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 really got 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
D.O.B: 27 Dec. 1932
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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