Some Fallbrook history on Memorial Day 2020

The Fallbrook Veterans of Foreign Wars post, VFW 1924 on Old Stage Road, is named for the first son of Fallbrook to be killed in World War Two.  Seaman 1st Class Charles E. Swisher was killed in the early moments of the attack on Pearl Harbor.

The Swisher family; Charles parents Leon and Mary and his younger sister Mildred, were well known around Fallbrook because of their involvement with several civic groups.  Young Charles had attended West Fallbrook Union Elementary School as a child. He went on to play football on the Fallbrook Union High School team in 1939.  After the football season, he joined the Future Farmers student organization.  Charles enlists in the U.S. Navy in November 1940 just 2 weeks after turning 18 years old, following the example of several other young men in Fallbrook.  After completing his basic training in San Diego, Charles is assigned to the battleship USS Arizona then docked in Bremerton, Washington.  Just a year later he is promoted to Seaman 1st Class while the Arizona is docked at Pearl Harbor, Hawaii.

  On Saturday night, December 6th, Charles attends a concert on the navy base with some Fallbrook friends also stationed there.  He then returns to his ship to stand watch from midnight to 4 a.m.  Seaman 1st Class Swisher is sleeping in Sunday morning in the bow area of the ship when Japanese planes make a surprise attack on Hawaii at 7:55 am December 7, 1941.  The Arizona is hit several times; explodes, burns and sinks taking the lives of 1,177 sailors and Marines.   

The battleship USS Arizona burns and sinks after the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, Honolulu, Oahu, Hawaii, December 7, 1941. (Photo by US Navy/Interim Archives/Getty Images)

The USS memorial at Pearl Harbor in Honolulu, Hawaii marks their resting place.  Charles E. Swisher was 19 years old.  His name is engraved with the others on a large plaque on the Arizona memorial. 

USS Arizona Memorial Hawaii

There were actually several other young men from Fallbrook in uniform at Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941.  Francis & Clayton Parkinson, the two friends who attended the concert with Charles the evening before, plus Henry Ellis, and Preston Nix.    They were not hurt in the attack.  Ironically, Preston Nix was reported killed in action on December 7th in a government telegram to his father.  the Enterprise reported Preston’s death in a headline as the first Fallbrook boy killed in the war, a week before the news of Charles Swisher came out.  The Preston telegram was an error, he had been mixed up with a sailor from Illinois on the USS Oklahoma with the same last name.  The War Department sent a telegram correcting the error a month later.  In the meantime, Mr Nix had already heard from his son saying that he was OK.

Acknowledgements:  Fallbrook Enterprise newspapers frequently mention the Swisher family throughout the 1930s because of their continuing involvement with several civic organizations.  U.S. Naval records confirm details of Charles Swisher’s enlistment, his postings, and rank.  The Fallbrook VFW website provides details of Swisher’s last night alive and of the attack the following morning.

Researched and written by Tom Frew