The Schweighart brothers
By Paul Wood
PESOTUM — Patriotic fever runs high here, and after the Pearl Harbor attack, all four Schweighart boys wanted to join the service.
“That wasn’t unusual in Pesotum,” says Don Schweighart of Champaign. “The whole town was patriotic. Down the street, there were five Mitsdarfer boys who joined up.”
The Schweigharts were among the last to attend Pesotum High School, and in fact, they all graduated from different high schools, since Pesotum only offered three years, like many smaller area schools.
Harold, Pete, Don and Bruce all served in the military, with the first three in World War II and the youngest a little too young, instead serving during the Korean War.
Harold and Pete have passed away, but Bruce still lives in Pesotum.
The younger brothers spoke about their time in the service, including frequent times on KP, “kitchen patrol,” often a light punishment for goofing around.
But they’re deadly serious about their patriotism.
“I would have kissed Harry Truman if he came down the street,” says Don, who credits the president’s decision to drop two atomic bombs on Japan as saving American lives.
The eldest brother, Harold, died in 1968. He won two Distinguished Flying Crosses for his service as a navigator on a B-26 bomber in Europe, said his nephew, Steve Reinhardt of rural Pesotum, a retired Army colonel himself.
Harold served as a technical sergeant in the 556 Bombardment Squadron and flew 24 missions.
“They blew up bridges mainly,” Don recalls.
Pete, also known as Earl, served in the Navy as a maintenance electrician (a family trade) aboard a ship. He died in 2000.
The brothers recall that Pete repaired planes aboard ships during World War II.
Don, who served in the Navy, is 88.
As a senior at Tolono High School, pumped up with disdain for the Pearl Harbor attack, he tried to enlist.
“My mother wouldn’t sign the papers,” he says.
Once he turned 18, Don enlisted in the Navy.
He had his basic training at Great Lakes Naval Base, more training and shipped out. But by the time he got to Hawaii, the war was already over.
His ship was involved in war games off the coast of South America, which included the USS Missouri, the battleship where the surrender of the Japanese empire had taken place months before.
Bruce, 86, entered the service in 1951, during the Korean War.
From Fort Sheridan, he was sent to radio school, then trained in radar in the Signal Corps.
His most vivid memory of his time in the Army was when attached to an artillery unit. A howitzer crew from Fort Sill misfired and lobbed a shell at the center of nearby Lawton, Okla.
“They managed to hit the only empty lot in the area,” Bruce recalls. “Nothing else was touched. No one was hurt.”
Do you know a veteran who could share a story about military service? Contact staff writer Paul Wood at email@example.com.