They were stationed aboard the USS Kenneth Whiting (AV-14) (lead ship of her class of seaplane tenders in the United States Navy), anchored in San Francisco Bay. When on shore leave, the three friends roamed around town, seeing the famous sights and eating fresh food — not C-rations from a can.
Eldredge (E.O.) Swann was born in 1926 in the Bremen/Brushy Pond community near Cullman. He was drafted into the Navy in February 1944 at the age of 18.
At one point during his first tour of duty, Swann and his friend, Floyd Hester, were watching a movie aboard the Whiting. They stepped out to smoke a cigarette. Their ears, carefully attuned to the sounds of war, heard the engine of a lone plane. Both men knew there weren’t supposed to be any aircrafts in the area. Floyd stepped inside and hit a button that cut the lights out on the whole ship.
The drone of the plane came nearer. All of a sudden they heard it heading right for them in the pitch dark. Then came a huge splash. Water washed up on the deck in waves.
A Kamikaze pilot had aimed for the Whiting, barely missing them. Because of Floyd’s quick thinking, only one soldier died that night — the Japanese Kamikaze.
When daylight broke over the horizon, they could identify parts of the plane which had washed up on deck in the waves created by the crash. Among other debris, Swann found several of the pilot’s teeth. He put them in his pocket and brought them home.
When it came time for his discharge, Swann was standing on deck, valise in hand, waiting for the word that he could go ashore. It never came. He was the ship’s barber, and because the replacement barber never showed up, Swann was detained for another tour, and was assigned to another ship, the USS War Hawk.
He was put on that ship for six months, and then sent to China to pick up 400 Marines, who incidentally all needed a haircut. After that, he trained another sailor to cut hair.
According to research done by Swann’s granddaughter, Amy Parker, her grandfather’s wartime history includes the following details: The War Hawk was repaired at an unknown dock facility in San Francisco Bay and set sail for San Diego on May 29, 1945. There she picked up troops from an unspecified division and returned to Guam in the Marianas. She made one more trip back to San Francisco for a load of Naval replacements and then headed for Eniwetok, Ulithi, and the Leyte Gulf. While en route, she received word that the United States had dropped two atomic weapons on Hiroshima and Nagasaki and the Japanese had agreed to an unconditional surrender.
Parker never heard him speak about his wartime experiences. It was only after his death that her grandmother told her these stories that he kept locked in his heart all those years. Amy recalls hearing her grandmother’s detailed description of her late husband going into Japan about 30 days after the bomb was dropped. He and his shipmates, including Hester and Sam Cavanaugh, were allowed to view and walk around in the area when the first atomic bomb landed. “I can remember him saying that there were people who were still standing where they were when it dropped — statues of ashes,” said Amy’s grandmother, Erma.
Eldredge Swann was a bluegrass musician. He played both the guitar and the dobro, an acoustic guitar with a metal resonator built into its body. This resonator serves as an amplifier. While on shore leave in San Francisco he recorded a bluegrass song which he sent to his family.
He was formally discharged July 24, 1946, after two tours of duty.
He married Erma Graves Swann on August 24, 1946. The couple had five children: Sherron Miller, Julian Swann, Kathy Parker, Lance Swann and Doyle Swann.
Eldredge Swann died of lung cancer in February 1992, at the age of 65. His buddies, Floyd Hester and Sam Cavanaugh, died of other illnesses involving the lungs. “I will always believe that they died so early because of breathing in those atomic ashes in Japan,” said Parker. “Nothing will ever convince me otherwise.”