SPENCERVILLE — Billy Schwarck had thought about entering the military. After the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor in December 1941, thoughts turned into reality. Schwarck was drafted into the U.S. Army.
Schwarck, now 90, spent time at various locations in the United States training and then boarded a ship, the USS George Washington, bound for war. Conditions were rough before Schwarck even got near the combat zones.
“I shipped out for overseas from San Bernardino, Calif. It took 44 days to go to India,” Schwarck said. “What did we have to eat? Twice a day we had a cup of cream of wheat. I lost 19 pounds going overseas. I was not the exception.”
Overseas, Schwarck served with an engineering group that helped work to build and repair bridges and roads, including the Burma Road, a major supply route for the Chinese as they fought to repel the Japanese invaders.
One of his roles was to serve as the unit sniper, heading out in advance of his unit.
“At first I thought it was a kick in the head. Then they pointed out to me that I had the highest score on shooting the rifle and the .45-caliber automatic and the second highest on the machine gun,” Schwarck said. “So, you might as well do your job, I guess. It wasn’t difficult to take the job after they told me I was the most qualified they had. I took the job. If you’re qualified just go do it.”
Schwarck served in three different combat zones — India, Burma (now known as Myanmar), and China.
Schwarck’s road home to Spencerville wasn’t quite as simple, however, as catching a ship across the Pacific Ocean like he’d done when he went to war.
“They wouldn’t bring us back through the Pacific because the Japanese submarines wouldn’t surrender,” he said. “We came a little way through the Indian Ocean and we came down through the Red Sea to the Mediterranean Sea and came home across the Atlantic. It suited me all right. When I got back to New York, I’d been around the world.”
Even before heading out for training in February 1943, Schwarck had already contributed to the war effort. He worked as a teletype operator at Lima Locomotive Works, where the country’s first Sherman tanks were produced.
Schwarck’s son, Larry, was 4 months old when he shipped off to head to war and was nearly 4 years old by the time he returned.
“If it hadn’t been for him, I don’t know that I’d have come home,” Schwarck said. “He and my wife were here waiting for me when I got back here to Spencerville.”