Eugene Schweiss of Arcadia, Fla. was a teenaged Air Force armorer who saw to it bullets and bombs were loaded into swept-wing F-84 Thunderjets and F-86 Sabrejets during the Korean War.
After his year overseas his service career got really interesting. It got even more interesting when his Air Force job landed him in the center of the U.S. Atomic Bomb program.
“We hit a typhoon on the way home. They told us when we left from Tokyo we’d be home by Easter 1953. Because of the storm we didn’t make it on time,” Schweiss recalled 60 years later.
“The storm was so bad our ship was going backwards at times. We sailed across the International Dateline twice because of the typhoon,” he said. “At the height of the storm waves were breaking over the top of the ship. Many of those aboard ship were seasick.
“After I got back to San Francisco and took a 30-day leave I went to work in the Air Force’s atomic bomb program. It was just the luck of the draw,” the 82-year-old former airman said. “I had to get a Top Secret clearance and that caused a bit of a problem back home when the FBI started investigating my background for the clearance. My mother’s relatives thought I had gotten into some kind of trouble in the service.”
Three months later Schweiss was given the go-ahead to work at a base outside Albuquerque, N.M. called Sandia where all four branches of the armed services assembled atomic bombs. Ninety days later he graduated from class at Sandia and became an atomic bomb maintenance man.
By this time he was an Air Force Sergeant.
“In those days the atomic bombs we worked on were 10 times the size of the 500 pound bombs used by the Air Force in Korea. They were similar in size to the bombs the U.S. dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki during World War II,” he said.
“I was taught to arm and disarm these bombs. A short time later I was in a classroom at Sandia teaching others how to do what I had just been trained to do,” Schweiss said.
“The thing with these atomic bombs, they were assembled in the air and you didn’t return to base before you dropped your bomb. After the bomber took off it was our job to use an instrument to check all the detonators on the bomb an make sure they were working. We then inserted the detonators into the center of the bomb.”
He had just started teaching an atomic bomb course at Sandia when his father died. Schweiss went home to St. Louis for his dad’s funeral and was granted a hardship discharge because his mother complained to the service about being home all alone.
When he got out of the Air Force he studied drafting and went to work for a St. Louis firm. A few years later he got an offer to become a manufacture’s representative and started work as a salesman for a Washington, D.C. company that sold metal doors and frames.
He and his wife, Corinne, retired to the Arcadia area after they first came down here in the late 1970s. The couple will have been married for 59 years this coming August 1. They have five children: Theresa, Robert, Arthur, Anthony and Thomas.
Asked if there was anything else he remembered about the atomic bomb course he took at the Sandia Air Force Base in New Mexico, Schweiss said, “They told us it was possible that if enough atomic bombs were dropped at the same time it could affect the earth’s axis. Most people don’t realize how serious these bombs could be.”
Name: Eugene Edward Schweiss
DOB: 27 Dec. 1932
DOD: 1 Jan. 2020 (Columbia, Maryland)
Hometown: St. Louis, Mo.
Currently: Arcadia, Fla.
Entered Service: 24 Sept. 1952
Discharged: 24 Feb. 1956
Rank: Airman 1/C
Unit: Headquarters 1090th USAF Special Reporting Wing
Commendations: National Defense Service Medal, Korean Service Medal, United Nations Service Medal, Good Conduct Medal.
Battles/Campaigns: Korean War
This story was first published in the Charlotte Sun newspaper, Port Charlotte, Fla. on Monday, July 13, 2015 and is republished with permission.
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Eugene Edward Schweiss, 87, a resident of Laurel, MD, passed away peacefully on Wednesday, January 1, 2020, at Brighton Gardens Assisted Living in Columbia, MD surrounded by family members. He was a loving and loyal son, husband, father, grandfather and great-grandfather.
Gene was born on December 27, 1932 in St. Louis, Missouri to the late Irma and Arthur Schweiss. Mechanically inclined, Gene completed high school, specializing in construction trades. At the age of 19, he enlisted in the Air Force. He served overseas in the Korean War, arming airplanes. Gene loaded munitions on swept-wing F-84 Thunderjets and F-86 Sabrejets, which were used in some of the first jet-to-jet battles in history. After leaving Korea, he was stationed at Sandia Base, New Mexico, teaching others to arm and disarm bombs. He earned a National Defense Service Medal, Good Conduct Medal, Korean Service Medal and United Nations Service Medal. After his military service, Gene studied drafting, then earned a professional certificate as an Architectural Hardware Consultant.
On September 1,1956, Gene married his eternal sweetheart, Corinne. The pair adored each other over 63 years of marriage. They raised five children, starting their family in St. Louis, then moving to College Park, Maryland in the early 70’s, where Gene initially worked as a salesman for a door and lock hardware manufacturer.Then, Gene went on to W.T. Weaver & Sons in Georgetown, D.C., working as an architectural hardware salesman for over four decades. He was responsible for coordinating thousands of builders’ hardware items to ensure that door openings were in compliance with fire, life safety, accessibility and building code requirements. Some of the projects he worked on during his career include the Key Bridge Marriott, National Institutes of Health, multiple Clyde’s Restaurants, the former Capital Center, Verizon Center, and multiple hospitals, government offices and businesses.
Like his father and older brother who were professional carpenters, Gene enjoyed woodworking. His hobby required a fully-equipped woodshop, where he spent his free time cutting, assembling, and treating step stools, benches, storage carts and cabinets for family and friends. His creative carpentry passion led to the development of numerous keepsakes for his family. He made rocking horses for all of his grandchildren and some of his great-grandchildren. He even shipped a rocking horse across the country for his great-granddaughter, Addison. These beautiful works of art, along with his other creations, can be found in the homes of every member in his family.
As devout Catholics, Gene & Corinne attended services at Holy Redeemer in College Park, St. Mark the Evangelist in Hyattsville, where he served as an usher, and later at St. Mary of the Mills in Laurel, MD. Service to the Church and his community were very important to Gene. Described as kind and giving, he volunteered with several organizations and his community service spanned more than 50 years. In his younger years, Gene was a member of the Jaycees in Mt. Vernon, Illinois, serving as the project maintenance chairman for the Santa Claus Lane Committee. In Prince George’s County, Maryland, he was a 3 rd Degree Knight and Honorary Life member of the Knights of Columbus, Council No. 2809. Gene served as president of the Knights of Columbus Credit Union for more than 20 years. In addition, he supported other Knights of Columbus committees and activities, including bingo and youth events. With an infectious smile and great sense of humor, Gene shared laughter with everyone he met, but he spread joy to many more through the “Knights of the Clown Table”. As part of this group, Gene performed as a clown making balloon figures much to the delight of disabled and sick children in the hospital and at Great Oaks. In addition, he walked with the troupe in local parades in the Metropolitan area distributing candy. Gene also volunteered with Boy Scout Troop 740 for more than 25 years, serving as the troop’s Committee Chairman and then holding a District position, long after his boys aged out of scouts. Even in retirement Gene kept busy, lending his time during the winter for several years with the Orange Blossom Regional Rifle Matches in Palm Bay, Florida.
Gene delighted in spending time with his family. He especially enjoyed the warm weather and hosting barbecues. He loved to cook food on the grill for everyone while having a cold beer. Although the weather wasn’t ideal, Gene served for years as the grill master for Art & Marnette’s bonfire parties held in early December. Bundled up in his coveralls, he cooked up hamburgers & hotdogs with a smile, feeding a crowd of about 100 people each year. Gene and Corinne shared a love of travel and the outdoors, making countless camping trips with their children in their Winnebago RV. In retirement, they enjoyed taking cruises, camping trips with their RV clubs, and driving their RV south to Florida for the winter. The pair traveled to nearly every state in the country.
He was predeceased by his wife, Corinne; daughter, Mary Ann; great-granddaughter, Scarlett Gray Schweiss; sisters: Alice Angeles and Patricia Jones; and brother, Arthur Schweiss. He is survived by his sister, Carole “Rose” Lamprecht (Jerry); sisters-in-law: Helena Schweiss and Mary Klotz (James); children: Theresa Sutherland (Brad), Robert Schweiss (Nancy), Arthur Schweiss (Marnette), Anthony Schweiss (Linda), and Thomas Schweiss (Hong Manasilp); grandchildren: Anthony “T.J.” Schweiss (Michelle), Brooke Schweiss, Matthew Schweiss, Lilly Schweiss, Elliot Schweiss, Cora Schweiss and Grant Schweiss; great-grandchildren: Savanna Cutler, Addison Schweiss, Titus Cutler and Winona Schweiss; as well as a host of other nieces, nephews and relatives.