reunions and from what I was told a lot of stuff was shipped here, but it still remained just that one room. Now they're really making something out of it and of course I spread the word that, that's a museum. I'm pretty proud of the fact that they're doing it.
Jim: I was reading that you were at the surrender? Tell me what happened, what was that like?
Al: Well, when they offered surrender you know they made an offer and we happened to be in dry dock in Buckner Bay, Okinawa and all these guys are shooting off their guns in celebration and they wouldn't let us because we were on chalks in the dry dock. Well, the next day they put us in the water and we joined 90 other sweeps and we started the sweep for the invasion of Japan and we were 100 miles off the coast of Japan when five of us got pulled out of formation, sent back to Okinawa, briefed and then we joined another small group. We met the Third Fleet somewhere out there and we got in a pretty heavy storm and this little boat I was on — well, it was Jacques Cousteau's Calypso was built out of one of 'em — so the third fleet steamed around us to break the sea down and then all of the sudden they were gone in the morning and we were sent in to Tokyo, our sweep group and we went in swept an anchorage. Third Fleet came in the next day and took our anchorage and we were sent, I don't know if we were in Yokahoma or Tokyo, but we were sweeping right outside the breakwater. A building said three cheers Navy and on the other side of it said Navy Come After Us, so our signalman started talking to 'em on the wig wag and it was uh over a 1,000 prisoners of war gathered on the roof of that building and they were up there waving at us and so he asked 'em what they needed and they told us the courses to take and everything to get right into their dock. So we, we didn't have room for 'em so we relayed it, they wanted water and cigarettes, relayed the message and they got an air drop of it in about an hour later and we saw the parachutes coming down from a bomber so that was a big thing. Then I went to L.A. last February, or no last November for a funeral and when they were patting me down at the airport well uh this guy asked me about, I've got a hat that says WMS 276 on and he asked me about it and I told him. Well, he was a retired Navy, his dad was on the hospital ship that was in there when we left our, pulled up our gear, and I thought what coincidence. Sixty years later.
Jim: There has been a lot made of your generation, as being the Greatest Generation.
Al: Well, that's debatable. I think like I said there was more patriotism then being the greatest generation. You know, I was, I was out feeding my horse when I got word that Pearl had been bombed and I had to get my horse out at the end of the Burbank Airport. So right then I knew I wanted to go into the service, but I wasn't of age yet. I had a brother going to college in Pasadena; he quit immediately and joined the Navy. Then my brother that was up at Farragut six months later he was going to college to be an embalmer, so he joined the Navy and so naturally I wanted to go. Well., I told my dad I'd rather have a good dry bed except if I was sunk, so I wanted to go in the Navy and he said well I had to wait till I was of age. He wouldn't sign for me, he worked for Disney Studios.
Jim: Did everything change when Pearl Harbor was bombed?
Al: Oh yeah. I can remember my dad getting that tin hat as a . . . what did they call 'em? And a friend, a kid that was in the band with me, had moved to Westwood which is Beverly Hills today and he came over to Burbank again. He said when they, the Japs shelled our coast, he said that you know he was they had been shooting at the, up in the air and there was shrapnel in the yard and all that, you know it's all part of history, part of that. But it was like I said an adventure. I got to go to diesel school at the University of Missouri and then I learned to shoot a 20 mm. I went to mine warfare school, learned how to handle . . . and that was out at Port Townsend, mine warfare. And the gunnery school, that was Pacific Beach, Washington. And then I went to fire fighting school. I got quite an education just thanks to Uncle Sam.
Jim: When the war ended, where were you? How did you feel when you found out that all of this was over?
Al: Oh let's go home! We were in Osaka Wong when we were like I said we were in Buckner, but I didn't leave Japan until the 10th of January. We were all over Japan sweeping and we just, we'd see those boats go out with their homeward-bound pennants, and when are we going to go? You know, I was young, I was the youngest one on the boat so I, I didn't, I had all my points to get out, but they were sending the older guys and the ones with families and that. So I brought the boat back to the States. I was the only, what we termed Plank Owner on it. I was the only original crew member left and I, I took her from commissioning to almost decommissioning. I got all the history of it at home, the mine warfare association sent me all the history on my boat.
Jim: And what boat were you on?
Al: Yard Mine Sweeper, the 276. Back then they had so many of 'em they didn't name 'em, they just numbered 'em.
Jim: Do you ever miss that old boat?
Al: Oh yeah. I often wonder who bought her. She was decommissioned shortly after I got on it and then it was sold. It doesn't say who bought it, but a lot of 'em were sold for yachts. Well, John Wayne's yacht was made out of one of 'em. Well I guess it's when we went down on that Mexico cruise I saw an old hunk of one anchored out in the middle of the Long Beach Harbor there. It was a sad looking thing though, no paint and just sitting there.
Jim: Are there ever moments that you flash back on times from back then?
Al: Oh yeah, yeah. Well you see I, we swept New York Harbor, we were on convoy duty in the Caribbean as far South as Trinidad and in the Gulf we made one run to Galveston in a storm that we never made it. We got there, but the convoy had got there ahead of us and left and so and we convoyed up and down the east coast and then we were sent to the Pacific. So I went through Panama twice and they towed us from Panama City to Pearl Harbor because we didn't have a fuel capacity. And we used to fish a lot when we were on convoy duty. We were going slow and we'd drag a couple of lines. We caught a 300 lb tuna one time and my engineering chief — he was an old tuna boat fisherman and we didn't have refrigeration or anything — so he cut the heart out of it and had the cook, cook it up for him and we had to dump the rest. But we'd catch these, they call 'em Mahi Mahi now, but we called Blue Dolphin and oh they are good. We'd get a lot of Bonita, we'd take it around to the other escort ships and keep the, keep the dolphin for ourselves because its just like eating chicken.
Jim: Is there anything you want younger people today that don't know what it was like living back then what, what do you tell 'em?
Al: Oh, that old saying, the good 'ol days, but it's all relative. Like I think I told you I worked at that dog kennel for $5 a week. Well, bread was cheap, you know, so it's relative. I was working in a gas station; I think I was making 9¢ an hour when I joined the Navy and when I got out of the Navy I was making 28¢ an hour in a truck garage over in Kelso. So, but wages went up and price of living went up and, but it's relative. You had to manage your money then; you've got to do it today.
Interviewed by Jim Peck, producer of The Idaho Homefront: World War II