Jack of all trades

HADLEY -- The rural Hadley farm where Arvid Swan lives has been in his family for nearly 120 years. By occupation, Swan is a farmer and always has been.

Arvid Swan, 85, of rural Hadley, served nearly two years in the Army before returning to work on his family's century farm.

HADLEY -- The rural Hadley farm where Arvid Swan lives has been in his family for nearly 120 years. By occupation, Swan is a farmer and always has been.

But by trade, the 85-year-old Army veteran could be called a great many things: a typhoon survivor, bartender and trained anti-tank gunner.

Of course, it was only by chance that Swan entered the service in April of 1945. He and his brother were close in age, and both were tending crops on the family farm that spring.

"A new ruling came out that you couldn't have two people that age on a farm," Swan explained. "Somebody had to go, and my number came up first."

After his basic training at Fort Hood, Texas, he was schooled as an anti-tank gunner, learning to shoot enemy tanks with his standard-issue M1 rifle. The war ended before he ever had a chance to use those skills.


He was completing his training in a soldier encampment, called a bivouac, when the U.S. took its decisive action to force Japanese surrender.

"When I was out there is when they dropped the bomb," he said. "We didn't hear about it until a few days later."

He took a short furlough before arriving in California to board a converted cargo ship for Japan.

"We really got poor food. For breakfast we'd get two boiled eggs and some toast. One morning, one of my boiled eggs was rotten, but I ate the other one," he said. "You'd get so hungry."

Worse yet, the vessel's roundabout route to Japan extended the journey to 21 days.

"It was so close after the war that they were not sure if all the Japanese subs had been notified the war was over," Swan explained. "One day (we saw) a tanker full of fuel. It was two hours from when I seen him to when he was gone -- that's how fast we was going."

He remembered riding through a typhoon with waves that towered over the ship like hills, shaking the boat to its core.

"When you sat down to eat your meal, you had to hold onto your tray with one hand, because it would take off if you didn't," he said. "I dreaded thinking of the day I'd have to go back."


When that day came, he left Japan on the U.S.S. Williams Victory, a large troop transport ship: "I've seen bigger waves on Hadley Lake," he smiled.

Upon landing in Sapporo, Japan, he was placed with the New York-based anti-tank company of the 77th Infantry Division. He worked 12-hour shifts as a gatekeeper, checking soldiers in and out of the former Japanese military encampment.

When the 77th was shipped home, Swan was transferred to the Japanese island of Yokohama, where he would serve as quartermaster in the laundry company.

"We had three semi-truck trailers, and on a trailer there was a motor generator to do everything on that unit. It would heat the water, run the washing machine and the spinner and the dryer."

One day, the captain approached him with a plum job offer.

"He said, 'You don't drink do you?' I said no, and he said, 'You're the new bartender,'" he recalled. "During the day I had to put beer and pop in the cooler and work from 5 to 8 at night. That was it!"

He was discharged on Dec. 5, 1946, and married wife Joy in 1948. The couple had three daughters -- Roseann, Doris and Gayle.

Swan almost had a camera to document all his "career changes" -- almost.


He wasn't a smoker and sold his allotment of cigarettes to other soldiers. When he had saved enough, he asked a Japanese friend to buy him a camera while on a visit to his sister in Tokyo.

What he got was a red children's kimono.

"I suppose he gave the money to his sister," he laughed. "And I got the kimono."

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