Garfield High School Goes to War » At the Yalta Conference with the President

At the Yalta Conference with the President

At Yalta with President Roosevelt

Andrew Sawchuk, Yeoman 2nd Class, U.S.N.   8784532

Born  October 12th, 1921 in New York City, New York to Sam and Mary Sawchuk.  His father Sam Sawchuk emigrated to the United States in 1913 at the age of 16 from Gayvoron, Russia and his mother from Varacrov, Austria.  The family moved to the Los Angeles area in 1923, living at 4404 Tuttle Street, between Sunol Drive and Eastern Avenue (just south of the 5 freeway and west of the 710) through the 1930s and 1940s.  Andrew grew up learning to speak fluent Russian from his father, an important attribute for his World War II mission.

While attending Garfield High School, he was President of the Advisory Board, Homeroom President, Service Supervisor, Fire Brigade Chief and in the Achievement Club, graduating with the Winter Class of 1940.  After graduation he was working for a John Raund, would be living at 730 S. Duncan Avenue and in 1941 he would marry his wife, Louise.

The Mission

Andrew would join the U.S. Navy in mid-May 1943, rising to the rank of Yeoman Second Class.  In March of 1944, He along with five other naval personnel were on the USS Milwaukee under orders from the Commander of the U.S. Naval Forces in Europe.  All six were transferred April 20th, 1944 from the U.S.S. Milwaukee to the H.M.S. Beagle. Andrew and the five others were Russian-Americans and could speak Russian fluently.  He would be one of 27 U.S. Naval Officers and men who formed a part of the highly secret corps of communications and interpreter experts at the Yalta Conference in Russia.

The Yalta Conference

During World War II, the Yalta Conference, held from February 4th through the 11th, 1945, was a meeting of the leaders of the United States, the United Kingdom and the Soviet Union whose purpose was to discuss Germany and Europe's postwar reorganization.  The Big Three were President Franklin D. Roosevelt, Prime Minister Winston Churchill and Premier Joseph Stalin, and they would hold the conference near Yalta in Crimea, Soviet Union, within the Palaces of Livadia, Yusupov, and Vorontsov. These three came together to form a post-war peace that would hopefully create a collective security order and give self-determination to those liberated peoples of post-Nazi Europe.

Aboard USS Catoctin (AGC-5)

Sailing aboard the H.M.S. Beagle, they transferred to the USS Memphis which took them to Palermo, Sicily.  The USS Catoctin left Naples, Italy on January 15th, 1945, arriving at Palermo, Sicily for some repairs and this is where Yeoman Andrew Sawchuk and the others joined the ship on the 18th being transferred from the USS Memphis.  The USS Catoctin left soon after for Sevastopol in the Crimea, Soviet Union. Arriving January 26th, the Catoctin served as communications ship and as headquarters for the advance party planning the Yalta Conference. Her crew operated transportation, canteen, hospital, and dental facilities ashore, including helping with an air-sea rescue net.

Across the Mountains to Yalta

They started men and supplies across the mountain road from Sevastopol to Yalta. The State Department expected to have personnel to conduct the physical preparations, and they had the six Russian-speaking officers from the Catoctin. The six were quite happy to move in with the staff already there. They worked to set up a transportation pool, complete with trucks, cars, and drivers to maintain regular schedules to the Catoctin at Sevastopol and to the airport at Saki. The Catoctin stocked a small PX (supply office and package store) . A sick bay was ready for daily sick call, and a doctor was at hand at all times. A daily laundry service to the Catoctin was established. A Lieutenant Chase worked with the communications group, where they reviewed their building, began moving equipment in and ran extra lines across the mountains to the ship. They put up cots in any old corner of the building and were a unit unto themselves. Having about two hundred tons of radio equipment, office furniture, and supplies to be transported from the ships to the palace.  Over 100 truckloads of supplies were run through the mountain roads from Sevastopol to Yalta.

Conditions Could Be Better

At eleven the next morning one of the mine-sweepers had left Sevastopol and by four o’clock she was secured at a dock in Yalta harbor.  With the help of the extra officers from the Catoctin , more equipment and supplies were moved in and a full instruction sheet and a pamphlet on local history were printed and ready to be given out.  Room and office assignments were complete along with some extra space aboard the two U.S. mine-sweepers at Yalta. The President’s mess, a senior mess, and a large junior mess were stocked completely and made ready for business. The palace area where they stayed had very few working toilets and these were reserved for the President, diplomats, and top officers.  So latrines were dug behind the bushes, while wash basins and buckets were placed nearby. Even the ship’s doctor and a group of helpers came to the palace equipped to debug several hundred mattresses and pillows, which they did. Andrew Sawchuk stated in a reply to “Dear Abby” in the Chicago Tribune, 1990 “Being fluent in Russian, I was there with a team of interpreters from the U.S. Navy, and I can verify that the accommodations, insofar as cleanliness was concerned, left a lot to be desired.  What we Americans missed the most were showers and bathrooms. President Roosevelt was assigned the only private bathroom at Yalta. All the others had to go down to one of the minesweepers docked at the port in order to take a shower.”

On to the End

On February 11th, President Franklin D. Roosevelt and his party, including Fleet Admiral William D. Leahy, came aboard for an overnight stay on the Catoctin.  The Yalta Conference was held and the corps of Naval communications and interpreters were given well deserved recognition from the President. One of their last jobs was the conference communique on board the Catoctin where the encoding and radio transmission of the Conference communique was started. The communique was to be released simultaneously in Washington, London, and Moscow at 4:40pm, February 12th.
“Lieutenant Bogue and Mr. Cornelius and the communication force of the Catoctin are to be commended for the expeditious manner in which this communique was encoded and transmitted to Washington.”

The following is stated in President Franklin Roosevelt’s Log:

A number of U.S. Naval personnel who speak
Russian were assembled by Admiral Hewitt and sent
to Yalta in the CATOCTIN. This team proved most
helpful in working with the Soviets to complete
the preparations for our visit and they were also
very helpful to us as interpreters during our,
eight days at Livadia. They were:

Lieut. George Scherbatoff, U.S.N.R.
Lieut. Dimitri P. Keusseff, U.S.N.R
Lieut. C. Norris Houghton, U.S.N.R.
Lieut. Michael Kimack, U.S.N.R.
Lt (jg) John Cheplick, U.S.N.R.
Lt (jg) John P. Romanov, U.S.N.
Andrew M. Bacha, Chief Yeoman, U.S.N.R.
Andrew Sawchuck, Yeoman 2/c, U.S.N.R.
Harry Sklenar, Yeoman 2/c, U. S. N.R.
Alexis Nestoruk, Yeoman 2/c, U. S.N.R.
Nickolas Korniloff, Yeoman 3/c, U.S.N.R.
Russel Koval, Yeoman 3/c, U.S.N.R.


Unfortunately, Andrew’s last name was misspelled in the president’s log.  The USS Catoctin cleared Sevastopol on February 15th, returning to Naples in five days, then sailed for Oran.  Andrew Sawchuk was transferred off the ship on February 21st, 1945 and by August of 1945, took a flight from Paris to the Naval Air Station in Patuxent River, Maryland, returning home to the U.S.

Andrew Sawchuk passed away in 1993.