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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.

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Military Humor – 

 

 

 

 

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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

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First Hand Account – Iwo Jima

 

The 31st Naval Construction Battalion on Iwo Jima

This account was submitted by: John Ratomski

A Seabee on Iwo Jima: They Also Served Who Drove Cranes and Cats -62nd SeaBee Battalion

BY:  JACK CORNWELL

 

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.

Seabees unloading cargo on Iwo Jima’s Red Beach

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.

SeaBees constructing the Iwo Jima command post.

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.”

This piece of art was created by the Navy Seabee Waldon T. Rich, a few days after the Battle of Iwo Jima to pay tribute to the flag raising on top of Mt Suribachi.

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.

Finding Japanese booby traps

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.

Marine flamethrower on Iwo Jima

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.

For the continuation of this story and other first hand accounts about the SeaBees contributed by John Ratomski, they appear in the comments at this post – Click Here!

Click on images to enlarge.

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Military Humor – SeaBee Style – 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Farewell Salutes – 

This week the U.S. Air Force lost 10 Great Men

Andrew Becker – Novi, MI; US Air Force, 318th Special Operations Squadron, Captain, pilot, KIA

Dashan J. Biggs – Port Jefferson Station, NY; US Air Force, Iraq, SSgt., KIA

Missing Man formation

Kenneth Dalga – Union, KY; US Air Force, 318th Special Operations Squadron Combat Systems, Captain, KIA

Frederick Dellecker – Ormond Beach, FL; US Air Force, 318th Special Operations Squadron, 1stLt., pilot, KIA

Carl P. Enis – Tallahassee, FL; US Air Force, Iraq, SSgt., KIA

Andreas B. O’Keefe – Center Moriches, NY; US Air Force, Iraq, Captain, KIA

William R. Posch – Indiatlantic, FL; US Air Force, Iraq, MSgt., KIA

Christopher J. Ruguso – Commack, NY; US Air Force, Iraq, MSgt., KIA

Mark K. Weber – Colorado Springs, CO; US Air Force, Iraq, Captain, KIA

Christopher T. Zanetis – Long Island City, NY; Iraq, Captain, KIA

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February 1944 (1)

93rd SeaBees on Nissan Island

93rd SeaBees on Nissan Island

1 February – Operation CATCHPOLE (operations against Eniwetok and Ujelang Atolls in the Marshall Islands) is begun to occupy and defend Eniwetok Atoll.  This will furnish a striking base for operations against the Marianas. During the operation, the 7th Air Force aircraft operating from newly acquired bases in the Gilbert and Marshall Islands neutralized airfields in the Marianas and continued to pound by-passed airfields in the Marshalls.

1-4 February in an effort to reinforce Nissan Island, in the Green Islands, enemy submarines I-185 and I-169 left Rabaul carrying troops.  Due to heavy seas, only 77 soldiers made it to shore and the boats returned to their base with the remainder of the reinforcements.

USMC-II-32 (473x640)

1-8 February – In the Marshall Islands, Kwajalein Atoll would cost 372 American casualties and the islands of Roi-Namaur totaled 737.  After 8 days of battles, the Japanese had 11, 612 casualties.

4-25 February – in Burma, the Japanese 55th Div., led by Gen. Hanaya Tadashi, counterattacked the British XV Corps, under LtGen. Christison, in Operation Ha-Go.  By going around the east flank on the 6th, they overran the 7th Indian Div. HQ.  Gen. Slim brought up the 26th Indian Div. and moved the British 36th Div. into support.  The West African 81st was in the Kaladan Valley parallel.

Gen. Wingate 3,000 re-formed and re-trained Long Range Penetration Unit – Chindits – crossed the northern Burma border.  The 7th Indian Div. encircled by the enemy received air drops of food and ammo and continued to fight the Japanese, who were dependent upon the whatever supplies arrived by land route.  By the 24th, the Allied troops finally dislodged from Ngakyedauk Pass.  The Japanese and one element of the 5th Div. were now cut off from the other two.

10 February – the US Marines landed on Arno Atoll.   USMC P-40s and Navy fighters made a dive-bomb attack on Vunakanau Airfield, B-25’s made a follow-up bombing.  P-39’s hit the buildings at Bonis and barges at Matchin Bay and near Green Island.

12 February – the Australian 8th Brigade on New Guinea met up with the US troops at Saidor.  At this point, only 60 miles of coastline in northern Huon Peninsula remained in Japanese control.

New Zealand troops on Nissan Island

New Zealand troops on Nissan Island

15 February – Operation Squarepeg began when the ships of the 3rd Amphibious Force put the 3rd New Zealand Infantry Division on Nissan and smaller islands in the Green Island sector.  Five NZ soldiers were KIA on Sirot Island.  This put them half-way between Bougainville and New Ireland, making it strategically possible to by-pass some enormous enemy garrisons.  Plans for the Philippines could now proceed without the previously expected loss of life.

SeaBees and equipment come ashore on Nissan Island.

SeaBees and equipment come ashore on Nissan Island.

The US Navy 93rd SeaBees would later land and battle for the muddy atoll to produce roads and essential airstrips on Nissan.  The Catalina “Black Cats” would move in and PT units set up on Barahun Island.  Within weeks a steady stream of supply ships, Cassiopeia, Harper, Talbot, Unicoi and others will rendezvous with smaller vessels to ship the matériels through the shallow channel.

To be continued….

Click on images to enlarge.

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Military Humor – a9

1940shumor-1

 

 

 

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Farewell Salutes – 

John Ahlemeyer – Broad Channel, NY; US Army, Vietnam

Michael Herr – Syracuse, NY; Vietnam War Correspondent and authormohnblume-b-lis

Fritoso Lopez – Fayetteville, NC; US Army Air Corps, WWII, PTO, 11th Airborne Division

Henry Mezzack – Perkinsville, VT; US Army Air Corps/AF, WWII, KOrea, Lt.Colonel (Ret. 26 years)

Gladys Roche – Fitchburg, MA; US Navy WAVE, WWII

John Saini – Healdsburg, CA; USMC, WWII, PTO, Pfc, KIA (Tarawa)

Ron Sheppard – Manawatu, NZ; 6th Field Reg., gunner # 8000468, WWII/ RNZAF # 76980, Sgt.

Kenneth Troutman – Independence, MO; US Navy, WWII

Basil Williams – Auckland, NZ; RNZ Air Force # 412776, WWII, POW

Keith Williams – Visalia, CA US Army, Afghanistan, 4th Infantry Div., Pfc, KIA

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Intermission Story (1) – SeaBees on Bougainville

“SEABEES COVER SELVES IN BOUGAINVILLE LANDING” – First Hand Account

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,

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Military Humor – 

by: Bill Mauldin

by: Bill Mauldin

Navy Humor - courtesy of Chris @ Muscleheaded.wordpress.com

Navy Humor – courtesy of Chris @ https:// muscleheaded.wordpress.com/

 

 

 

 

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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

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Archivist’s Attic: The Fastest Seabees – The Forgotten Fifty-five

We can not allow any to be forgotten!!

U.S. Navy Seabee Museum

In 1943, the Navy was buzzing around the top coast of New Guinea on their way towards the Philippines. At Mios Woendi the Navy ordered a PT-boat Base to be built. Lieutenant Harold Liberty handpicked fifty-five of the best construction men who were experienced in all phases of construction and eager to work hard.

“Each man had a place in at least three operations,” Liberty explained “The cook could drop his skillet and run a winch or string a pipeline. The hospital corpsman didn’t tie his last bandage and go to bed – he manned a crane or drove a truck.” And each one of them was a potential gunner. Each man could pick up and do another man’s job and do it well.

Crew 55

Just like a swarm of bees, everyman also knew his position and what was expected of them the second they hit the ground. There was no…

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United States Navy – Naval Construction Battalion 26 – Guadalcanal 1942-3

Jed has an excellent video of the creation of the SeaBees – to – Guadalcanal – and ending with the photo album put together by the men themselves.

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