Russell Swearingen Oral History
Russell Leroy Swearingen was born June 27, 1914 in Groton, South Dakota to William and Cora (Carper) Swearingen. After moving to the Brainerd area and joining the National Guard, he married Eleanore Hilda Palmer on June 30, 1939, with whom he would have three children. He trained at Camp Ripley with the 34th Divisional Tank Company of the Minnesota National Guard from Brainerd before his unit was federalized in January 1941, becoming Company A of the 194th Tank Battalion. After training at Fort Lewis, they were sent to defend Clark Air Base in the Philippines as part of the Provisional Tank Group. As a staff sergeant and chief mechanic in the battalion Headquarters Company, he helped coordinate the withdrawal of American forces down the Bataan Peninsula when Japanese forces invaded the islands. Captured alongside most of the American forces, he became a prisoner of war and survived the Bataan Death March. He mustered out as a first lieutenant and was awarded the Bronze Star. He worked as an electrician after the war and was a member of the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers local 292 of Minneapolis, the American Legion of Deerwood, and the VFW of Brainerd. He passed away on October 23, 2001, and is buried next to Eleanore at Lakewood Cemetery in Crosby, Minnesota.
Russell Swearingen discussed his World War II service as a chief mechanic and prisoner of war in the Philippines. He briefly described his training in the 34th Divisional Tank Company of the Minnesota National Guard from Brainerd, with which he served in the Philippines during World War II when it was federalized as part of the 194th Tank Battalion. The bulk of the first half of the interview focuses on the Battle of Bataan and the events leading up to it. Swearingen described the roles he played as a staff sergeant and chief mechanic in the Headquarters Company of the 194th, which included helping coordinate the withdrawal of American tanks down the Bataan Peninsula. The second half focused on his experiences as a prisoner of war following the American surrender on Bataan. As a survivor of the Bataan Death March, Swearingen described the conditions he and other POWs faced, including inadequate food and water, disease, and brutal punishment by Japanese guards. He also describes his final liberation from Japan at the end of the war and the ways in which being a POW affected him and others, psychologically and physically, including a stress-induced ulcer he developed that the Veterans Affairs hospital had failed to diagnose.
Interview by David Overy
St. Cloud State University, "Russell Swearingen Oral History" (1990). World War II Veterans. 21.