U.S.S. LITTLE ROCK Crew Member's
Oral History given by

Lyle H. Swatek - MM1

Page last updated: 24 September, 2016

Old Salts

U.S.S. Little Rock Association

Interviewee:  Lyle H. Swatek MM1C

We are at the 13th Annual Reunion of the USS LITTLE ROCK Association at the Drawbridge Inn in Ft. Mitchell, KY. The date is 17 July 2004.

The purpose of this interview is to learn about life and duty aboard USS LITTLE ROCK (CL-92) during its short period of service 1945-49, through the recollections of Lyle Swatek

Q:    Where did you join the Navy?

Lyle:    I Joined in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, then went to US Naval Training Center, Great Lakes, Illinois

Q:    When did you go on board the Little Rock?

Lyle:    Arrived on the Little Rock 1946, striking to be water tender, assigned B Division, swung checks, stuff like that, and was in a repair force.

Q:    Did you go to water test school?

Lyle:    No I went to motor-mac school. I wanted to be a motor-mac because my background was in service stations. After boot camp I went to motor machinist school, then they sent me to Norfolk and put me on the Little Rock. I was assigned to B division.

Q:    Do you remember what year that was?

Lyle:    Aboard Ship, in 1946

Q:    What was your initial impression of the ship?

Lyle:    ‘BIG’! I came from a small town so I was used to fishing tugs, on Lake Michigan and when I looked at the fleet ,the ships are bigger.

Q:    What was your division assignment, job, and watch station, battle station?

Lyle:    Forward fire room, B division, forward and aft. I stood Boiler water check watches; we did not use the automatic check system only the manual checks. Battle station was the forward fire room.

Q:    What kind of operations was the ship involved, did you go on the South American cruise

Lyle:  No. When they came back from South America I went on board in Norfolk but some of the crew came on board later, in Philadelphia. From Norfolk we went to the Caribbean.

Q:    Did you go to the Mediterranean?

Lyle:    Yes, we went to the Mediterranean, the Arctic, Denmark and Plymouth England which was really our homeport at the time. Made port visits in Antwerp, Amsterdam, Portugal, and Gibraltar, Malta.

Q:    Describe living conditions on the ship?

Lyle:    I came from a large family seven boys and one girl, so I was used to crowded conditions, it did not bother me at all. There were ten kids in a three-bed room house, actually, two died, we ended up with seven boys and one girl.

Q:    What kind of friends did you have in the engineering department?

Lyle:    Some were a little crazy, had good friends, had a couple of  ‘Indians’, in fact I was on a repair force and I remember we used to work on----

Q:    What is this repair force you are talking about?

Lyle:    We did all the repairs, besides standing watch, there was a repair team, right off of the mess hall and we had a little repair shack there where we went out and repaired and spotted in valves-- 

Q:    Was this what we called A division?

Lyle:     No, it this was out of B Division, in-fact we replaced a main steam stop, at sea, and a big valve. We did the repair faster that they did in the yard. I remember we used fifteen-foot cheaters to do it.

Q:    Where did you stand watch?

Lyle:    Mostly on my watches I checked boiler water levels, we never used the automatic checks, we used the manual checks. If we were running split fire rooms we only had to check one boiler. When we were in the Arctic because of moisture, they stacked us; both boilers were lighted in the same fire room. I suppose this was due to the high moisture we would sit on one check and swing the other.

Q:    Did you have all four boilers on?

Lyle:    I never thought we did, but I know we had both of them on some times.

Q:    Do you remember your skipper, executive officer or other leaders in your chain of command?

Lyle:    First Miller, and I think he got relieved in either Denmark or Sweden, and I think Hutton came on board. In fact it was believed that Hutton had a girl friend aboard ship, very few people knew it. Well it was very quiet, but the rumor was he had a girl onboard, but I never saw her.

Q:    When and where did you detach from the Little Rock?

Lyle:    In 1947, and I want to say about July or August. Almost a full two years.

Q:    What was your overall impression of your tour on the ship?

Lyle:    To put it this way, we had good camaraderie but we did not fraternize much with other divisions very much at all. But since the generators were in the fire rooms, knew a couple of the electricians very well. We had our own group; we drank together, played together and worked together.

Q:    Did you have another assignment after leaving the Little Rock?

Lyle:    No, the Little Rock was going over seas, I picked up a fungus in my ear in Athens and the ship was going back over. M time was up so went to the Navy Hospital and they treated it and I got discharged from there.

Q:    How long were you in the Navy, three years?

Lyle:    Just a little over two years.

Q:    How long have you been in the Little Rock Association?

Lyle:    I am member number 99, belonged almost from the beginning.

Q:    What civilian job did you return to after the Navy? What career did you pursue?

Lyle:    My civilian job....within five or six months, in 1948, I bought a service station after that about a year later, 1949, I got married. In 1953-I bought my first oil company, from their built service stations. I had about 14 / 15 stations. We had a trucking division, sold and delivered home heating oil, motor oil. Then I bought trolleys, and then I built a restaurant. Then we bought part of a terminal, a bunch of us, then we started a bank and after that I bought a couple of farms.

Q:    Interesting, where did you get the startup financing?

Lyle:    Well really my brother had the service station, I had to buy him out, I had $1000 and my dad co signed for another $3000, that’s how I started.

Q    Any other comments?

Lyle:    There are so many names in my life, I lectured around the country.

Q:    What Subjects?

Lyle:    Accounting, buying out corporations, I bought probably six or seven companies and I added them to my main company.

Q:    Did you go to college?

Lyle:    No, never had time. I lectured at five Universities. To tell you the truth I never really though about it, so when I got out of the Navy I thought that I would go back working in a service station. Started when I was eleven years old, working in service stations, so when I got out of the Navy I bought a service station. That is what I wanted to do. I liked the contact with people, and of course it has all changed today, at one time I used to service fifty stations. I used to sell tires and now I sell more cigarettes than tires. Every thing is changed and you change with it. And in between I went up through associations, one was an education foundation, which I headed for a year, and was on the board of directors for five years.

Q:    Where was that located?

Lyle:    Washington, DC. I used to go around and lectured on performers, creating performers to buy other companies because I bought six or seven companies. (Valuation of a company potential for investment purposes)

Q:    Where are you living now?

Lyle:    In Lake Geneva, Wisconsin.

Q:    Is this where you operated out of, when you got out of the Navy?

Lyle:     Well when I got out of the Navy I lived in Port Washington, which is north of Milwaukee, Wisconsin. I had my service station for five years, moved south to a little town called Silver Lake, on the Wisconsin border. I ran that company, built that company up, then I started buying. It took me ten years to accumulate enough to buy other companies.

Q:    Were these little small businesses?

Lyle:    Well one doubled our size in one day. When we ended up we had about three hundred employees.

Q:    Any thing else you can think of about the Rock?

Lyle:    I can remember we had an Indian who was a first class, talk about comical things, this guy was touchy, if anybody touched him, and he would kick. And guys would sneak up behind him when he was going up a ladder, and his ankles were always kicked black and blue, he would get so excited he kicked his ankles all the time.

Q:    Do you remember what was his name?

Lyle:    He was an Indian, can’t think of his name. We had a Chief Knighten, who went out of the service at 37 or 38 and could not get his pension, and the war brought him back so he could get his pension. Here was a guy who would stop you when you went topside if you did not have your shoes tied,

Q:    Was he the master at arms?

Lyle:    No he was actually our Chief Water Tender. He said to me one day, Swatek, I don’t want you to do like some of the other guys, I want your shoes done, I want this done, he kind of took over, like a father, I was only seventeen and he was kind of a father to a lot of us. I really liked him, he was a great guy.
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