SeaBees on Okinawa, April 1945

SeaBees of WWII

This eye witness account was contributed by John Ratomski.

 

AHEAD OF OKINAWA’S FRONT LINES WENT A FIVE MAN SEABEE SURVEYING TEAM TO LAY OUT THE SITE FOR A NEW AIRFIELD.  CCM DOYLE L. CROWELL AND HIS MEN WORKING IN “NO MANS LAND” FOR TWO DAYS – SOMETIMES MORE THAN A HALF-MILE IN FRONT OF THE FIGHTING. THE MARINES DIDN’T CATCH UP WITH THE SURVEYORS UNTIL THE THIRD DAY.

April 1, 1945 – Easter Sunday arrived with a calm sea and a clear blue sky. The sun was two hours above the horizon. The serene South China Sea was fogged with the ghostly gray mist of the smudge pots. Behind the curtain of smoke, landing barges circled restlessly, waiting.  In the distance boomed the heavy naval guns. At 0830 the barges flashed across the line to the beach. The battle for “Bloody Okinawa” was on.

This was the moment we had sweated out for thirty days aboard ship. Thirty days of playing cards and checkers and reading books, magazines and the news reports; thirty days of boredom and anxiety.

USS Joseph T. Dickman, WWII

Aboard the USS Dickman we tried vainly to see what was going on. The wall of smoke obliterated everything outside a radius of two hundred yards. Scuttlebutt spread widely through the ship: The Japs are shelling! Someone had seen several unaccountable splashes near the next ship in line. On our bit of the U.S.A., isolated from the world and the news and in the midst of significant historical events, we depended on the latest developments from the coxswains passing by in landing barges. No one hit on the fourth wave. The sixth wave went in standing up! Our bird’s eye view of the battle was minute indeed.

D-Day for Seabees was April 2nd, and the first groups of the 71st Naval Construction Battalion stepped ashore at Blue Beach to the first nearly civilized country they had seen in eighteen months. There, not six yards from the beach, was part of a real house with the wreckage of some natives possessions strewn about.

Yontan Airfield, aerial view from the 25th Photo Recon Sq./5th Air Force

From Blue Beach we marched five miles, carrying the equipage necessary to existence (a mere 60 to 100 pounds) on our backs, to a former Japanese airfield, Yontan, and prepared to bivouac. Within a few hundred yards of the camp were a number of Nip planes in all states of disrepair.

April 6th. No bombs were dropped in the camp vicinity, but old hands neatly hit holes dug for that purpose. Later in the day planes made a strafing run on the camp, setting fire to and completely destroying the Frank type Nip plane which was parked near the camp. The first casualty due to enemy action occurred, a slight shoulder wound caused by falling flak. The most severe cases were those individuals unfortunate enough to have been carrying open cans at the time of the raid.

On April 8th, grading started on Route 1 from Yamada to Onna, the main road which led north on the China Sea side of the island. This stretch of road formed the backbone of the battalion’s job on Okinawa. The next day the first part of the battalion moved to a more suitable position north, following the Marines of the 3rd Corps and keeping the roads open.

SeaBees on Okinawa

The month of April brought cold weather miseries to the men. Eighteen months in the torrid heat of the South Pacific had weakened the resistance of the men to the mild cold of Okinawa. Cloudy, rainy days and cold nights brought on the worst colds and grippe in two years. Nights were spent with all available clothing wrapped around the body, and baths from buckets and helmets were no longer cool and refreshing as they had been in the tropics, but ordeals to be endured only when the odor became overpowering.

Also in April came terrific hailstorms of steel to those remaining encamped beside Yontan.  Shore installations and ships in the harbor threw up such a tremendous barrage in each raid that the harbor vicinity was prey to the never ending rain of metal.  On 16 April mortar shells aimed at Yontan landed around the camp area.  During the previous night the first and only death due to enemy action occurred. There were air raids too numerous to count, but usually the planes merely passed over on their way to more important targets. On several occasions bombs were dropped nearby, but they were just close enough to make a few more Christians.

SeaBees at work, Okinawa

By April 29th the battalion road responsibility extended from Yamada to Nago, a distance of more than 20 miles. Throughout the entire distance the road was widened sufficiently to accommodate the northward drive of the 3rd Corps. A Piper Cub strip at Onna was begun on April 16th.  By April 20th enough of the strip had been completed to enable the first plane to land.  At the village of Kise, a concrete bridge had been badly damaged by combat action and was repaired by cribbing along the broken span and back filling with rubble. Many of the bridges on Route 1 were damaged, seemingly beyond repair. Each bridge was repaired by crib and back fill or with shoring. These bridges were the only ones on the island made passable by using salvage material and drift wood.

Click on images to enlarge.

##################################################################################

Military Humor – 

 

 

 

 

##################################################################################

Farewell Salutes – 

James Adams Jr. – So. Windham, CT; US Army Air Corps, WWII, Aviation Engineer

John Beverly – Stone, KY; US Navy, WWII, Korea, Sr. Chief Radioman (Ret. 22y.)

Bob Dorough – AR; US Army, WWII, band, (Schoolhouse Rock)

Larry Harvey – Portland, OR; US Army, (Burning Man founder)

Douglas Jackson – Knoxville, TN; US Army, WWII, ETO, 1261st Combat Engineers Battalion

Kathleen Leach – Tauranga, NZ; WAAF # W2039, WWII, L.Cpl.

James Martin – Brookline, MA; US Army Air Corps, WWII, PTO, 11th Airborne Division, jumpmaster

Bill Nichols – OK; US Navy, WWII, PTO & CBI

Dennis Odom – St. Louis, IL; US Army, Vietnam

Joseph Varone – NYC, NY; US Army, WWII, Bronze Star & 2 Purple Hearts

##################################################################################

 

Advertisements

About GP Cox

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

Posted on May 10, 2018, in First-hand Accounts, WWII and tagged , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 92 Comments.

  1. These young men certainly had a variety of jobs they were to do while in the service. Enjoyed hearing of their building the air strip and all it involved.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. It occurs to me that there’s one similarity between this look at the Seabees’ work and my time in West Africa. In both cases, just doing what had to be done was the point. Piling layers of bureaucracy on top wasn’t useful or necessary: it’s the reason everything today takes so long, or is impossible. It’s never occurred to me before, but it’s interesting: the regulations that were part of military life didn’t seem to impede their mission.

    Liked by 1 person

    • That’s one thing in particular I love about that generation – red tape or not – necessity became the mother of invention to get the job done. Their ingenuity seems endless!!

      Liked by 1 person

  3. These first accounts are compelling reading gp, sadly I think its only the older generation who appreciate these words as they reflect on a momentous time in history.
    We will never see first hand writings like these again mate.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Joseph Varone – NYC, NY; US Army, WWII, Bronze Star & 2 Purple Hearts

    there has to be an interesting story somewhere, behind this mans record.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Thank you GP for continuing to follow. Wonderful post – these folks are miracle workers in the open theater. My nephew is a Seabee and quite a long in his career he’ll be retiring in a couple of years – he has loved his time serving.

    Liked by 1 person

  6. I love these “Horse’s mouth” tales, telling us how it was from the guys there at the time. And it’s interesting that a lot of folks forget that ‘what goes up—comes down’ …

    I read a biography from WW2 where the author was ordered by a sentry to “Put yer bloody tin ‘at on, Sir!”, did so, and was almost immediately nearly driven into the ground like a tent peg by a bloody great lump of ex-AA that severely dented his tin ‘at.

    All part of the learning curve, I guess …

    Liked by 1 person

  7. The story along with the photos are a good reminder of the men who put their lives in harms way for us. Thank you.

    Liked by 1 person

  8. My first thoughts were of the surveyors, G, working out ahead of the forces with minimal protection. Every second had to be frightening. And then I read about the guys huffing along under 60-100 pound loads. I’ve done the 60 bit and have great empathy. Then I thought about the ultralight equipment I will be carrying this summer, where my gear weighs less than half of what it once did. (Good thing at 75!) Hopefully, today’s military is also taking advantage of ultralight gear. And finally, I once again marveled at the seabees ability to finish construction projects in a week that today would take a month, or several. –Curt

    Liked by 1 person

  9. “There were air raids too numerous to count, but usually the planes merely passed over on their way to more important targets.”
    Even though bombs weren’t usually dropped on the Seabees, it must have been nerve-wracking to watch those enemy planes fly by.

    Liked by 1 person

  10. It is unbelievable what these men had to endure. I had no idea it was cold in the Pacific!

    Liked by 1 person

  11. That had to be a very tough 30 days.

    Liked by 1 person

  12. SeaBees — Can Do !!!!!!!!!!

    Liked by 1 person

  13. The SeaBees did a very important role during the war as much as the fighting men and they were in as much danger as them. We need more write-ups on them since without them, where would those planes land? Salute to them!

    Liked by 1 person

  14. I happened to see a TV program last night that said that Levitt, the guy who built post-war Levittown with his sons, was a Seabee who learned his construction techniques in the Navy.

    Liked by 2 people

  15. Interesting information about the Seabees, GP. Thanks.

    Liked by 1 person

  16. “…close enough to make a few more Christians” . What a wonderful phrase! It captures so well emotions I have never experienced, thank God!

    Liked by 2 people

  17. These eye witness accounts are always chilling to me, GP. A great post. Hugs.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Well, you know you’re seeing through their eyes, not my interpretation or some historian’s conjecture. An honest eye-witness view into the events. I think they are the best!!

      Liked by 2 people

  18. The weather alone seems to have been as much an enemy as the Japanese.

    Liked by 1 person

  19. Here’s a probably stupid question—why were they calls Seabees?

    Liked by 1 person

  20. “thirty days of boredom and anxiety” was such a telling phrase

    Liked by 1 person

  21. There are so many roles involved in these battles, that we never give much thought to. These guys are amazing.

    Liked by 1 person

  22. Those guys who build the airfields–they make themselves a target and still simply do their job. amazing.

    Liked by 1 person

  23. Were they known as The Fighting SeaBees, I am sure I saw a War Film with that name once. They certainly deserve more credit.

    Liked by 1 person

    • You did see the Fighting SeaBees, it was staring John Wane and Susan Haywood. They are quite a bunch, aren’t they?!!

      Liked by 1 person

      • I thought I did, I must keep an eye out for it again. My two favourites John Wayne and Susan Heywood, who by the way I am sure you know that they both died of Cancers which they related to making the film Genghis Khan in the desert and there were army I think it was, testing of explosives, the set complained about the smoke that would fall all over the area they were filming. As for the Seabees, most certainly they were something, brave very very brave, should be remembered. We are all here because of Men/Boys like them.

        Liked by 1 person

  24. This was put together really well, damn I felt The stress.

    Liked by 1 person

  25. Obviously both frustrating and yet rewarding as a role, and brave.

    Liked by 2 people

  26. Those CB guys and engineers were in just as much danger, if not more sometimes, as the front line assault troops. Good to read this account of personal experiences on Okinawa, so close to the end of hostilities.
    Funny cartoons too.
    Best wishes, Pete.

    Liked by 3 people

  27. Good post…I saw the hardship the SeaBees had to deal with in Vietnam…..they deserve more credit than they received….chuq

    Liked by 1 person

  28. Hats off to the SeaBees!

    Liked by 1 person

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: