The picture above is the official “crew” photograph for Capt. David Wilhite’s B-24 Liberator crew with an inset photo of Major Kenneth Caldwell who was the commanding officer of the 389th BGH in 1944. Two of the men in this picture transferred to other B-24 crews later; 1st Lt. Harry and 1st Lt. Soltys were replaced by 1st Lt. Harold Roodman and 1st Lt. Wendell (Dan) Daily. When this photograph was taken, none of the men were thinking about their mortality, but the fact is that only one of the crewmembers on that fateful day would survive and return home.
My father-in-law, Robert Sweatt (far right, kneeling), beat the odds when their plane nicknamed Trouble was shot down over occupied France on Jan. 7, 1944. In fact, you could say that several miracles happened that day. His story is documented in the book titled “Trouble”. Although I am credited as author of that book, I prefer to explain that the true authors are the people IN the story and I was merely the one that put the information together. The details of Sgt. Sweatt’s survival are amazing to say the least and they are a testament to the courage, bravery, and quick-thinking of Robert and the French people who helped him evade capture. Many people contributed to the extensive research required to make this story as complete and factual as it is.
When the book was nearly finished, I would read it to Robert as part of a last “check” for accuracy. Often, there were parts of the story contributed by his French “helpers” or their relatives and Robert would comment “Larry, I didn’t even know about that part!” You see, Robert had been severely wounded in several places during the attack and later explosion. He spent a good portion of his first few days in France drifting in and out of consciousness. In fact, one of the wounds was a nick to his jugular vein on the left side of his neck. After he had opened his parachute and was still in the air, he noticed blood spurting in rhythm with his heartbeat and hitting the collar of his flight suit on his left side. His left arm and hand were “not working” due to a wound in his left forearm, so he used his right hand to hold the wound closed until he landed. Then he packed the wound with mud to stop the bleeding. (See! I told you the details were amazing.)
The purpose of this article is to give you a brief overview of Robert’s story. The book gives a glimpse into Robert’s childhood and youth where many of his personal habits were developed. Then came his entry into the USAAF and his exposure to a whole new world. Robert learned so much from his instructors and even more from his crewmates as they trained for battle. The crew’s early missions are chronicled which include some extreme dangers as well as some lighter times. The description of the final mission was written primarily by Robert, himself. Much of the information from the times after being shot down was provided by the French people who helped Robert; or their relatives. Robert and the families who helped him faced death on a daily basis for the nearly three months he spent behind enemy lines. The last few steps of his escape followed the famous Shelburne Escape Line from the House of Alphonse through a minefield on a moonless night and down a 200+ foot cliff to the shore of Anse Cochat. But his return to the United States is not the end of the story.
I have also attached a link to a short video I created for the possible use in a TV ad for the book. However, I later discovered the enormous cost of TV air time and decided that it was far beyond my budget. Besides, the length (a little over 10 minutes) did not fit with requirements either. But the information contained in the video is too valuable to simply be discarded. The video contains a portion of an interview with Robert conducted in 2004 by two Air Force officers who were making a documentary titled “Evade!” Please note that the interview was done before the research was done for the book Trouble and Robert is only using his memory of events. It is very interesting listening as Robert describes his perspective and there are some incidents in the interview that are not covered in the book.
In addition, there is a link to a Facebook group where you can find photos and other information about Robert and the French people who helped him evade capture.
Hope you enjoy!
Listen to our podcast about Trouble.