Intermission Story (1) – SeaBees on Bougainville


Landing under fire at Empress Augusta Bay, Bougainville, Seabees first joined with Marines in defending the beaches against counter-attack, then got busy on construction of military roads feeding front lines. The fighting builders ran one of their roads 700 yards in advance of the Marines’ front lines before the Leathernecks yelled for them to hold up a while.

Sizable detachments of Seabees, who stormed ashore with Marine assault trrops in the first,second, and third waves to land on Bougainville in the Solomon Islands, distinguished themselves by the skill and valor with which they filled their combat assignments.

As the invasion forces approached the enemy beaches, the Seabees manned machine guns on Higgins boats, tank lighters and landing craft. Dare-devil builders leaped ashore from the first boats to nudge into the sand, and unloaded fuel, ammunition, rations and packs while heavy fighting broke out all about them on the beaches. Then, as the Japs were driven back into the jungle, the Seabees manned beach defenses side-by-side with the Marines.

In addition to these activities, which were beyond the normal call of duty, the volunteer group of 100 Seabee officers and men who landed with the first wave also were credited with additional acts of bravery performed with complete disregard for their personal safety.

unloading gas and oil drums on Bougainville

unloading gas and oil drums on Bougainville

Landing craft from one transport had to pass through a narrow channel between two small islands just off Bougainville. Japanese machine gun nests on the inside of both islands had been firing upon every boat that attempted to move through the channel until Seabees manning landing craft guns effectively liquidated them. The Seabee sharp-shooters also helped drive away Japanese Zeroes that attacked the mother ship.

On landing, the rugged construction men rushes supplies from landing craft to combat line. Seabees carried ammunition and water to the front and, as was learned later, kept a group of Marines from being wiped out because of lack of supplies.

One Seabee jumped aboard a crippled tractor after its Marine driver had been shot off, hauled large quantities of ammunition, and helped place 20-mm anti-aircraft guns. Another group of the aroused builders riddled enemy pillboxes while Marines moved in to remove the Japs with hand grenades. Still other Seabees moved a Marine heavy artillery battery to the front.

Without thought for their own safety, the Navy Construction men carried wounded from the front lines to the landing craft which would return the casualties to the transports for immediate evacuation. The Seabees scooped out foxholes, not only for themselves and the Marines, but for the injured who were unable to dig their own.

When one of the landing craft was hit by heavy artillery fire, a Seabee officer helped unload the wounded and badly needed supplies while other Seabees held the Japs at bay.

Piva Bomber Field, Bougainville

Piva Bomber Field, Bougainville

The medical department set up a first aid station and treated men on the front lines (which were still the beach) with morphine and bandages carried in their packs. The first night of the landing, the Seabee detachment was assigned the defense of a portion of the beach. The volunteer group continued to hold this area for the next twenty-four days.

For days after the landing, the battling builders teamed up with Marine patrols to locate and neutralize Japanese snipers infiltrating through the lines.

From the small galley they had set up on the beach, Seabee cooks served hot meals to men on the front lines a few hundred yards away.

If you are interested in reading more on the SeaBees, try their museumHERE!

Click on images to enlarge,


Military Humor – 

by: Bill Mauldin

by: Bill Mauldin

Navy Humor - courtesy of Chris @

Navy Humor – courtesy of Chris @ https://






Farewell Salutes – 

Vincent Allen – Bridgeport, CT; US Air Force, Korea

Roderick Campbell – Ladysmith, CAN; RC Army, WWII/ RC Air Forcesalutetop

Santiago Erevia – San Antonio, TX; US Army, Vietnam, 101st Airborne, Medal of Honor

Brian Griffiths – W.AUS; RA Air Force, Korea & Vietnam

Theodore Hansen – Stuart, FL; US Navy (Ret.)

Gustave Karge – Cleveland, TN; US Navy, WWII, carrier pilot

James Maxson – Roseville, CA; US Army Air Corps, WWII, PTO, 11th Airborne

Victor Ostini – brn: SWITZ; US Army, WWII

Keith Saull – Auckland, NZ; RNZ Navy, RAdmiral

Warren Warchus Sr. – Chicago, IL; US Army Air Corps, WWII, PTO, B-29 bombardier



About GP

Everett Smith served with the Headquarters Company, 187th Regiment, 11th A/B Division during WWII. This site is in tribute to my father, "Smitty." GP is a member of the 11th Airborne Association. Member # 4511 and extremely proud of that fact!

Posted on April 7, 2016, in First-hand Accounts, Uncategorized, WWII and tagged , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 133 Comments.

  1. John Ratomski

    SAIPAN – 15, JUNE, 1944.


    Turned down by the Marine Corps, Jack Edwards ended up a member of the 121st Naval Construction Battalion fighting alongside Leatherneck infantrymen during the desperate battle for Saipan.
    Most readers of World War II history are familiar with the contributions made by naval construction battalions, affectionately known as Seabees. Movies such as The Fighting Seabees with John Wayne, and classic books like Can Do! and From Omaha to Okinawa by William B. Huie paint a picture of the skilled craftsmen who constructed base camps and runways often in the very heat of battle. Think of a Seabee and the image conjured is that of Marston matting and generators, corrugated huts and water towers. “We Build, We Fight” is the Seabees’ well-earned motto. But most published history emphasizes the “We Build” part of their mission.

    There is a lesser-known story in the Seabee records—that of those specialist sailors who were embedded in Marine combat units, assaulting the beaches and enemy foxholes alongside their Marine comrades, applying their skills on the front lines of battle. Jack Edwards was one of these men; an electrician by trade, his World War II experiences had more to do with grenades than generators.

    In 1942 Jack Edwards was a 20 year old who seemingly had everything going for him. With his skilled position at Western Electric in San Francisco essential to the war effort, he was relatively safe from the draft. But like many Americans his age, Edwards was unable to sit on the sidelines while his nation was at war.

    The memories of 7 December 1941, less than a year earlier, remained with him. He had been a high school senior, living in Santa Cruz, California, when the attack on Hawaii took place. California’s West Coast was paralyzed with fear of a possible invasion. Santa Cruz was no exception. The city was blacked out on the night of 7 December, as reports of the devastating damage at Pearl Harbor continued to pour in.

    As impossible as it might seem to present-day readers, invasion was a very real fear in the wake of Pearl Harbor. Local militias were formed, and many of the teenagers brought their .22 rifles down to the beach, ready to repel an enemy landing. It never came, of course, but two weeks later an oil tanker was shelled by a Japanese submarine 20 miles off the coast. The war had become real to the residents of Santa Cruz County.

    Less than a year later, Edwards was standing outside the Marine recruiting station in San Francisco, intent on becoming a Leatherneck. There was only one problem: In 1942 the Corps was more selective than the other services about who it allowed to enlist. In the words of a somewhat bemused Marine recruiting sergeant, Edwards needed to “go home and grow some more.” Furious, he left the recruiting station more determined than ever to find his way to the action.

    Back at work the following day, Edwards shared his experience with a coworker at Western Electric, who told him about a new Navy outfit: the Seabees. “They go right in with the Marines,” his friend told him. (Edwards, in retrospect, had no idea how true that statement would turn out to be.) He decided that it was worth a visit to the Navy recruiting office.

    The Navy in 1942 could be fairly selective about who it took in. The draft sent men primarily to the Army and Marines. Potential recruits or draftees who had specialized training often found their way into the more technically orientated Navy or Army Air Forces. In 1942 the Seabees were actively seeking technically trained civilians. When Edwards walked into the Navy recruiting office in San Francisco and inquired about the Seabees, the recruiter immediately sent him to the downtown office where a Navy lieutenant commander enlisted the young electrician on the spot. Edwards was on his way to becoming a Seabee.


    It was this rapidly growing organization that Jack Edwards joined in late 1942. Told that he would be undergoing basic training in Williamsburg, Virginia, Edwards was initially excited to be able to see something of the East Coast, a place he had never been. That excitement quickly evaporated as his train left California in the middle of the night. In his words, “We came and left at night, never got outside the gate . . . we knew less what was going on than anyone.” 6

    Seaman Edwards found that Camp Allen, Virginia, was all about work. Much to his chagrin, there was no time for seeing the sights of Virginia’s historic tidewater region. Under the leadership of Captain John Ware, the Civil Engineering Corps officer charged with developing a training program for the Seabees, the recruits began the process of transformation from industrial workers to sailors. 7

    On completion of basic training, Edwards was shipped back to Port Hueneme, California, where his parent unit, the 109th Naval Construction Battalion, was based. But about 50 newly minted Seabees, including Edwards, were drawn off and sent to the 121st Naval Construction Battalion, which was assigned directly to the 4th Marine Division, then forming at Camp Pendleton, California. 8 It appeared that Edwards would get his wish to fight with the Marines after all.

    The 121st was redesignated the 3d Battalion, 20th Marines, 4th Marine Division; its sailors traded in their Navy dungarees for Marine fatigues; and training at Camp Pendleton began in earnest. 9 They repeated boot camp, this time “Marine style.” Edwards recalled that a “typical Marine sergeant—6’2’’, 180 lbs, a #2 hat and a #14 boot” drove them relentlessly as they prepared for amphibious operations: ship to shore maneuvers, camouflage training, swimming, and ship evacuation. “I spent enough time off that boot I should’a drawn flight pay. . . . That was my introduction to the Marines.” 10 Fortunately for the Seabee, the tough training would pay off.


    On 8 January 1944, the 4th Marine Division, with its Seabees embedded in the unit’s landing teams, moved to San Diego for embarkation. On the 13th, the convoy departed for overseas. In a pointed demonstration of industrial might and long-range power projection capabilities, the deployment of the 4th Marine Division marked the first time in the war that a unit had proceeded directly to combat from the continental United States. 11

    En route, Edwards made a point of volunteering for duty on one of the transport’s deck guns, which were manned 24 hours a day. It gave him something to do, while getting him out of the stuffy troop berthing compartments below decks. 12

    The Marshall Islands stood directly in the way of Admiral Chester Nimitz’ desired push through the Central Pacific toward Japan’s inner defense ring. While conventional military wisdom would have mandated a methodical mopping up of the entire island chain, the decision was made to bypass and isolate the smaller fortified islands and strike decisively at Kwajalein Atoll. 13 All Edwards had been told was that their objectives were code-named “Burlesque” and “Camouflage.” Once at sea, the men learned their true objective.

    Regimental Combat Teams (RCTs) 23 and 24 were assigned the task of taking Roi-Namur, the connected islands that form the north end of Kwajalein Atoll. At 1100 on 1 February, RCT 23, along with Edwards and the team’s other Seabees, landed on Roi. Opposition was relatively light, and the Seabees soon got about their duties of bringing supplies ashore and repairing the small island’s airfield. The 109th NCB, Edward’s original unit, began arriving at the atoll the next day, and work began in earnest.

    Edwards’ demolitions squad spent most of its time collecting unexploded shells, which it stored in a large ammunition dump at the main base site. Also at this same dump was the main supply of fuel oil and live ammunition. One night, Edward recalled, Japanese bombers laid incendiary bombs “right down through the middle of that thing, and it burned everything out.

    After making it through the bombing raid, Edwards was wounded the next day. By chance, it was the day before the 121st was ordered to leave the island. While trying to evacuate a buddy who had been wounded by shrapnel, he “saw a big flash and heard a heavy burst. . . . I was thrown up in the air and landed on some coral boulders.” 16 He woke up about four or five hours later with broken ribs. The hospital ship having already departed, Edwards was placed on a converted freighter headed for Hawaii.

    More than 60 years later, Edwards watched on the news wounded soldiers being evacuated from Iraq on non-stop flights to Germany and the United States with a little good-natured bemusement, as he recalled spending nine days and eight nights on the uncomfortable freighter. This time there was no opportunity to volunteer for gun duty, as he was belowdecks in a bed. Eventually, he ended up in the Aiea Heights military hospital at Pearl Harbor. The hospital was so overcrowded that many patients, Edwards included, were placed on gurneys in the hallways.

    Edwards was in the hospital for the next 28 days. He learned to smoke—a habit he would carry for the next 40 years—to pass the time. 17 Eventually he was discharged and able to rejoin the 121st NCB. The battalion had arrived back in Hawaii just after Edwards, in February 1944, and taken up residence on Maui while he had been in the hospital. Edwards recalled that when he was released he was “so weak that one of the Marines had to carry my gear up the gangplank.


    Life on Maui had been busy for the 121st. By the time Edwards met back up with it in March, the unit was in the middle of building an airstrip to serve the 4th Marine Division’s camp. When not engaged in this activity, there was plenty of training. The 4th Division veterans of Roi-Namur teamed up with the 2d Marine Division veterans of Tarawa, and spent March and April preparing for the next island invasion. It was not a vacation. Edwards recalled endless hours on the rifle range, studying field tactics, and running up and down the beach. He particularly remembered the runs culminating in a grueling eight-hour 40-miler during which the runners were allowed only a 10-minute break every two hours.

    Edwards’ specialty was demolitions, and he spent a lot of time training on dud ammunition. Several rehearsal landings were staged. Finally, between 15 and 19 May, the Marines and Seabees conducted a full-scale simulated landing under the protection of naval gunfire and aerial bombardment. 19 The upcoming invasion would be the Marines’ first two-division simultaneous landing, and every detail was practiced.

    As usual, the men were told next to nothing about their ultimate objective or when the operation would take place. “One day we were loaded on the barges, and didn’t come back” is how Edwards recalled their departure for the island of Saipan.


    In his book The Great War and Modern Memory , Paul Fussell discusses the process of memory and how the most vivid memories of combat are often of insignificant and incongruous, or ironic, things. On 15 June, Edwards was coming ashore on Saipan under murderous fire when he looked down and noticed in the water what he thought was a mass of kelp. Drawing closer, he was horrified to discover that the “kelp” was actually a clump of olive drab–clad Marine corpses. This picture dominates his memory of the landings. “We took that beach on our bellies,” the veteran recalled emphatically. 20

    For the invasion, the 121st NCB was attached to the 4th Marine Division’s RCT 23. While the division landed on beaches opposite and to the south of Charan Kanoa, the 2d Marine Division came ashore to the north of the town; the Army’s 27th Infantry Division would begin landing late on D+1. Once the 4th Division’s initial regimental combat teams were ashore, they began advancing eastward. Edwards’ 13-man demolition squad was culled out and assigned to blow open the safe in the Charan Kanoa bank. Edwards recalled that after taking a lot of time to place satchel charges to blast open the bank, a 16-inch shell tore through one side of the building and out the other. “It exploded someplace else,” said Edwards, “all we had to do was walk around that side and walk in.” What they discovered inside was a treasure trove: “I never saw so much Japanese yen in my life; you could fill a [truck] with it.”

    Because they had been told that the only legal tender anywhere in theater would be the military scrip they were paid with, Edwards and the others largely ignored all this money. But later that year, as part of the occupation force in Japan, Edwards would be chagrined to notice those same yen were still legal tender there. So much for his chance at being rich.

    After helping secure the town, the demolition squad joined the Marines’ eastward advance to cut the island in two and separate the enemy forces. As they struggled across cane fields near a large prewar sugar mill on the outskirts of Charan Kanoa, they began to encounter heavy fire. The Japanese defenders had zeroed in mortars and artillery batteries on the exposed fields, and their fire was murderous. “They tore us up with those mortars,” Edwards recalled. He caught 17 bits of shrapnel in his right leg. Sixteen of them were removed by a corpsman, one remains lodged in his leg to this day.

    Moreover, a spotter posted in the smokestack of the nearby sugar mill was able to direct Japanese artillery fire for several days before the high structure was finally destroyed.21 Edwards’ battalion commander was wounded in the cane fields east of Charan Kanoa. In fact, Saipan turned out to be a particularly tough battle to be a battalion commander; 12 of the 27 Marines who initially led their infantry battalions into action on Saipan became casualties.

    The fierce fighting continued as the 2d and 4th Marine divisions, with the 27th Infantry Division between them, began a northward push up into the island’s hills. Near the right flank of the advance, through rugged hilly territory, Edwards’ unit made painfully slow progress. He recalled that taking one hill required multiple assaults: “We were driven back three times. Took it the fourth time, at night.

    During this engagement, Edwards had one of his most harrowing and personal combat experiences. With a counterattacking Japanese soldier a few feet away, charging directly at him, Edwards “blew his stack.” It was the only time in his two years in combat that he experienced this sort of “out-of-body” experience, as adrenaline and a will to survive simply shut down the rest of his faculties. When he came to, the Seabee was sitting in a hole with his carbine and three other guys. He asked one of them what time it was, and was astonished to hear that it was 0215. The assault had jumped off at 2150. 24

    As the push northward continued, Edwards, as a second-class petty officer, became a squad leader. He didn’t have a choice; the higher-ups had been killed or wounded. His first command soon was tested. Ordered to make safe some tank traps in a “cleared” area, he told his men to dress out lightly, carrying only Thompson submachine guns and carbines, as it would be a short mission in an area supposedly safe from enemy fire. Sadly, the squad would find that nothing on Saipan was safe from enemy fire.

    As the group proceeded up a small gully toward the tank traps, they were hit from three sides by a Japanese unit that had infiltrated the U.S. lines. Enemy soldiers began to close in, and it appeared that the fighting soon would become hand-to-hand, but the Seabees were able to beat back the attack with some help from a Marine security patrol that had happened by and joined in the firefight. Edwards reported back to battalion headquarters with what was left of his demolition squad. Out of 13 men, 3 were dead and 5 wounded. Edwards was spot promoted to first-class petty officer.

    It was also during this phase of the fighting that Edwards became proficient at the task of “cleaning out” the Japanese-occupied caves that were everywhere in the hilly terrain.

    The preferred method of attacking a cave stronghold was to toss in a hand grenade. But, as Edwards pointed out, afterward you had to go in; if you didn’t and any Japanese soldiers survived the grenade blast, they would come out and shoot you in the back after you passed by. Edwards was one of the smallest men in his squad, so it often fell to him to enter the confined cave openings, a .45-caliber pistol in one hand and a specially modified bayonet with brass knuckles for a hilt in the other (after the war Edwards’ wife would use the weapon for gardening). His job was to finish off anyone who might still be alive.


    As the desperate Japanese defense began to crumble, Edwards was witness to a new and different kind of horror. Brainwashed by the garrison forces into believing that the advancing Americans would do horrible things to anyone taken alive, Japanese civilians in the path of U.S. forces began to commit suicide in rapidly growing numbers. Edwards saw civilians jump from Saipan’s steep cliffs onto rocks far below rather than risk life under American occupation. At one point, he recalled, one of his officers called for artillery fire to force the would-be jumpers back from the face of the cliff.

    But once the Marines began to make personal contact with the civilians, they realized that the Americans weren’t there to harm them. Edwards recollected one woman with a little baby coming forward to meet the advancing Leathernecks. The woman’s foot was mangled—almost completely torn off. Using a rifle, the Marines fashioned a sling to carry her down a hill to an aid station. Edwards followed, holding the baby. “I never will forget that kid. Not one movement, not one sound, no expression; just those blank eyes looking right straight at me. . . . It gave me the creeps.”

    Edwards found himself better able to relate to the Japanese, both soldiers and civilians, than the average American serviceman. Although the Pacific war was fraught with racial overtones, he didn’t see things that way. He’d encountered Japanese culture growing up in California: “The Japanese were not new to me because I worked with them. I went to school with them.” Edwards also respected their soldiers and the way they fought on Saipan. “The Japanese were no cowards. . . . They met us eyeball to eyeball.


    After Saipan was secured, most of the 121st packed up and headed to nearby Tinian. About 50 or so Seabees, including Edwards, stayed behind to help garrison the island. What might have seemed to be a good deal, however, soon became yet another ordeal, as he contracted malaria.
    So, after having lived with the Marines and worn their uniform for much of the past year and a half, Edwards found himself in a field hospital on Guam, living five men to a tent (“dirt floor and one light bulb”), while he recovered from his malaria bout.

    Once he was reasonably well, the Navy managed to put him to work immediately. The 109th NCB was on Guam, responsible for engineering and public works for the garrison. Edwards was reattached to his original unit and put to work caring for massive electrical generators.

    Eventually, Edwards and about 20 or so other members of the 109th were detached to the 72nd Naval Construction Battalion (Demolitions), forming on the other side of Guam. The unit began training for the invasion of Japan. Edwards noted that the Seabees “were not looking forward to doing that.” Fortunately, they didn’t have to. The plans for an assault became plans for an occupation, which Edwards took part in. He garrisoned the former submarine base at Sasebo until Christmas 1945, when he boarded a transport for the long-awaited return trip to the States.

    The wartime military was, more often than not, successful in pairing eager volunteers with the duty that would enable them to make the greatest contribution to the war effort. Jack Edwards’ story is testimony to this. The young electrician was exactly what the Seabees were looking for—an experienced tradesman willing to practice his civilian skills in a military uniform.

    It’s important, though, not to overlook the fact that those experienced tradesmen often did more than build Quonset huts and airstrips and tend electrical generators. Seabees such as Jack Edwards found themselves wearing uniforms bearing the Eagle, Globe, and Anchor and crawling through jungles alongside their Marine counterparts. They were instrumental in the United States’ success in the Pacific war, and set the standard to follow for our naval expeditionary forces that fought on the ground in Iraq and Afghanistan.


    The information carried by a Seabee who volunteered to act as runner from a beach command post to two Marine divisions, frustrated an attempt by a large concentration of Japanese to drive a wedge between the two Marine Divisions on Saipan.
    The Seabee battalion 121st N.C.B., 3/20, 4th Marine Division, was holding down the position of beach security battalton during the invasion of the island. It was D-plus 1 and the situation as outlined on the CP s map looked bad. No information had been received on the progress of the 2nd Division for some time and besides, it was feared that the Japs were concentrating to split the two divisions with a drive to the beach.
    CCM Leslie G. Smith of Los Angeles, Calif., chief in charge of the CP, called for a volunteer to run the gauntlet to the 2nd Marines, Frank H. Chmielewicz, Slc, of Camden, N. J. popped out of his foxhole to accept the assignmenL
    Risking being shot at by his own mates as well as by Japs and Marines, Chmielewicz made his way up the fringe of the beach and found the Marine CP. Securing the desired information he made the perilous 2 1/2 mile return journey to the Seabee CP and then set off to contact the 4th Marine Division in the opposite direction.
    With the maps prepared by the Seabee plotters at the beach CP, the Marines were able to locate the Japanese wedge and eliminate it.
    Chmielewicz’s battalion was awarded the Presidential Unit Citation for its part in the capture of Saipan and Tinian. Chmielewicz was wounded during the later campaign and has received the Purple Heart.


    A bulldozer-riding Seabee, clearing the way for tanks and infantry, led American assault forces into Laulau Peninsula on Saipan Island, Marine Corps Combat Correspondent Sgt. David Dempsey revealed in an eye-witness account.

    Marines advancing into Laulau Peninsula on this island yesterday met unexpected resistance in the form of tanks, pillboxes, and dugouts, Dempsey wired from Saipan. “The infantry requested tank support.

    When the tanks arrived, they were unable to negotiate a particular strip of terrain leading from the beach onto the high ground of the peninsula. The tanks requested engineer support.
    The engineers sent a bulldozer. Manned by a lone, exposed Seabee, it scooped out a passageway for the tanks and became officially the first American vehicle to enter the peninsula.


    One of the tough, unpublicized jobs of the Pacific campaign has been that of picked teams of Marines and Seabees assigned to mop -up work on the tiny coral islands which surround larger, already captured atolls.
    The assignment calls for many miniature invasions . Like their larger counterpart, each follows a familiar pattern. The islands are shelled in advance; H-Hour sees the initial wave swarming over the beaches, and each Japanese fights to the death.
    “You’ve heard what it’s like to go through an invasion says James R. Williams, CM2c, who Participated in one of these missions, Well, multiply one of them by ten, and youll have an idea of how we felt after the last Japanese outpost was cleaned out.

    “And do our Marines go in for heavy shooting,” the Seabee said sorrowfully, “I know …. I carried the ammunition!


  2. John Ratomski

    Under enemy fire- 6th Special Seabees, Second Section’s Echelon One at Vella La Vella – October 1, 1943 – November 22, 1943

    Second Section’s Echelon One was called upon to handle cargo for 1stMAC, (First Marine Amphibious Corps) at Vella La Vella. A thirty-day supply of rations, gasoline and oil was to be stocked there. A convoy of LST’s was shipping out from Guadalcanal on September 29, to deliver more supplies and troops to the new staging base, the Sixth would help load it up and discharge it. For the first time the men would be working on an unsecured island. The men were given K-Rations and ammunition. They would go in with full combat equipment. Although the Seabees did not know it, the Japanese ground troops were not a big worry even though they were stubbornly resisting the New Zealand’s Third Division’s efforts to pocket them in the northwest corner of the island. The major threat was Japanese air attack. Enemy flyers bombed the staging base everyday, clearly the base anti-aircraft defenses and the combat air patrol were inadequate. The Sixth’s Echelon One was responsible for loading and unloading LST 460. The trucks and drivers of Company B, First Corps motor transport battalion, a Marine unit, would assist them. Knowing that every minute their LST remained on the beach it was at serious risk of air attack the officers of Echelon One plan loaded the ship so that it could be discharged in a minimum amount of time. They knew that no LST had yet been fully unloaded in the five hours time it was allowed to stay beached at the Vella La Vella staging base, and they were determined to show that it could be done.

    In a driving rainstorm on September 29, the seven LST supply convoy left Guadalcanal for Vella La Vella with Echelon One and the Marine truck drivers aboard Large Slow Target 460. At one mile from the beach the LST crews completely un-dogged their doors and ramp and unclutched the ramp motor so that when the brake was released the ramp would fall of its own weight. The men on the deck watched for enemy planes. Navy gunners hung from the straps of their 20mm cannons, eyes skyward. To beef up their anti-aircraft defense, the Sixth men deck loaded the two New Zealand 40mm Bofors anti-aircraft cannons as well as all their own 50 caliber machine gun-equipped 6×6 trucks. A few hundred yards from shore the LST’s dropped their stern anchors and paid out the cables until seconds later they were crunching onto the beach. LST 460 grounded a little short of dry land, but Echelon One was prepared. As soon as their ramp splashed into the surf at 07:15, their bulldozer was disembarking immediately followed by their five-ton tractor crane. As their bulldozer pushed a coral road up to the ramp, the Marine truck drivers on the tank deck waited with their engines idling. After the first trucks rushed out the Seabees installed the LST’s elevator guides and lowered the 40mm cannons to the tank deck where they were attached to their prime movers and driven ashore. The Sixth men wasted no time in getting their own 20mm cannon and truck mounted 50 caliber anti-aircraft guns emplaced in positions ashore.

    While their shipmates worked the ship the Seabee gunners stood by their weapons. Inside LST 460 tank deck 32 Stevedores worked at top speed to load the returning trucks. At 09:20, less than two hours after starting, Echelon One completed unloading their LST. The now empty LST 460 pumped out its ballast and prepared to haul in its stern anchor cable and retract from the beach. The Seabees began dispersing into the jungle, where they would dig their foxholes. LST 448, beached a half mile north of Echelon One, was still unloading. Marines had charge of the operation and it was not proceeding as quickly as it should have. Echelon One sent a work detail to assist discharging LST 448. At 09:30, a large force of Japanese fighters and dive-bombers raided the staging area. One veteran recalled how he was walking on the beach to retrieve his rifle and gear and saw a ‘V’ formation of about sixteen aircraft come out of the sun. He first thought they were allied planes, but the sudden cry “air raid” and the formation’s nosing over into a dive convinced him otherwise. The Seabees and Marines ran for the cover of the jungle as the anti-aircraft guns on ship and shore sputtered to life. Some men fired their rifles at the incoming planes. Two Japanese dive-bombers swept down and released their payloads on LST 448. The men watched helplessly as the bombs fell into the beached ship. Their was a muffled explosion and the Sixth men could feel the ground tremble from the force of the blast though the exploding ship was half a mile away. Seconds after the impact of the bombs, the Sixth men took to their feet running down the beach toward LST 448. When Japanese fighters swept in and strafed the beach the 20 or so running Seabees dived into the jungle for cover, re-emerging to continue their dash as the enemy fighters passed. The Japanese planes bombed the dispersal areas too, wounding many among the work parties and gun crews. LST 448 was a twisted burning wreck when the Seabees got to her. Ammunition was exploding in her hold and magazines. Marines were helping the wounded, assisted by the Sixth’s medical officer who stayed on board throughout the afternoon despite the fires, exploding ordinance and a second attack. Many men were wounded. Of the work detail the Sixth had dispatched before the raid, eight men were wounded by shrapnel, two seriously, and another could not be found at all. Though he was listed as missing in action, it was clear two days later, when 21 unidentified bodies were pulled out of the wreckage, that Echelon One had lost one of its own.

    The Sixth’s first experience under fire was costly, but the men did not lose their sangfroid. They dug foxholes near their work area on the beach and waited for the next supply echelon to land. The Japanese attacked intermittently throughout the day and into the night, until about 22:30. The second Japanese air strike came at 10:00 at Ruravai about two miles up the beach from where the Sixth landed and LST 334 had still not finished discharging its cargo. It sat on the shore as an inviting target. The Japanese hit it with a bomb but fortunately the damage was light. As the enemy planes swarmed over the beachhead, one Val dive bomber came hurtling across the cove at a very low altitude only to find cannon fire from the Sixth’s 20mm anti-aircraft gun slamming into its nose. As the crippled plane reached the far end of the cove it suddenly exploded into pieces and fell into the sea. Later in the day the airsols (air solomoms command), combat air patrol was on station above the staging base, and they helped deflect the worst of a 60-plane raid. Some enemy bombers still got through, and LST 448 was hit again. For the Japanese pilots there was no mistaking where the beachhead was as long as smoke belched out of the burning LST 448. In the last raid of the day the Japanese scored again, destroying 5 heavy trucks and two jeeps. The violence of the air attacks on Vella La Vella that continued, vividly illustrated for Echelon One the importance of anti-¬aircraft guns. While on the island the Sixth set about acquiring more 20mm cannon .50 caliber machine guns, and trained men in their operation when there was spare time. The corps staging area on Vella La Vella was considered secured by October 8. Air raids continued but the anti-aircraft defenses were by then beefed up. During Echelons One’s seven and a half weeks on Vella, their gunners were part of the bases anti-aircraft defense

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    • John – Just wanted you to know that a condensed version of your SeaBee contribution will be published this Thursday. Sorry it has taken me so long to get to it, but so much went on during 1945! and to think, I basically skim over the information that’s actually available. That generation still surprises and amazes me every day!
      Have a great day – and once again, thank you for your contribution!!
      GP Cox


  4. I’ve just learned my husbands uncle was on the USS Hilsman, one of the first ships to unload Marines for the Battle of Iwo Jima. Have you written anything where this ship is mentioned?

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  5. A fantastic insight into a side of the military many will have known little about.



    I have a Seabee Story to tell about a Special Forces (Green Beret) Camp Thien Phuoc A-102 in I Corps Tactical Zone, South Vietnam 1968-69.

    Intelligence was telling us that there was a huge build up of North Vietnamese Soldiers in and around our Special Forces “A” Team (late 1968, early 1969). Most intelligence indicated that the North Vietnamese were going to launch an offensive during TET of 69 to cut the country into thirds and we were involved in some way, yet our intelligence did not reflect how. .

    I kept calling DaNang (C1 our C Team and Higher Hqrs) asking for Engineer support to fix my C-123 dirt runway.

    Call after call went in, and finally I threatened to call my Higher Headquarters in Nha Trang for help.

    The Combat activity was really picking up and everyone knew something was about to hit the fan. I had taken “Operation Santa Claus” out three weeks late (on 6 Jan 69) and encountered an NVA Regiment moving southeast of our Camp and toward the industrial area of An Hoa, VN. Besides the NVA Regulars there were over 500 slave porters.

    After fixing their route we were able to bring in 155 MM Artillery and kill or wound over 1000 enemy troops that day, still not knowing or realizing what was in store for us.

    In early 1969 a huge Sikorsky crane flew into our Camp with Engineer Equipment dangling underneath it. The crane let down and placed each piece of equipment on the runway then it landed and a man got out. The crane took off and the man began moving the equipment to the south side of the runway.

    I was looking through my binoculars as the rest of my team kept asking, “who is this guy”, and commenting that ” he is going to get his butt killed”.

    We all jumped in our jeeps and 3/4 ton trucks; lock and loaded the 30 caliber Machine Guns and proceeded to the runway as fast as we could.

    This guy was just getting out of a dump truck when I noticed he had on a uniform I did not recognize with some kind of odd rank on it.

    I asked him who he was and he said, “I’m Godfrey, from some unit that I couldn’t understand”, then I asked him what the heck he thought he was doing and he told me he was there to fix my runway!

    I asked him when the rest of the guys were going to show up and he told me, “he was it” the whole enchilada and he would be able to take care of what ever needed to be done.

    I must digress, Years before I had an “A” team in II Corps, A-222 Dong Tre and we were kicking Charlie’s butt and racking up a high kill count each month. Well General Westmoreland flew in to check us out. After he was satisfied with our briefings he asked what he could do for us to help us continue to kill enemy soldiers. The first thing out of my mouth was, “We Need A Runway”.

    Well we got it (a C-130 runway) and the Army brought in an Engineer “Company” and a mine sweeping platoon and lots of security. I later found out it takes a platoon to build a runway, but I wasn’t complaining.

    So here I had “one” guy, with three pieces of equipment, to repair a C-123 dirt runway, full of mortar and rocket holes and surrounded by bad guys.

    I finally got around to asking Godfrey what unit he was with, I knew he wasn’t Army. He said he was a Seabee and I said, “no kidding”, my father told me you guys could build anything”. My father (A Navy Guy) spent 8 1/2 years in the Pacific before, during and after the WWII. All he ever did was brag about the Seabees.

    So I asked him what his rank was. He told me, and I didn’t know anymore than I did before I asked him. Then I said what is that in “E” ranks, for example E3, E4 etc. He said he was an E4.

    I then asked him if he was sure he could handle the job. He laughed and said it was a piece of cake. I told him how dangerous it was around there and informed him that a Special Forces “A” Team had two Engineers assigned to them. He accepted that and I immediately assigned both guys to him even though they both outranked him. I also put a platoon of my “Strikers” (Mercenaries) around the field for security.

    He worked from daylight to dark everyday and his coming and going got pretty routine. I had forgotten about him until the night and morning of 22-23 February 1969.

    Just after 2AM the proverbial crap hit the fan. We didn’t know it at the time but we had come under siege by an NVA Heavy Weapons Regiment. We fought all night and into the morning against human wave attack after human wave attack. The Camp held because of the Artillery Battery was firing direct fire into the frontal assaults on our perimeters.

    Then after a very bad rocket attack just after dawn on the 23d (my XO and Senior Medic were both seriously wounded) Godfrey came up to me and asked what he could do to help.

    He told me his equipment had been destroyed and he wanted to help fight. I asked him what else he could do besides drive heavy engineer equipment. He told me that Seabees were all trained on 50 Caliber Machine Guns and he was an expert. I was ecstatic.

    I put Godfrey and my Team Sergeant, MSG Ramon Mori (who was suppose to have left (DEROS) for the US that day, but couldn’t get out of the Camp because of the intense Rocket and Mortar fire). Godfrey and MSG More were located on the eastern side of the Tactical Operations Center covering the high-speed approaches from the East. They had a well constructed Bunker and had tons of Ammo and Extra Barrels for the 50 Cal.

    Both of them fought independently as needed and with great Valor for 9 days.

    I finally realized that I hadn’t seen or heard from them for a long time. At first I remember hearing the 50 going off all the time outside my Tactical Operation Center (TOC), then firing became routine as we received hundreds of incoming mortar and rocket fire rounds followed by human wave assaults. .(It was estimated that over 4000 indirect rounds were fired into an area 200 yards wide during the Siege of Tien Phuoc) and during the first 9 days of the Siege the NVA suffered over 900 killed and wounded.

    The Siege continued until 15 July 1969 but Godfrey was medivaced around the 5th or 6th of March after I found out he had been wounded and continued to fight.

    We had 784 defenders at Tien Phuoc and we took on 3 NVA Divisions. A total of 30,000 men.

    The Americal Division and the 101st Airborne came in and saved our bacon, as did TAC Air from all the Services (Air Force, Navy TAC Air, and Marine Heavy Bombers) and the Americal 155 Battery in our “Camp”, but our Special Forces Team took hundreds of the enemy with us and Godfrey was a big, big part of that effort.

    I was so impressed with what my Team Sergeant told me Godfrey had done in Combat and in defending my “A” Camp that I contacted his Headquarters in Da Nang and recommended him for the Silver Star and a Battle Field Promotion.

    He received a Purple Heart for his Combat Wounds, the Bronze Star w/V for Valor, and was promoted to E5.

    I was at the dinner when his Commanding Officer (A Navy Captain 06) and his unit honored him with his combat decorations and his battle field promotion.

    My Team and I honor Godfrey to this day as part of my team and as a brother Warrior.

    That is my Seabee Story, about a guy named Godfrey.

    I never did know his first name, but he was one hellova Engineer.

    He fixed our Runway well enough for us to get our resupplies in during a 5 month siege of my “A” Team (Special Forces Camp), and he still had time to kill a whole bunch of bad guys.

    John E. Cleckner Sr.
    Major, United States Army Special Forces Retired

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  7. Great story! It’s good to hear of the other units that participated in battles normally told from one perspective.

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  8. Seabee reflects on WWII, Iwo Jima!

    Often overlooked are those who were on the battle lines contributing in other ways.
    So it is with the “Seabees,” the 133rd Naval Construction Battalion. Longtime Hudson and Greenport resident Wilfred “Bud” MacGiffert was a member of that battalion at the Battle of Iwo Jima.

    There’s currently a campaign to upgrade the Navy Unit Commendation the 133rd received to a Presidential Unit Citation, which was awarded to 4th Pioneer Battalion, the marines the Seabees fought alongside at Iwo Jima.
    “The 133rd is still looking for the Presidential Unit Citation,” MacGiffert said. “The Marines got it, and the ones we worked with got it, but we never got it. The Seabees seem to be an outfit nobody ever heard of. We never got much recognition.”

    Although the main mission of the Seabees is to build roads, bases and engage in other construction projects, they are also trained in combat and carry guns.
    MacGiffert left Hudson High School during his senior year when he was only 17 to enter the Navy in 1943. He chose to enter the Seabees “because you could work at your trade when you weren’t in battle,” he said.

    Though he was just 17, he had a trade: After school, he’d work at Pulcher’s Garage, or the Ford Garage, or other garages, fixing cars.
    To be a Seabee, “you had to be able to do two things,” MacGiffert said. In addition to being a mechanic, he learned how to operate a crane.
    After going through boot camp at Camp Perry, Va., advanced training at Endicott, R.I., and other training at Camp Holiday, Gulfport, Miss., and Port Hueneme, Calif., he and fellow Seabees shipped out to Honolulu, Hawaii, where they stayed a few months.

    MacGiffert arrived at Iwo Jima on D-Day, Feb. 19, 1945, as part of a 14-man Seabee unit, along with the Fourth Pioneer Battalion of Marines on the USS Loundes. One of the main goals of the invasion was to take the airstrips away from the Japanese.

    “We were supposed to work our way to the first airstrip,” he said. “After we landed, we got shelled so bad they changed our orders — we stayed on the beach and worked with the Marines. They said to help out wherever we could.

    The Japanese were heavily shelling the beach to keep supplies from coming in.
    “The soil was volcanic, very soft,” MacGiffert said. “When amphibious trucks came in to bring supplies, they had to put steel mats down to run on to get up to the front. Also, sometimes they were so heavily loaded we had to unload them.”

    There’s now a book out about the battle of Iwo Jima called “Black Hell,” because of the volcanic ash and the “terrific battle” there that lasted a few weeks, he said.

    “We were on the beach quite some time,” he said. “They’d infiltrate through and kill some of our guys. They shelled us during the day with mortars and artillery; in the evening they shelled us; and we’d get air raids from Japan.
    “We lost quite a few men,” MacGiffert said, “a little over a third of our outfit. We landed with 1,100; at the end of the first couple weeks, we only had 600 and some left. Not all killed — some were evacuated or other things; there were quite a few I never saw again.”

    Of his 14-man Seabee unit, he only saw two or three again after those first few weeks.
    “The hardest thing was trying to work jobs on the beach and ignore what was there,” MacGiffert said. “It was full of people that were wounded or dead, tore up so bad … To try to ignore that and do the jobs I had to do, something mechanical.

    He recalled a crane the Allies had landed about the fifth day of the invasion that they shouldn’t have landed.
    “It was too early to land,” he said. “I went down to get it running.” The Japanese, he said, “had landed mortar in the side of the radiator. It was in such bad shape; I managed to get it running temporarily by inching off the tubes in the radiator.
    “The person that had been running it was laying halfway out of it, dead,” he said.
    The battle lasted longer than expected.

    “Every day was bad,” MacGiffert said. “When we landed, they said it was only going to be 10 days. It ended up about a month.”
    After the battle ended, MacGiffert and other Seabees worked building airstrips, roads, a chow hall that would feed 1,000 men, and fixing all kinds of vehicles.

    There’s a photo of him sitting in a confiscated Japanese tow truck full of bulletholes.
    “We used it a lot,” he said. “Unlike American tow trucks, it had a boom on the side. We used it to take engines out — that came in pretty handy.”

    MacGiffert arrived back in Hudson on Christmas night, 1945. Since his parents weren’t home, he had to walk from the rail station to their home, near the site of the Anshe Emeth Synagogue, and climb in an unlocked window.


  9. “Seabee tells of harrowing experiences at Iwo Jima”

    It wasn’t until Bill Konop started going to reunions of the 133rd Naval Construction Battalion that he began to speak about his experiences in World War II.

    The Elk River man was a runner on the beaches of Iwo Jima while American troops made their third wave on Feb. 19, 1945, which became known as D-Day to the troops there. This Navy Seabee’s job was to take messages to the platoon leaders on his right flank in what became the bloodiest battle ever waged in the history of the Navy Seabees.

    They had a false sense of security as they landed on the beaches with their land cruisers. The blood bath started immediately. The American troops — a combination of Navy Seabees who were assigned to land with several Marine divisions — began their invasion about 9 a.m. on Feb. 19, 1945. Konop was part of the third, which entered the fray about noon.

    “We went in and the ramp to our boat wouldn’t go down,” Konop told the Star News. “It was stuck. So Marines started going over the right side. They either fell in the water or fell back in the boat, shot.”
    Hysteria was a clear option, but everyone started going over the left side the boat, including Konop. These men braved the fury and made it ashore, but the rain of Japanese firepower did not cease. “They had every bit of the beach zeroed in,”

    Mount Surabachi was on their left and a high bluff could be seen on the right. Both directions were heavily armed.
    This was despite the fact that Allied Forces had bombed the island for 72 consecutive days and shelled it from battle ships and cruisers for three or four days before the land attack.

    “We thought it would be a piece of cake to walk on that island,” Konop said on camera. “But, boy were we wrong.” Getting set up on the beaches was nearly impossible.

    “Trying to dig a fox hole in the volcanic ash was like trying to dig into wheat or grain,” Konop said. “It just kept caving in on you.”

    Even the best foxhole, however, would not protect Konop on his mission. He had to get orders to the all the platoon leaders to his right. Another man’s job was to do the same to the left. Konop would make three, four or five runs. He can’t quite remember. But he vividly remembers his last run.

    It was at 5:30 p.m. Troops were still being fired upon.

    “It wasn’t like really running,” Konop recalls of the terrifying battle. “It was more like crawling, maybe running a couple steps and diving.”

    His last message was a grim order for the troops to maintain their position.

    “The troop leaders frowned upon this,” Konop said. “They wanted to move up. It was just a terrible place to be.”
    Seconds after he delivered the last order, Konop was hit. He took shrapnel to the face and back and suffered a concussion. He was evacuated to the hospital ship about 6 p.m.

    “That was a million dollar wound,” Konop said. “To not be wounded bad and just to get off the island.”

    Konop does not believe he was a hero.

    “I don’t consider myself a hero,” he said. “I was just a scared 19-year-old Seabee trying to do my job and trying to survive. “The real heroes are the ones that never came back.”

    The Navy Seabees lost 42 men on this mission, including a Seabee named Phil Pittsner, who had become Konop’s best friend in the military. Konop was one of 370 wounded. The death of Pittsner weighed heavily on Konop. The Springfield, Colo. native was the same age as Konop and a good athlete.

    “He was kind of an all-American kid,” Konop said. “He didn’t drink. He didn’t smoke.”

    Konop talks easily of excursions the two made while on liberty together and games of basketball they played as teammates.

    What played out on the beaches of the volcanic island of Iwo Jima, however, remained bottled up inside Konop for decades.

    “I was pretty tight lipped,” he said. “I thought about it (the invasion) quite a bit, but I didn’t say anything about it.”

    Not even to his wife.

    The reunions, however, loosened him up, and gave his war experiences a voice.

    He was only 15 years old when Pearl Harbor was attacked, and at first the country drafted 21-year-olds.

    “I didn’t think I would ever be drafted, but then they lowered the age to 18,” Konop said.

    When he got his induction notice he felt he was destined for the Army, but he liked the idea of the Navy better.

    When he heard the Seabees were looking for young men, he reached out to them.

    The Navy Seabees are the Navy’s construction force. They are mechanics, builders, engineers and equipment operators. With a wrench in one hand and a rifle in the other, their job was to provide support for the Marines in two ways. “We build, and we fight,” Navy Seabees like to say.

    Konop went to boot camp at Camp Peary near Williamsburg, Va. and from there he went to Camp Holiday in Gulfport, Miss. That’s where he met Pittsner. The two of them clicked right away; they were inseparable by the time they were sent to the Port of Hueneme.

    All of this Navy Seabee training led up to being shipped out to Oahu, Hawaii. The the time spent in Oahu included playing on the battalion’s basketball team. Konop’s team, aided by the skills of a 6-foot, 6-inch young man named Tom Paul, won all 13 games before getting shipped to Maui for the last bit of training that started on Jan. 1, 1945.

    Once Konop’s group reached Maui, he and his buddies were assigned to the Fourth Marine Division stationed in Maui.

    That’s also when he finally found out what his assignment would be on the island of Iwo Jima.

    Nothing, however, fully prepared them for what they were about to encounter on the beaches at Iwo Jima.

    The Allied Forces needed a resting place for broken down B-29 bombers, and this 5-mile-long, 2-mile-wide pile of volcanic rock was chosen as the site of a what would become an emergency runway. It was located half-way between the nearest Allied Forces-controlled runway and the mainland of Japan.

    Konop watched the fourth wave enter the island from the hospital ship. Their fate was no better than many in his troop. He watched in bewilderment as many soldiers fell face down as they went ashore. He realized they were getting shot.

    “I was the lucky one,” he said.

    His friend Pittsner was not so lucky, and that weighed on Konop. He said felt like a coward at times for not visiting his family, but eventually he did make a stop out there.

    He spoke to Pittsner’s sister, Peggy. Their mother had died by then.

    “She told me she (her mother) had never gotten over it (her son’s death),” Konop said.

    Sharing the stories helps ease the pain Konop has felt over the years. It also appears to help his soul to have the story of the Seabees’ ultimate success being told.

    Four days after the invasion began — D-Day plus 4 — Marines with the help of the Seabees finally got a foothold on the island. That’s when a small group of Marines under the threat of enemy fire climbed the 556-foot Mount Surabachi and defiantly hoisted the U.S. flag when Konop was on the hospital ship.

    That’s when the work of Seabees heated up, as they built a camp to house the troops and began to fix the bombed-out airstrips.

    Seabees were under constant sniper and mortar attacks while working on the runway.

    On Day 10, however, the first airstrip was completed and not long after that the first B-29 bomber landed.

    It has been said that although more than 6,800 Marines were killed on the island, the lives of more than 27,000 airmen were believed saved because they were able to land crippled aircraft after raids on mainland Japan.

    “I would say (the island) was well worth taking,” Konop said

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  10. A Seabee on Iwo Jima: They Also Served Who Drove Cranes and Cats

    62nd Seabee Battalion


    ON D+2 WE WERE JUST OFF THE SOUTH END OF THE ISLAND, in a Landing Ship, Tank. At about 5 p.m. we were told to report to our equipment. We started our engines, the LST opened its bow doors, and the ramp dropped. We were at Red Beach. A Caterpillar bulldozer went first, to build a dirt ramp. Once that was ready we moved out—trucks, more Cats, and my Northwest 25 crane. The noise was continuous. Wreckage was everywhere. It was getting dark when I got to shore, close to Mount Suribachi. There was a 30-degree slope up from the beach; I barely made it to the top of that volcanic sand.

    My partner Red and I were to share a foxhole. Trying to move that sand was like digging flour. I took the first watch and let Red sleep. When it was his turn, he woke me up every time he heard land crabs. Finally I gave him my bolo knife and told him that only after he had shot the carbine and stuck the enemy with the bolo could he wake me.

    We were issued D rations, bars about two-and-a-half by five-and-a-half inches that looked like chocolate but were grainy, not sweet. Three bars was one day’s supply. Navy guys on the ship had gotten into the canned goods we had stowed on the crane, but they hadn’t fooled with the five-gallon can of water we had hidden in the boom. We were thankful to have that, since we were allowed only two canteens of water a day.

    On D+3 we woke at dawn but couldn’t leave our foxholes until we had clearance from security. Finally we got up, relieved ourselves—no toilet—and saw men from our battalion. Cats went to clear the beaches. Dump trucks were hauling supplies. After we hung the crane with a clam bucket—the Marines needed a water point dug across the island for distributing fresh and desalinated water—Red and I split up.

    I started for the beach in the crane. A Northwest 25 was a big, slow thing on treads with a rotating cab and long boom; even with its big diesel engine it only did about two miles an hour. It was going to be a while before I could dig that water point. All around me were Marines trying to get somewhere. Right in the middle of the road some of them had dug a hole and were setting up a 105mm howitzer that they pointed at Japs a hundred yards away on some rocks. After they shot five rounds that killed everyone on the rocks they moved the gun and I filled in the hole and went down to the beach. Far enough up from the sea to avoid the tides, I dug five holes, each 20 feet in diameter, down to the water table. Other Seabees and Marines set up evaporators, pumps, and storage tanks for the water point.

    I was told to go to the battalion’s new bivouac, below the old Japanese airfield nearest Suribachi. I left my machine there at the strip. At the bivouac two guys from my company and I remodeled a shell crater for our quarters. I stole a tarp to cover it. For sanitary facilities we had slit trenches we squatted over.

    Around D+5, my company commander, Lieutenant Pond—I don’t think I ever knew his first name; we generally called him “Mister Pond”—told me my mother had died. There was no way he would be able to get me home to bury her. We couldn’t even move wounded men off the island. I wanted to send money for the funeral, but the paymaster was out on the ship. Lieutenant Pond loaned me $100 and took care of sending it home. He was an outstanding officer. I didn’t mind calling him “Mister.”

    I needed to work on the airfield, so the mechanics changed my rig over from a bucket to a shovel. I put in 9 or 10 hours a day extending the original airstrip to make it big enough to accommodate B-29s. Marines were fighting for the very piece of ground where we were trying to enlarge the strip. We had to watch out for sniper fire and mortar fire and live ammunition and mines. One evening after I finished my shift the first B-29 landed.

    ON D+6 THE MAIN BODY OF THE 62ND CAME ASHORE. By D+7 the cooks and bakers had the cook tent erected and we got our first hot meal with baked bread. Marines didn’t have chow lines, just K rations, so whenever they had a chance they got into the Seabee chow line. We got water for showers from underground. It smelled like rotten eggs but it was hot enough. We made the pipes out of shell casings. The showers were out in the open with no covering. Slit trenches got upgraded to four- and six-holers.

    After working about 10 days I was sent to Airfield 2, half a mile north, to help extend that strip. I had to walk the crane with the shovel on it uphill past a B-29 in a gully with other abandoned equipment. I noticed a bottle of sake and had gotten down to fetch it when a passing Marine said, “I wouldn’t handle that if I were you.” His face was bloody from hundreds of tiny holes made by a grenade. He explained that it was a booby trap and showed me the wires inside the bottle. I gently put the bottle down. He was waiting to be treated nearby at an evacuation center that was also identifying the dead. They had men going through pockets and checking dog tags and clothing and then stacking the bodies four or five high at an old Japanese revetment. It was awful gruesome.

    There was a 105mm howitzer behind our bivouac. The Japanese tried to knock it out with eight-inch guns. The first shell hit about 20 feet from me and killed two of my buddies. The Japs were also using giant mortar shells that tumbled end over end in the air, making a frightening screaming noise. But they usually landed in the water. We figured they were launched from a trough, like Fourth of July skyrockets.

    One day a Marine crawled up into my crane’s cab. He pointed to three guys about 100 yards away and said one was a lieutenant colonel who wanted to talk to me. I hurried over. The colonel asked how far down I could dig. Twenty-six feet, I told him.

    “That ought to do it,” he said. “Can you move the rig?”

    When I said yes the colonel told me I was temporarily relieved of my duties. His sergeant drove me about three-quarters of a mile to a rise called Hill 382. At the foot of the hill he showed me a flat area covered with dead Japs, big mines, and shell casings, then he drove me back to my machine. It took an hour to fuel the crane and return to the work site.

    The sergeant was waiting there with 40 Marines who spread out on either side of me. The sergeant had me move the crane forward to a cave, which the colonel told me to dig out. I dug all day. We found supplies and living quarters, but no people. That evening the Marines dug foxholes; they were on the fighting line. One drove me to my bivouac. The next morning, when we realized we wouldn’t find anything more, the Marines burned out the cave with flamethrowers. Then they sealed it. I found out later we had been looking for the Japanese commander of the island. Hill 382 became known as Meat Grinder Hill.

    For 20 days I dug out caves. At some we pulled out dead Japs and rifles, pistols, and ammunition. I sold souvenirs, mostly to air force fighter personnel. One day I found a bail of tube socks. From then on I never washed socks. Every morning I would put on a new pair. I took a gun rack off a wrecked jeep and mounted it on the nose of the crane cab, which seemed a better place to keep my gun than the floor of the rig. The front windows of the cab were hinged so I could get hold of my weapon in a hurry.

    OUR BATTALION MOVED TO THE FLAT AREA BY Meat Grinder Hill where all the dead Japs had been. We called it Camp Cadaver. Carpenters laid out six-man tents, mess and supply tents, and maintenance shops. They put in generators. There was mortar and sniper fire, and Japanese bombers flew over dropping bombs, so we dug foxholes. At night Japs would come out of caves to get food and water and try to infiltrate, so we had guards around the clock. After the Japs shot a replacement Seabee from our bivouac who had been nosing around a cave on Meat Grinder Hill, the company commander assigned me to make a trench about four feet across and five feet deep in front of the mouths of the caves so that anyone leaving them would have to cross the trench. Once I had backed my rig out of the way, guards parked trucks about 50 feet from our tents with their front ends aimed at the trench, which they rigged with trip flares; if someone tripped the string, the flares would fly into the air and ignite and float down under a tiny parachute. That night a flare went up, and the guards turned on the trucks’ headlights. They fired submachine guns, .30-caliber machine guns, and rifles and killed 13 Japs.

    The next day I was about to start digging at the same cave when I saw a Japanese. He only had on a loincloth. I dove out of the front window of the cab and grabbed my gun from the rack but I had on such heavy gloves I couldn’t pull the trigger. A Seabee lieutenant ran up with a .45 and we took the man prisoner. That didn’t happen often on Iwo. I saw dead enemy soldiers tied to their antiaircraft guns.

    When I went back to work, I hit a bonanza—a box about the size of a footlocker, full of 10-yen notes. One of those went for a buck. I borrowed a jeep, loaded it with scrip, and drove to where the pilots and mechanics had their tents. I came back with $150 cash, two bottles of champagne, and 13 eggs, plus souvenirs I could trade. I had to give the jeep back, plus a bottle of champagne for the use of it, but then the guy let me have a motorcycle with a sidecar. Off I went with a load of souvenirs. After I sold them I decided to go to Suribachi. By then the 31st Seabees had built an oiled road to the top; it was so steep I had to go in low gear. At the top I looked into the volcano and at lots of caves and the battleships and cruisers offshore. I didn’t see the famous flag, whether because it had been taken down or I just wasn’t looking in the right place. Coming down was as bad as going up, low gear all the way, but I returned the motorcycle in one piece. Nobody else in my unit ever got up there.

    When I got through digging caves, I went back to the northernmost airfield to excavate a drainage ditch alongside the runway. Pilots were supposed to stay off the strip where I was digging and use the completed strip parallel to it. A B-29 touched down on my strip anyway and was heading right for me when the pilot realized he wasn’t supposed to be there. He turned hard, right into a hill, and wrecked the plane. A day or two later another B-29 came in the same way. His brakes were shot. When he stopped, his plane’s nose was against my rig’s boom.

    B-29s made me nervous. I would put an iron barrel by whatever hole I was digging so pilots could see I was working. I had no sooner gotten back in my rig than a B-29 made a real wide turn. His outboard left prop hit the barrel. The pilot was screaming. His left engine was wrecked, he had a load of firebombs, and he had to abort his flight.

    There was often tension like that. McClenagan, who commanded C Company and ran the asphalt crew, was a real hothead, very protective of the strips his men laid down. When one of the Cat operators accidentally gouged a stretch of asphalt, McClenagan threatened him. The Cat skinner pulled his Ka-Bar knife and slit McClenagan’s shirt bottom to top.

    The day after the slit shirt I had a run in of my own with McClenagan. The Japanese had buried ammunition all over Iwo, and I had our battalion’s only backhoe, so I was often sent to dig out ammo. At the edge of a strip that we had blacktopped and which B-29s were using, I scraped a few bucketfuls of dirt a couple of feet from the pavement. Smoke came out. Whoever had blacktopped the strip had laid asphalt right over an ammunition dump that was now on fire.

    Fortunately it started raining. I was able to dig a trench that funneled water onto the ammunition and stopped the fire so I could keep digging. At the same place we found some of those giant mortar shells. I was digging around the mortars so the demolition team could get at them when I accidentally cut into the strip as McClenagan was driving up.

    “What the hell are you doing?” he yelled. “You’re wrecking my blacktop!”

    I explained that I had to clear a path to buried Japanese ammunition. McClenagan was furious. He pulled his .45 and aimed it at me, cussing the whole time. I swung my bucket so it was hanging over his head and told him if he shot me my foot would go off the brake and the bucket would chop him in two.

    Right then Lieutenant Pond drove up. “McClenagan, you son of a bitch, you’re bothering my men again!” he shouted. He pulled his lieutenant’s bars off his collar and went right up to McClenagan’s face. “I’m going to beat the shinola right out of you.”

    McClenagan got out of there. Lieutenant Pond took me to camp and told me to stay in my tent. I was concerned because I had threatened an officer. A runner told me I was under arrest, but no charges were brought. I never saw McClenagan again.

    One day, three or four man-hauls—trucks with seats for troops—pulled up by the air force tents. They had brought Red Cross workers who began setting up coffee and donuts. I hadn’t seen coffee in a regular cup for some time so I got in line. A man asked who I was. I told him I was a Seabee. “Well, you can have a donut and a cup of coffee,” he said. “But this is for officers so don’t hang around.”

    ON MARCH 16, IWO WAS DECLARED SECURE. Two days later the 5th Marines reached the north end of the island. I was on Airstrip 2, filling trucks, when the Marines marched by in formation. Wherever a man was missing, they left a space. Some companies had only four or five men in their usual marching positions, but with big gaps all around them. They were dirty, unshaven, tired, and haggard, wearing torn clothing. We stopped what we were doing and watched, silently mourning those missing men. It was heartbreaking to think that all those 18- and 19-year-olds were gone. It took more than half an hour for the Marines to pass the airstrip. They stopped at the 5th Marine Division Cemetery for a short service before going to the beach to load onto ships.

    The army took over for the Marines, and army engineer units began working alongside us Seabees. That August, I was in my crane on Airstrip 2, where I had been ordered to dig a big hole for a special hydraulic platform, when a B-29 landed. Military policemen surrounded the plane. I figured something was up, so I got the battalion photographer. As soon as the guards saw him taking pictures they grabbed his camera and shooed us away. Later I learned that a B-29 had been standing by on Iwo to carry the atomic bomb meant for Hiroshima in case the Enola Gay had to abort its mission.


  11. Frank Riefle, – (133rd NCB)Seaman First Class, never expected to be on the front lines the first night on Iwo-Jima. Riefle armed with a “BAR” was a member of a squad of Seabees and Marines who were to furnish a perimeter guard around the shore-party. He recalls: When our boat hit the beach, I made a dive for the sand. I had just gotten down flat when my ring was knocked off the middle finger of my right hand by a piece of shrapnel. I was only scratched, men were being hit all around me. Then two other Seabee riflemen and I were odered to move up away from the beach and fire on some snipers. We moved 50 yards and some shells fell between us and the rest of the shore-party. We went forward again to keep from being hit, and were forced to keep going as the barrage moved up behind us. By nightfall on D-Day, we were on the front lines. During the night, Riefle made two trips back to the beach helping wounded men. The next day he and the other Seabees made their way back to the shore-party, which was unloading supplies on the beach. but not before – says Riefle he emptied a few more clips at the Japanese.

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    Narrow escapes on Iwo Jima were as numerous as .30 caliber slugs~ but three member of a Seabee shore party who lugged their machine gun ashore a few hours after the first Marine wave went in, have one to add to the list.

    Olan E. Goodwin CM2c, Frank Johnesse MMlc, and Joseph Leese, Jr., F1C, sweated out the first night and at dawn started down the beach to locate the rest of their outfit. They came upon four Marines, paused for brief conversation and the seven of them started on. They had gone only a ten yards when a shell struck where they had
    been standing, wounding all four Marines, The three Seabees were unhurt, save for the blast, which flattened them.

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  14. LUCKY

    A lucky man is Chief Carpenter George E . Hermansen CEC1 USNR, of Chicago Illinois. In charge of a Seabee mapping team which hit the beach at Iwo Jima a few hours after the initial Marine landings, Mr. Hermansen became separated from his detail in the confusion of the landing. Digging in on the beach he remained there for two hours pinned down by the heavy enemy artillery barrage, then was called upon to attempt to locate the Seabee shore party commander.

    It got dark while I was searching, and I crawled into a shell hole with four Marine officers and three other men,” he recalled. Twenty minutes later we were hit by three shells at once. I was unconscious for almost an hour and when I came to, I saw that four of the others had been killed. ”
    After recovering from the effects of the blast, the CEC officer dodged across the sulfuric sands to another shell hole.
    There were two men in it when I got there,” he said, but I never had a chance to ask their names. They were killed almost immediately by a direct hit. Once more I came through without a scratch.?’
    Mr. Hermansen spent the remainder of the night in the same shell hole under almost continuous fire, located his mapping team the next morning? and went to work

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  15. TOUGH

    There was little rest for the Seabee shore parties which accompanied the Marines in the opening phases of the Iwo JIma assault, reports Dean S. Marshall, Sr., BM1c, of Milwaukee, Wisconsin.

    A squad leader in an infantry platoon of Seabees, Marshall landed on D-Day a few hours after the first Marine assault troops had cracked through the Japanese beach defenses.
    The first four days ashore were tough,” he recalled. “We worked day and night unloading ammunition, under Japanese fire much of the time. The night of D-Day plus 4 was the first chance I had to get some sleep, and with a sore nose and leg, I didn’t make out too well.”
    The sore nose and leg were the result of two Japanese shells which landed near the Seabee’s foxhole. Three pieces of shrapnel from the first explosive glanced off his leg, inflicting slight wounds. The second shell followed a few seconds later. I had my helmet down over my face so that only my nose stuck out,” Marshall said. ‘The next thing I knew, something hit me in the face. It cut my cheek and skinned the end of my nose. Later, I found a heavy hunting knife in the foxhole. Evidently it had been thrown into the air by the explosion and landed on me. I never did find out where it came from.
    If my nose was a little bit longer,” he added, I might be missing the end of it now.’
    Marshall walked to a first aid station on the beach, had the shrapnel wounds treated, his nose and face bandaged and returned to his foxhole. He was on the job the next morning, working with his squad.

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  16. ALFRED H. TESHEE, 133RD N.C.B. IWO-JIMA. 2/19/45


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    A Seabee whose unit was attached to a Marine division doubled as a combat pilot, it was disclosed recently when the Air Medal was awarded to Chester J. Perkins, MM1c, of Stonington, Conn., by Vice Admiral T. C. Kinkaid, USN, Commander of the Seventh fleet.
    Now stationed at Camp Endicott, l’erkins was a member of the 19th Battalion while that outfit was attached to the First Marine Division. The Seabee flew a total of 218 hours, 105 of them during combat, as pilot of a light, unarmed reconnaissance plane. He made daily flights over enemy territory, transported rations and supplies to isolated jungle patrols, and spotted for artillery batteries. He also carried blood plasma to Marines wounded in invasion operations, dropping the medical supplies while the fighting was still in progress.
    Perkins operated mostly from crude, improvised landing strips, “usually roadways and sandbars,” he said. The Japs almost finished him off once, sending a stream of bullets through the floor of his tiny plane. The slugs just missed the Seabee.

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    When tanks were unable to pass through the extraordinarily thick jungle to attack a Japanese force threatening the Cape Gloucester airfields on which the Fighter-Builders were working, dare-devil Seabees solved the problem by driving their bulldozers through the entangled vegetation. As they smashed their way through, Australian and American infantrymen followed up, making a lane for the land battle-wagons.

    The tanks were needed to outflank a strong enemy position within ten miles of the airfields . Japanese forces, recovering from their stunned surprise after the Marines first quick thrust, had regrouped in the hills to the rear of their lost base. Strongly entrenched in pillboxes on both sides of a stream, they were set to inflict severe casualties on any Allied units attempting a crossing.

    Until the Seabee bulldozers swung into action, working around the enemy position had appeared impossible. The battling construction men bulled through the wall of jungle, leading the way for the tanks, and then, as they approached the stream’s west bank, manipulated their bulldozers to shear down steep cliffs like so much paper.

    Under the protection of General Sherman 75mm. tanks, other Fighter-Builders built a bridge across the rivulet, despite withering fire from the enemy ‘ pillboxes. Marines then crossed over and in frontal assaults smashed the formidable Japanese defenses.

    The strong resistance was a surprise in view of the report from prisoners that the Japanese general in command of the area had fled on foot from cape Gloucester to Talasea be cause of the intense American aerial bombardment preceding the Marines’ and Seabees’ initial landing.

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  19. July 20, 1943:

    MM3c Richard M. Maurer of Naval Construction Battalion 63 was cited for the Navy Silver Star following an attack near Bairoka Harbor, Munda by the 1st Marine Raider Regiment. A resident of Seattle, Wash. before becoming a member of the 63rd Battalion, Maurer had made many friendships among the Marine Raiders when they were encamped close to the Seabees on Guadalcanal. When the Raiders embarked for their historic attack, Maurer slipped aboard without the permission of his superior officers. The gravity of his offense, for which he was ultimately brought to trial, was extenuated, however, by his gallant actions during the attack. From Marine sources, it was learned that Maurer, after attaching himself to a machine gun crew, had serviced and manned the gun with devastating effect upon the enemy when all other members of the crew had been killed or disabled by mortar fire. He continued by his gun until reinforcements arrived. The Marine officer in charge was enthusiastic in his praise of Maurer’s performance and it was he who instituted citation proceedings.

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  20. 1968: Builder 2nd Class Gary Murphy of New Albany, Indiana was traveling as part of a 30-truck unit of Naval Mobile Construction Battalion (NMCB) 121 Seabees in a U.S. Marine Corps convoy on National Highway One, south of Phu Loc, Republic of Vietnam (RVN), when the unit came under sudden and heavy enemy fire. Heavy mortar and automatic weapons fire were directed against the Seabee vehicles from concealed enemy positions. The truck upon which Murphy was riding was disabled in the initial onslaught. From an exposed position on the rear of the truck, he laid down a heavy covering fire allowing other Seabees to reach the safety of the ditch. After they had reached cover, he withdrew to a more secure position. From there he killed two enemy soldiers who were moving toward the disabled truck. As smoke from another burning vehicle partially obscured the enemy, Murphy, without regard for his personal safety, returned to the damaged truck, climbed onto an exposed position on top of it, and retrieved a machine gun and ammunition that had been jammed in place during the initial attack. Murphy passed the gun and ammunition down to other Seabees and returned to the ditch to man the gun. An enemy sapper exposed himself and threw a satchel charge but was promptly shot down by Murphy. He then continued to direct heavy fire against the enemy positions, holding them in place until armed helicopter gunships and a Marine Corps relief force arrived. For his actions during the attack, Petty Officer Murphy was awarded the Silver Star Medal on January 23, 1969 during a ceremony at Camp Wilkinson, Gia Le, RVN.

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    • Thank you very much.
      Do I have your permission to submit this to a SeaBee historian? I will be certain to give your name as the resource of this story.



      It’s a long cry from Broadway to Iwo Jima, but Jimmy Durante’s classic comment, “Ev’rybody wants ta get in ta da act !'” well describes the activities of Sea bees Frederick E .. Althaus, SF2c, of Lowell, Michigan, and Earl R. Elliott:, F l c, of Akron, Ohio, who were bored with what they considered a routine construction assignment.

      They had been working in front of a Marine battery which had been lobbing howitzer shells over the Seabee project into the Japanese positions. Every few minutes, they cast envious eyes over their shoulders as they watched the guns blast at the Nips. After all, the two reasoned, they’d learned how to use howitzers during their training period in the States, and now what the hell were they doing with a couple of shovels while there was action to be had for the asking!

      They found a break in their work, cornered Marine Corporal John Sidor, and poured out their troubles.
      “So you want a win the war said the Leatherneck. “Okay! gents, here’s your chance so saying, he put the men to work on the howitzer, checking them as they loaded and fired.

      Observation reports showed that Althaus, Elliott, and their Marine instructor received partial credit for destroying an enemy pillbox besides inflicting casualties on Japanese personnel.

      The two Seabees now claim honors as the first Naval Construction artillery team in World War II.

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  21. This is a good example why young marines today shouldn’t think of their Navy brothers as “so they’re our ride”.

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    • I think it’s more of a tradition and effort for competition than an actual snub. Those that do believe it, it probably stems from the fact that they rarely go to ground combat (of course, nowadays SEALs are an exception). There will always be a Army/Navy/Air Force rivalry with the Marines and each other…..

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  22. I always thought the Seabees came in after beachheads had been secured. Learned something new here.

    Liked by 1 person

  23. Your Blog is unique and interesting. will catch up next week and will spend some good time on it. week starting tomorrow is hectic and full of meetings and travel. have spent entire sunday working.

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  24. Wow! I had no idea that the Seabees did so much!

    Liked by 1 person

  25. Excellent background on the outstanding works by the SeaBees.
    Interesting to know what awards many SeaBees must have qualified for, in their achievements during the Bougainville landing, if any did qualify.

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  26. Ralph C Toothaker
    From the State of Kansas
    Born and raised and died

    Thank you for offering to do this for him. I wish I had more information but this is all I know about his military career.

    Thank you – Diann Handy Brumley Branches

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  27. CAN-DO!

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  28. Something I didn’t know about

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  29. I visited the US Navy Seabee Museum site and did some googling… Now I know why they were called Seabees. It is actually “CB” or Construction Battalion.

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  30. Great post on the Sea Bees. They represent all that is good in America.

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  31. A great story of these heroes.

    Liked by 2 people

  32. Great to see that the men who fought in “the forgotten war” aren’t truly forgotten, especially the SeaBees. Those great engineers.

    One question though, when you mentioned the SeaBee “sharp-shooters,” did you mean snipers or anti-aircraft gunners? Because if a sniper can drive a Zero away, that man’s got good aim!

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    • As the invasion forces on Bougainville approached the enemy beaches, the Seabees manned machine guns on Higgins boats, tank lighters and landing craft. The builders leaped ashore from the first boats and unloaded fuel, ammunition, rations and packs while heavy fighting broke out all about them on the beaches. Then, as the Japanese were driven back into the jungle, the Seabees manned beach defenses side-by-side with the Marines. Thanks for your interest.


  33. I had an uncle who was a Seabee during WWII his name was Ralph Toothaker and he lived in Manhattan, Riley, Kansas. He was married to my dad’s sister. Great post.

    Liked by 2 people

    • You had an honorable and brave uncle. If he is still with us, please tell him Thank you for me, if he is not, would you care to have him listed in the Farewell Salutes?


  34. Great article and tribute to the Seabees. I too remember the movie. Also many moons ago had a boss that was a former Seabee. Very nice but tough as nails.

    Liked by 2 people

  35. A great story on the heroic efforts of the Seabees! After reading the many details of their work I wonder if there was anything worth mentioning that they did NOT do. Thanks GP!

    Liked by 2 people

  36. What incredibly brave men they were. To do all that whilst under fire and then taking the war to the enemy – incredible. One question GP, could you clarify what a ‘leatherneck’ is? I know John Wayne was in a film ‘the flying leathernecks’, and so I thought they were all pilots. Thanks for another great post, Andy

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  37. A group of very brave men without whom there would have been no roads through difficult terrain or airstrips where none had existed before. Another vital cog in a very complex machine!

    Liked by 2 people

  38. OohRah! Thank you for this posting.

    Liked by 1 person

  39. Krieg ist nicht gut war damals schlimm Lieber Gruß Gislinde

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  40. It’s good to see these brave men get the credit they deserve. Great post!

    Liked by 1 person

  41. Nothing but good about the SeaBees …

    Liked by 2 people

  42. I can’t help but think of the John Wayne film, ‘The Fighting Seabees’ as I read this. From your account, it would appear to confirm that the scenes in that film were all based on actual events. Brave soldiers indeed, GP.
    Best wishes, Pete.

    Liked by 3 people

  43. Thank you for helping me to give these troops the recognition they deserve.


  44. Terrific story from John R. !


  1. Pingback: First Hand Account – Iwo Jima | Pacific Paratrooper

  2. Pingback: Intermission Story (1) – SeaBees on Bougainville | Practically Historical

  3. Pingback: Intermission Story (1) – SeaBees on Bougainville — Pacific Paratrooper – A Conservative Christian Man

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