Died: April 1, 1943
Corporal Archie J. Sweeney served in North Africa (Tunisia) in World War II, where he was reported missing, and later listed as killed in action. He lived on Algonquin Avenue. Corporal Sweeney was 25 years old and was the first Saranac Lake soldier to die in action during the war. (6/11/1943, Lake Placid News; probably not an accurate statement. as the same claim was made for several others.)
He was posthumously awarded the Purple Heart which was delivered to his brother Howard Sweeney, Saranac Lake. (6/11/1943, Lake Placid News)
Sweeney was born in Lawrenceville, and went to Saranac Lake to live with his brother, Howard Sweeney, after his mother died. He graduated from Saranac Lake high school in 1939.
Here is his biography L. Miller wrote for the script of the History Channel's series WWII in HD:
Corporal Archie Sweeney was twenty one years old when he graduated from Saranac Lake High School in Saranac Lake, New York. He was not their best student. Once he teasingly told his two little sisters that when you did well in high school they used the word “flunked”, so when he came home one day and told his mother that he had flunked math, the girls greeted him with hugs and congratulated him.
“Polite” was the term most often attached to his name. It helps to be polite when you share your living space with eight brothers and sisters. And it becomes a survival skill when you are separated from your family, Archie to one relative and his two younger sisters to another, because your mother has died and your father is too ill to care for you. (His mother died from cancer and his father had a broken neck that he sustained while digging trenches along the roadside. After his accident, he spent many months in a body cast.)
At the time of her death, Archie was working two jobs and attending high school. He loved his days spent on his father’s farm in Lawrenceville, a tiny village in upstate New York, almost as much as the times he and his brothers spent at their dad’s hunting camp Floodwood, a speck on the map located in the Adirondack Mountains, where they hunted and fished during the fall and winter when the farming was idle. It was during those frigid winters that his sisters remember Archie bundling them up, seating them in a sleigh, hitching the horse up and driving them to church.
When the war broke out, Archie was the first young man whose number was called in the draft lottery held in nearby Lake Placid. But Archie had enlisted the previous day. On New Years Day, 1941, he told his older brother that this was a good way to start the year. It was time to move on; to see what life had in store for him. Two days later he walked to Lake Placid a few miles away, to report for his physical.
He took a train, the first time he had ever been on one, to Fort Bragg, N.C. where his politeness was put to the test training with the 39th Infantry, 9th Division.
By the middle of March, he had been assigned to Company H and proudly sent his company photograph home. There he stood, right next to the company flag, all 5’ 11”, 145 pounds of him, standing ram-rod straight and looking quite serious.
Early that summer, Archie returned home and stayed at the farm. One of his sisters took a snapshot of him standing proudly in front of their barn. That evening, as she was preparing for bed, she saw Archie, standing as comfortably as if he had been sitting, watching as the sun set. “What are you looking at?” she asked. “I’m just looking. I don’t know if I’ll ever see this again.”
On 25 September 1942 the 39th, the Fighting Falcons, boarded five ships and sailed out of New York harbor. On the 6th of October 1942 and about 4,000 miles later, the convoy dropped anchor in Belfast Harbor. The 39th moved to Scotland and awaited the departure of the 47th and 60th Infantry Regiments from the US and their first D-Day.
The 9th Infantry Division saw its first combat in the North African invasion when its elements landed at Algeria in Ain-Taya 15 miles east of the city of Algeria on November 8, 1942. Moving swiftly the 39th defeated the Vichy-French troops and had the city surrounded.
The next three months were spent guarding communications lines along their front.
Company B picked up a new rifle platoon leader during this period, Lieutenant Charles Scheffel.
The war was not going well. The Germans were retreating but we couldn’t face Rommel’s tanks with our big guns. The units that tried that at Kasserine Pass suffered a devastating defeat.
The U.S. plan involved the U.S. 1st and 9th Infantry Divisions, to occupy the hills on opposite sides of the El Guettar Pass which would enable the armored troops to pass through the valley without being fired on from its flanks. This force attacked Hill 369 on the afternoon of 30 March but ran into mines and anti-tank fire, losing 5 tanks. The tanks were removed, and the 1st and 9th attacked again the next day at 06:00, moving up and taking several hundred prisoners. However an Italian counterattack drove them back from their newly gained positions, and by 12:45 they were back where they started with the loss of 9 tanks and 2 tank destroyers. A further attempt the next day on 1 April also failed, after barely getting started.
Captain Scheffel recalled that, “On March 27, 1943, my first wedding anniversary, I took out Ruth’s picture and wished I was back in Enid. I kept thinking what a shitty place to spend an anniversary. At least we weren’t fired on during the first night, and for that, I was grateful.”
On April 1, Archie was writing a letter home. “It’s very quite here this evening. I think the war may be coming to an end.”
His older brother, Harold, received a telegram on May 8th, 1943 informing him that Archie was “Missing in Action”. Two days later an Army chaplain arrived at his door to tell them that Archie had been killed the same evening he wrote his letter.
He was twenty five years old; the first Saranac Lake Village soldier to die in action.
Tupper Lake Free Press, May 18, 1943
Former Tupper High Student Missing in Action in N. Africa
Cpl. Archie J. Sweeney of 66 Algonquin Avenue, Saranac Lake, —a former Tupper High student, has been reported missing in action in North Africa since April 1.
In service since January, 1941, Cpl. Sweeney trained at Fort Bragg, N.C., before going overseas with the first African invasion troops last November. Letters received by his brother, Howard Sweeney, indicate that he had been in the thick of the African fighting.
Cpl. Sweeney attended Tupper High during 1936, and was a member of the T.L.H.S. basketball squad. His father, Bert Sweeney, lives at Floodwood.
Cpl. Sweeney's service during the war as well as his civilian years growing up in Saranac Lake are celebrated in the 2009 10 part award winning documentary WWII in HD that aired in 2009 on History. It is available on DVD.