Alonzo Joe Switzer was born on August 3, 1926, in Sedalia, Missouri to Samuel M. and Annie Switzer. Joe had one brother, Samuel Switzer, Jr. The family lived at 1610 South Osage. Mr. Switzer worked in hardware.
As a young child, Joe attended Broadway Elementary School. On September 3, 1940, at the beginning of his eighth grade year, he entered Smith-Cotton Junior-Senior High School. Joe's father died while Joe was in high school. According to John Cover and Bob Salmon who ran around with Joe when they were kids, Joe didn't participate in school sports or activities, but sort of ran wild during those years. He played in the streets of Sedalia, regular kid stuff, and hung out with his friends at the "smoke house," a pool hall. Joe was known by the name "Pete" to his many friends. John Cover recalls that one night he and Joe were talking about going to war and decided that if they both went, one of them probably wouldn't come back.
Joe withdrew from Smith-Cotton in May, 1944, after his junior year. On May 13, 1944, Joe, Junior Urton, Carl Berry, and Bob Salmon took a train to St. Louis, Missouri and enlisted in the U.S. Navy Reserves. Joe's service number was 033 876 93. Joe's brother, Sam, Jr., was with the U.S. Marines in the South Pacific. As a child, Sam, Jr. was nicknamed "Ninnie" and was described as "calm" by childhood friends of Joe, John Cover and Bob Salmon.
After induction into the service, Joe first went by train to Camp Wallace, Texas for boot camp. Bob Salmon recalled that it was 115 degrees on the drill field and that they stayed in two-story wooden barracks. After his basic training, Joe was sent to Norfolk, Virginia where he was assigned to the USS Mount Hood which was commissioned on July 1, 1944. After an abbreviated fitting out and shake down period in the Chesapeake Bay area, ammunition ship Mount Hood reported for duty on August 5, 1944, to ComServFor, Atlantic Fleet. Assigned to carry her vital cargo to the Pacific, she put into Norfolk, where her holds were loaded. On August 21, 1944, she departed for the Panama Canal, transited that system of locks and lakes on August 27, and continued on, independently, toward what would be her ultimate destination, Manus, in the Admiralty Islands. Proceeding via Finschafen, New Guinea, she arrived in Seeadler Harbor, September 22, 1944, and, as a unit under ComSoWesPac, commenced dispensing ammunition and explosives to ships preparing for the Philippine offensive.
At 8:30 a.m. on November 10, 1944, a party consisting of the communications officer, Lieutenant L. A. Wallace, and 17 men left the ship and headed for shore to pick up mail. At 8:55 a.m., while walking on the beach, they saw a flash from the harbor, followed by two quick explosions. Scrambling into their boat, they headed back to the ship, only to turn around again shortly thereafter as "There was nothing but debris all around. . . .."
USS Mount Hood, anchored in about 19 fathoms of water, with an estimated 3,800 tons of ordnance material on board, had exploded.
The initial explosion caused flame and smoke to shoot up from amidship to more than masthead height. Within seconds, the bulk of her cargo was set off with a more intense explosion. Mushrooming smoke rose to 7,000 feet, obscuring the ship and the surrounding area for a radius of approximately 500 yards. Mount Hood's former position was shown by a trench in the ocean floor 300 feet long, 50 feet wide, and 30 to 40 feet deep. The largest pieces of metal found measured no bigger than 16 by 10 feet.
The concussion and metal fragments, hurled from the ship, also caused casualties and damage to ships and small craft within 2,000 yards. Casualties mounted to 45 known dead, 327 missing and 371 injured, including the crew of USS Mount Hood, of which only those ashore survived. The damage to other vessels required more than 100,000 man-hours to repair, while 22 small boats and landing craft were sunk, destroyed, or damaged beyond repair.
A board convened to examine evidence relating to the disaster was unable to ascertain the exact cause.
Mount Hood (AE-11), after only a little over 4 months service, was struck from the Naval Register December 11, 1944.
At first Joe Sweeney was reported missing in action on the date of the explosion, November 10, 1944. Several weeks later, his parents received the following message from the war department: "The Navy department deeply regrets to inform you that a careful review of all facts available relating to the disappearance of your son, Alonzo Joe Switzer, Seaman Second Class, USNR, previously reported missing, leads to the conclusion that there is no hope for his survival and that he lost his life as result of accidental explosion on 10 November 1944 while in the service of his country. If additional information is received, it will be forwarded to you promptly. Sincere sympathy is extended to you in your great sorrow. Vice Admiral Randall Jacobs, Chief of Naval Personnel." In a letter to his parents received October 31, 1944, Joe told them that he had been promoted to Seaman First Class, although all his records carry him as the rank of Seaman Second Class. Joe was 18 years old.
Joe's body was determined to be non-recoverable. In accordance with the U.S. government's program of honoring the memory of our War Dead whose remains were not recovered or identified, Alonzo Joe Switzer's name was permanently inscribed on the Tablets of the Missing of the Manila American Cemetery and Memorial, Manila, Republic of the Philippines. This cemetery is located six miles southeast of the city of Manila within the limits of Fort Bonifacio, the former U.S. Army Fort William McKinley. It contains the largest number of graves of our military dead of World War II, a total of 17,206, and 36,282 names of the missing are inscribed on the hemicycles near the chapel.
Joe was survived by his parents, Samuel M. and Annie Switzer, and his brother, Sergeant Samuel Switzer, Jr.