Remembering Our Veterans ~ Our Family

Veterans Day is a time for remembering. In our families there are so many men and women who served the country - in wartime, in the eras of war and in peacetime. In our own extended family the service ranges from the Civil War, the Spanish American War, WWI, WWII, Korea, Viet Nam, Viet Nam-era, the Gulf War and up to the  conflicts of the “here and now.” It was in the Army, the Army Medical Corps and Dental Corps, the Navy, the Navy Medical Service, Navy attached to the Marines as Corpsman, the Marine Corps, the Air Force, the Air Force Medical Service, the Coast Guard and support services. From foot soldier, artillery man, medical officer, Commodore, Pharmacist’s Mate,  corpsman, Army medic, nurse and  quartermaster to cook, interpreter, communications guru, swabby, dental officer and bomber pilot – their jobs were done in theaters from Europe to the Pacific to the Middle East. Most said little about the experience and the service. A few stayed in the service but most went on into civilian lives and honorable work and professions.

I’ve written in the past about one of these family heroes. Navy veteran and WWII hero James W. Sweeney of Lowell died in 2008 – one of that fading  group of veterans who served flag and country then returned home to another world, another life and other duties. He never viewed himself as heroic yet his actions within a span of just ten days earned him two of the highest decorations awarded by the military for heroism – the Navy Cross and the Silver Star. He and his “brothers” deserve our remembrance on this 2012 Veterans Day. I posted this memory of James Sweeney in 2008 just a few weeks after his death - about his life and his actions in July, 1945. Allow me to again remember James W. Sweeney:

A Hero in a Lowell “Band of Brothers”

Posted by Marie on 13 Nov 2008

I can’t let this Veterans Day week go by without writing about Navy veteran and WWII war hero James W. Sweeney who died last week. Jim was a quiet guy and typical of his generation he said very little about his war experiences – only giving bits and pieces of the tale when asked by his young cousins.

Jim was one of the “St. James Street” Sweeneys so well-known in the Sacred Heart neighborhood. After his first year at Lowell Textile Institute he left his chemistry studies to join the Navy as an aviation cadet. A year later he was commissioned a flight officer and served in Air Group 94 flying off the carrier USS Lexington. He piloted a Curtiss “Helldiver” – a two-man dive bomber. This was a tough plane to fly – overweight and overloaded it was typically unstable. Jim not surprisingly accepted its shortcomings – “I liked it, you flew what you had to fly.” One of his most harrowing experiences involved returning to land on the carrier’s deck having cut throttle only to be waved off because the deck crew hadn’t cleared the previous plane (his skipper’s) from the arresting wire. Averting a certain deck disaster Jim went full throttle knowing his plane would corkscrew into the sea. The plane plunged into the water up-side-down with only the tail visible. The engine lost from the violent impact Jim was left to free his injured gunner from the rear cockpit and await a destroyer rescue. His eyes injured from the crash – the flight surgeon grounded him for a month. He later returned to action and bombed two Japanese battleships for which he was highly decorated.

A front page story on the November 24, 1945 Lowell SUN tells the tale under the headline “Lowell Flier Sank Two Jap Battleships.” …”A 21-year old Navy pilot …today emerged as one of the city’s most highly decorated heroes, and had to his credit the practical sinking of two Japanese battleships… He is Lieut. (JG) James W. Sweeney, USNR, holder of the Air Medal, Silver Star and the Navy Cross, the last being the second highest decoration awarded for heroism… The specific feat which won him the award – the Navy Cross – occurred last July during a carrier-based bombing attack on elements of the Japanese fleet in the Yokosuka navy yard on Honshu Island, Japan.”  Ten days later a similar feat – “gallantry and intrepidity in action” – against major units of the Japanese fleet among the islands of the inland sea earned him the Silver Star. (my bold)

After the war Jim returned to LTI for his BS degree and a Masters from the Virginia Tech Institute. He served most of his professional career as the Chief Chemist and Plant Manager for Pellon Corporation in Lowell. His brothers also served – Charles as a Navy pilot-in-training at the end of WWII, Dr. Felix as a Navy surgeon on the NSS Haven off the coast of Korea, Dr. Tom as a Flight Surgeon, USAF and the youngest Frank in the USAF-ROTC at LTI before transferring to MCP. Their father Jim was a combat infantryman in the 79th Infantry Division in WWI.

Jim died last week (November 5, 2008) quietly with strength, courage and spirituality – the way he lived his life. He will be missed. RIP.

We descendants of the Meehans/Kirwins/Deignans/Sweeneys/Callahans think of our honorable roll of Veterans today: Michael and John Callahan; Joseph P. Meehan, Dr. Patrick J. Meehan, Commodore J. Henry Meehan, James A. Deignan, Sr., William R. Deignan, Bill Callahan, James (my father), Jack and Henry Kirwin, Leo Cucinelli, Dick Stanton, James, Robert and Bill Deignan, Joe Lussier, Don MacLean, Ken Kirwin, the James Sweeneys (father and son), Charles Sweeney, Dr. Felix Sweeney, Dr. Tom Sweeney, Dr.Brian Sweeney, Dr. Brian Sweeney, Jr., Dr. Jeffrey Sweeney, Joe and Jim Sweeney, Peter Sweeney, Leo Redding (father and son), John Callahan, Ruth Callahan Nunnery, Dr. Bill Callahan, Steve Eastham, Robert Kilmartin, Jim Nunnery, Mark Nunnery, Steve Nunnery, Dr. David Burke, Bill Kirwin, Billy Deignan, Bobby Deignan, Louis Karosas, John Patrick Kirwin, Patrick Kirwin, Andy Kirwin, Tom Owens, Michael Owens, Matthew Willman, Rob Edmonds and now on active duty Staff Sgt. Nicholas Owens, USAF.