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Bulldozer Too Slow! - December 16, 1943


Seabee Runs to Escape Japanese Bullets PURUATA ISLAND, Bougainville (Delayed) --




Among the spectacular stories being told is that of the narrow escape of Orville P. McComas, Los Angeles, a-machinist's mate first class in the Seabees. McComas, a burly, six-foot-four contractor, was tearing through the jungle with his bull-dozer, clearing a path for heavy artillery. Walking behind the bulldozer was his senior officer, Warrant Officer George G. Dundas, N S. N., New York City. Suddenly I heard bullets bouncing off the bull-dozer, related Dundas. "McComas was caught in an open place in the jungle, and a Japanese sniper was working on him. , "Mac threw the bull-dozer in in reverse, but she didn't come back fast enough. The Japanese was getting close, but Mac was thinking faster. He jumped out of the bull-dozer, ran back to the cover of the trees, and jumped back on the bull-dozer as it came by. "This quick thinking may have saved his life, because I still heard bullets hitting, the bull-dozer after Mac had jumped off and before it caught up with him again." Neither McComas nor Dundas ever saw the Japanese sniper, so neither had a chance to shoot.at him. A squad of Marines came along shortly, however, and dropped him. from a concealed tree position.

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March 5, 1942, HAPPY BIRTHDAY SEABEES, 73 YEARS STRONG!.

Celebrate today???

 

CAN DO!


GOT SEABEE ITEMS? PM ME!

donation2013.gifdonation2014.gifdonation2015.gifdonation2016.gif

donation2017.gif

 

 

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Captain Wilfred L. Painter (CEC, USNR), was truly a legend in Seabee history. A movie could be made of his exploits. Much of his work in the Pacific had been confidential, almost nothing was written about him.


Author William Bradford Huie, in his book From "Omaha to Okinawa" wrote a few pages about him. I have condensed some of Huie's writing.

If Painter had lived in the 16th Century, he would have been Captain Blood, if in the 19th, he would have been a mixture of Jeb Stuart, Buffalo Bill, and Jesse James.


After Guadalcanal, Painter became one of the Navy's advance Scouts in the Pacific. It was his job to pick landing sites, and particularly to pick the sites for airfields to support our operations. On every island in the Solomons on which we landed, Painter was there before the landing - surveying, taking soundings, determining whether and how fast an airfield could be built there. He had sneaked ashore from Submarines and PT boats, hidden in caves, dodged Japs, ambushed Japs, made rendezvous with his subs and PT's, and returned with the information on which the decisions were made.


Painter is an engineer. To understand the importance of his work, you must understand the importance of his work, you must understand the importance of engineering to the war's naval operations. Every landing we made in the Pacific was made with one prinipal aim in view: to obtain an airfield. If the Japanese had an airfield on the island, was it on the best site? could the Jpanese field be lengthened and enlarged for our use? If not, where was such a site? What about prevailing wind direction and its relation to proposed runways? Was there a coral deposit nearby? If not, what would be used for building material on the runways? What about supplying the airfield? Was there deep water nearby in which piers could be built and Liberty ships docked?


Some of our line admirals were slow in realizing their dependence on those engineering considerations, but Painter, with his brusque but efficient manner, was there to advise them. Admiral Halsey, no shrinking violet himself, quickly recognized Painters value, and Painter became a captain at thirty-five the youngest four striper in the Navy.


On Pearl Harbor Day he was building a dry dock at Long Beach. He was rushed to Pearl Harbor and placed in charge of raising the battleships California and West Virginia. He worked like a fiend. He dived with divers, and was so covered with scum each night that he had to bathe in Kerosene. A doctor was assigned to follow him throughout the dark, muddy bowels of the big ships to revive him when he collapsed from sulphur dioxide gas. He had both ships raised and in dry dock before anybody believed it was possible.


The earliest Seabees had been rushed to Efate and Espiritu Santo, and they completed an emergency airstrip at Santo - our first jump off base - just ten days before D-Day at Guadalcanal. Painter was in this area as engineering officer on the staff of Vice Admiral McCain, commander of naval aircraft in the South Pacific. In effect, he became all around engineering handy man for Admirals McCain, Turner, and Halsey throughout the South Pacific campaign, In effect, many of the engineering decisions, were Painters, as evidenced by the fact that he was jumped from Lieutenent, to Lieutenent Commander, to Commander, and then to Captain in rapid order. He was thirty five when he put on his four stripes.


Rank meant nothing to Painter, however. Like most of the Seabee officers, he was essentially a civilian, and wanted only to get the job done and get out. He hates red tape, and his adventures in cutting it are Pacific legends. He would tell off an Admiral as quickly as he would a seaman second-class, and only his sheer ability as recognized by broad-guaged men like Admirals Moreell, Halsey, and Nimitz kept him from being canned.


Painter tore around the South Pacific on all sorts of missions. Two days after the Marines had taken Henderson Field, he landed there in Admiral McCain's flag plane and began surveying sites for fighter strips Nos. 1&2. The Japs came over, Painters plane had to run off and he was left on Guadalcanal. When the old destroyer Mcfarland was hit, Painter patched her up and saved her. When we were ready to move northward "up the slot" Painter was sent to New Georgia to pick the landing and airfield sites. He sneaked ashore there and found a British colonial official who was hiding from the Japs with a small party of natives.


The Britisher provided Painter with a canoe, a guide, and some bearers, and the party started on the water trip across Viro Harbor, which was held by the Japanese. A storm almost swamped the canoe before it could reach shore. Painter spent the night in a cave. Next day, as the wind became even stronger, he abandoned the canoe and set out to explore all the land around Viro Harbor by foot. With his native guides, he waded swamp for two days, traversed thirty miles, and concluded that a landing was not feasible at Viro. There was no site where an airfield could be built quickly. Painter left the Viro area, went to Segi Point, and found the spot he was looking for. Disguised as a native and in a captured Japanese landing craft, Painter took soundings off Segi in full view of Japanese land parties. Later Painter returned to Segi with a survey party and actually began work on the airstrip. The 47th Seabee Battalion landed there on June 30, 1943, D-Day in the Munda operation - and completed the airfield in ten days.


This was only the beginning of Painters scouting experiences. He dressed like Davey Crockett. He flew thousands of miles, traveled in PT's and subs. He was fired on by Japs and Americans alike. He was on Northern Luzon looking for airfield sites long before the Japanese realized that they had last the Philippines. He has been other places, too, but the full story will have to wait.

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UNBELIEVABLE CONTRIBUTION


We of the Marine Corps know firshand, perhaps better than anyone else, the almost unbelievable contribution that the Seabees have made to victory. Many times we have fought side by side in the early stages of battle, before there was room for you to proceed with your assigned construction projects. While we pressed farther inland, you laid aside your arms-but not too far away to pick up your working tools and build highways, airports, supply depots and innumerable other projects, It was a comforting thought to know as we pushed the enemy back that you were right behind us with your bulldozers and your tractors, year graders and your power shovels guaranteeing us roads to bring up our supplies and ammunition, and to return our wounded, and airports for our planes to use in supporting our troops and in pushing the attack.


During the interludes between operations, fortunate indeed was the unit that was located near a Construction Battalion. Then, the more peaceful pursuits of erecting a flagpole, repairing a watch, were childs play at the hands of the Seabees. The Marines who have fought together with you against the Japanese will never forget the support you have given us unfailingly from Guadalcanal to Tokyo. The bend of fellowship between Marines and Seabees, forged by the heat of battle, is one which I am sure will last as long as there are veterans of these organizations left to recount firsthand experiences of the many hard-won battles of the war.

On behalf of all Marines in the Pacific, I want to extend my Thank You, and Well Done!


ROY S. GEIGER

Lieutenant General, U.S.M.C.,

Commanding General, Fleet Marine Force, Pacific

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"NEVER LET US DOWN"

As the former Commanding General of the Fifth Amphibious Corps and Commanding General Fleet Marine Force, Pacific, it gives me great pleasure to send a brief message to the bi-weekly magazine SEABEE for their final and souvenir edition.

In my humble opinion the formation of the Seabees was one of the finest developments of this last war. The outstanding work of the Seabees and their magnificent courage in battle played a most important in the successful prosecution of the war.

It was not an unusual sight to witness the Seabees performing their duties under heavy fire. It was an inspiring sight, for instance to see them working one end of the airfield while the Marines were fighting on the other end. They were equally at home with the tools of their profession or with the weapons with which they were armed. The spirit of brotherhood existing between the Marines and the Seabees was forged in the holocaust of battle. Perhaps I can sum up this brief message in these few words. "THE SEABEES NEVER LET US DOWN".

With sincere personal regards,

H.M. Smith
Lieutenant General
U.S. Marine Corps

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I often find myself wondering, who are they; when I hear the phrase "Unsung Hero's?" A hero is defined as: with courage, nobility, and one who fears no danger. Sixty-three years ago when I was age nineteen I met a group of people; some who were almost twice my age. I met them on a battlefield, on the island of Tinian, some eight thousand miles from our west coast They carried only small arms weapons while building the largest airfield in the world, that brought an ending to World War 2. Some history books have their deeds too deeply imbedded in the books back pages. Marines place their deeds much closer to the front pages.

As a former World War 2 Marine Sergeant, I now realize when "War" holidays approach us, we are often reminded of deeds we didn't give much thought to, heroic acts we had to put on hold. These holidays have a way of making us remember those among us, who were the "Unsung Hero's" of the pacific, as we hop-scotched every island, on our way to victory over Japan.

After sixty-two years, and my memory flashbacks of world war 2 courage, I'm still reminded of the warier with the "can do" the job attitude, tirelessness, and most of all; many times, being side by side with we the Marines, mopping up every foxhole and cave, until they were declared secure.

If I were to continue writing it would take many pages to fully cover why this Marine, and all Marines are thankful that our government ordered our defense department to organize a much needed "Navy" construction force to aid our Marine Corps. It was then that skilled construction workers, patriotic "Older" men (average age 37) volunteered to answer the call. They needed little advanced training; they quickly excelled in small arms weapons training, and Navy discipline. The rest is history.

Did I make you wait too long, or does my message assure you: "We, The Proud Marines" during World War 2 give thanks to our new found, and tireless comrades, "their" huge airfield on Tinian gave so many of us the thrill of coming home "alive" to our loved ones. Yes, the memories do come back. We now offer a strong firm handclasp to our best friends; the United States Navy Seabees. They are truly Americas "Unsung Hero's."

Sgt. Dick Beard; USMC 1943-1945
Richard L. Beard

 

 

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Pieces of Iwo Jima: Missoula man left with memories, memorabilia from WWII conflict...March 22, 2015.


MISSOULA -- Ray Sexton was a poster child for war bonds, a Navy Seabee with instinctive leadership skills, and a man who at age 91 still has a prevailing bad dream that turns 70 this month.


It was March of 1945 on the as-yet unsecured Japanese island of Iwo Jima in the South Pacific. Americans from the U.S. Naval 106 Construction Battalion piled onto a flatbed truck for the mile-plus drive to the site of a future airstrip, to make a sweep for land mines.


“The flatbed would hold about 20 guys. I was fortunate enough that there wasn’t any room left on the truck,” Sexton recalled last week in his home of 37 years in Upper Miller Creek. “They didn’t get halfway before it blew up and killed every one of them.”


For his friends and fellow Seabees on the truck there was no time to register what happened, no time to write to their girls back home, no time to philosophize about war and peace, to swing to Tommy Dorsey, to bum a cigarette or thank Mom and Dad.


“There wasn’t a one of them that wasn’t killed,” Sexton said somberly. “In fact, there wasn’t any that lived a minute after the explosion.”


He and another man were perhaps 50 yards away, following on foot. The blast knocked them both down. Sexton’s colleague was carrying a mine detector that was driven into his belly with such ferocity it almost killed him too. Sexton suffered a concussion and counts himself a lucky man.


But he wonders, with that unfathomable, unreasoning guilt that haunts so many war veterans, why he was spared to meet Glenda in Oregon years later, to raise a family and see grandchildren and great-grandchildren born.


By the 1970s, Sexton was head of maintenance at Van Evans Lumber in Missoula and Champion Plywood in Bonner, supervising mill crews of as many as 80 men.


Glenda, who passed away last July, was a hell of a golfer, Ray said. Together they traveled to play Myrtle Beach and Palm Springs. The University of Montana course was their home range, but Sexton said he’s won a 50-and-over tournament at Missoula Highlands for four years running.


“I’m waiting for the season to open to start up again,” he said. “I can still hit it 200 yards.”


So why him? Sexton wonders. Or, more often, why not him in that flatbed truck on Iwo?


“One thing that really comes back once in a while, especially at night, is how lucky I was for not being on that #### truck,” he said.


Ray Sexton was born on Oct. 6, 1923. He grew up in Portland, Oregon, and at age 18 enlisted in the Navy to avoid being drafted into the Army. A journeyman machinist, he had the qualifications the Seabees were looking for.


In July 1944, Sexton found himself in the “paradise” of Hawaii at the Pearl Harbor Naval Station. Six months later, the troops were queuing up to sail aboard a reconfigured Liberty ship to Iwo Jima when Sexton was asked to pose for a picture.


“There were, I’d say, 15 or 20 just like me and we went up one after another,” he recalled. “I don’t know why they picked me.”


The print of a handsome, helmeted soldier clutching an assault rifle with eyes skyward to victory was among those the U.S. used to sell $185 million worth of war bonds in World War II.


Sexton recalls watching from his ship off the southeast coast of Iwo Jima as American planes and then warships rained down an intensive bombardment.


He witnessed the initial, massive Marine landings on the morning of Feb. 19 -- the first invasion of Japanese soil in history. Some 22,000 enemy soldiers lay in wait on an island just five miles long, but the Americans initially drew little opposition. It appeared the bombing had done its job, Sexton said.


But when the beach head was filled with advancing Marines, the Japanese opened a ferocious defense from heavily fortified positions linked by 11 miles of underground tunnels.


“Then,” he said, “it was just a massacre.”


“Our ship wasn’t too far away from one of the hospital ships. After the third day of landing, we could see one boat after another loaded with injured bringing them out.


Still, the assault teams made headway. Sexton didn’t see either American flag raised on top of Mount Suribachi on Day 5, though he saw the second one flying. Joe Rosenthal’s photograph of its raising remains one of the most iconic images in the history of war.


By the time Sexton's unit went ashore on Day 17 to build infrastructure for the American base, Suribachi had been effectively cut off from the rest of the island. He was a Machinist’s Mate 1st Class, but his crew called him “master sarge.” The two dozen men in his company relied on his judgment.


“The whole company except for some of the officers, they were all between 19 and mid-20s,” he said. “It seemed like most of them, especially the eastern people, didn’t have any initiative to do something on their own. They had to be told what to expect. It just came natural to me.”


Their initial job was to get bulldozers, trucks, ammunition and supplies to shore.


“The runways had to have mats, and we worked on that until all the mats and all the gear were out,” Sexton said. “Then they started unloading Quonset hut parts and building new Quonset huts."The battle of Iwo Jima ended on March 26 after 35 days, though pockets of resistance remained -- and so did the 106th.


Sexton spent the next five months helping service the busy airstrips and American base. Just 650 air miles from Tokyo, Iwo Jima provided a critical mid-ocean presence for strikes on Japan’s mainland, including the bombing of Hiroshima on Aug. 5.


There were ghastly sights. A D8 bulldozer driven by a friend hit one of the thousands of wash-tub-sized land mines.


“You wouldn’t believe the force of that thing. You know how big a D8 is? It looked like a toy, just tore it up and dropped it in a hole,” he said.


His friend survived for a few days before succumbing.


Japanese survivors remained a constant threat.


“There were so darn many caves and they’d come out at night,” he said. “You had to be alert all the time.”


Sexton was among those called on to survey the caves and tunnels that had been living quarters for the Japanese for months. Now they were strewn with bodies.


“You wouldn’t believe it,” he said. “They committed hari-kari and it looked like what they did is they took a grenade and pulled the pin in their belly.”


A narrow-gauge underground railroad ran through the tunnel system to supply the massive labyrinth.


Like many Americans, Sexton came back from the war with a cache of mementos from Iwo Jima -- Japanese flags, swords, guns and opium pipes. Some of his collection was stolen on ship, and much of the rest he has given to a grandson, including a set of platinum tigerlike fangs extracted from the mouth of a dead Japanese Imperial Marine.


He speculates that they were implanted either to make the warrior look fierce or as weapons in close combat.


One of Sexton's men was unloading cargo from a ship when he noticed a sailor with “Sexton” on his T-shirt.



“You got a brother named Ray?” the Seabee asked.


Claude Sexton received permission to go ashore to see his older brother. Ray got permission to return to the ship with Claude, where he spent a night of luxury.


“I got a shower and some decent food and a decent night’s sleep. We were still in foxholes at the time on the island,” said Ray, who lost another brother Donald at Guadalcanal earlier in the war.


After the Japanese surrender, the 106th was sent to Yokosuka Naval Base, 60 miles from Tokyo. Sexton was foreman of 14 Japanese workers at a machine shop that had produced torpedoes but now built bicycles.


He remembers fondly how well the Americans were treated.


“They were all friendly,” he said. “Most of the people we encountered, even the troops, didn’t have any grudge against us.”


But the war, and especially Iwo Jima, left scars.


“We were on distilled water all that time, and it ate the calcium right off your teeth,” Sexton said. “I only had one filling in a tooth when I went into the service. When I got out, every week I had to go get a filling, and it got so bad they wouldn’t stay in.”


He’s had a head full of false teeth since 1951.


Sexton said he wouldn’t or couldn’t talk about the war until he sought treatment for anxiety. Why don’t you try drinking a glass of wine or a beer or two? the doctor asked.


“I’ve been drinking beer ever since,” Sexton said. “It really did (help).”


Seventy years later, he retains a sense of achievement.


“I look back at some of the work we did and the men that I worked with,” he said. “They should be mighty proud of what they accomplished, and in my mind I feel pretty proud that the men took me as a leader.

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William Smith enlisted in the Seabees and was assigned to the 11th Special USN Construction Battalion. Basically we were stevedores, We loaded and unloaded ships. But the 11th Special also carried Marines in.

The 11th Special was also known as the "Can-Do Boys" because there weren't many things they couldn't do. One of those things was go into battle once their other duties were completed. We carried in supplies and built camps and dug foxholes and got in them, Smith said. We were in on invasions in the Pacific Islands as we moved the Marines from one island to another.

We were handed four packs of K-rations, two canteens and told to go in and get em. The 11th Special went in behind the Marines. We were the mop up crew. Everytime the Marines pushed on, we went right behind them.

We were in a foxhole one night on Okinawa, and bombs were dropping all around us and gunfire was spraying around us like a 4th of July sparkler. We were all afraid. It was the toughest night of my life. Nearby a bomb exploded, setting the sandbags around a foxhole on fire. The sandbags fell in the foxhole on the men and set them on fire, Smith said. They were screaming for help and I started to move out. My foxhole buddy, wouldn't budge. He was frozen in fear.

Smith got help from Soldiers in another foxhole and they pulled the two men from the burning hole. We were screaming for help and there was a Doctor in one of the foxholes but he wouldn't come out. Some Corpsmen came and helped us and men's lives were saved.

A short time later, Smith's foxhole buddy went berserk. He crawled out of the foxhole and was standing out there in all the gunfire, screaming at the top of his lungs. Smith said, I crawled out and pulled him back in. I had to report him and the next day he and the Doctor were taken off the island. War is terrible he said.

 

 

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GUADALCANAL: "If they had been visitors from Mars, the men of the 63rd NCB could scarcely have been more out of their element. That was the case when they arrived on Guadalcanal in June 1943."


Towering trees, dense vegetation, a fantasy land of "lizards as large as small crocodiles, snakes that fly, toads that eat flesh and fish that climb trees." And, the scattered remnants of a Japanese military force, although defeated, refusing to surrender.


Guadalcanal, its name equated with a hard-fought campaign that began on Aug. 7, 1942, was now the main route on the highway across the Pacific's island-hopping campaign to victory. A route marked by the skills, labor, sweat and determination of the Seabees who scratch-built airfields, harbor facilities and piers, and constructed roads, barracks, hospitals, fuel depots and massive supply dumps. Seabees were the workforce of the Pacific.


Unglamorous and backbreaking, the 63rd's initial major project on "the Canal" was an 80-square-mile program to destroy the breeding grounds of malaria-carrying insects "by swamp and lagoon draining, stream clearance and depression filling." Work started on June 24. When completed, more than 20 miles of roads, "16.5 miles, as a last resort, by hand labor," had been constructed by the 664 officers and men assigned. Some 100 miles of stream ran free to the sea. The Seabees moved 400,000 cubic yards of earth to level and fill water-filled depressions.


"Lagoons, land-locked by sand-bars, were fitted with oil-drum culverts to permit excess tidal fluctuations to vary the lagoon level. The inflow of salt water at high tide rendered lagoon water sufficiently alkaline to inhibit mosquito breeding."


The 63rd's history notes, "there was little fun on these jobs," but as footnote, "there were some thrills." Massive, more than 60, air raids by Japanese bombers. An encounter with Japanese troops on a tropical trail. And "it's no fish story," the 10-foot crocodile that chased a work party out of the Tenaru River.


There was also the trial of a 63rd Seabee.


He was charged with leaving his shipmates without permission and striking out with the 1st Marine Raider Battalion when that unit assaulted Japanese forces near Bairoka Harbor, at Munda. He was exonerated when the Marine officer in charge of the operation initiated a Silver Star recommendation, the nation's third highest honor for heroism. The man "attached himself to a machine gun crew, 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."


There were other commendations and citations as the 63rd moved across the Pacific during 1944 and 1945. Journeys by convoys to Auckland, New Zealand, and Noumea, New Caledonia; return to Guadalcanal; and transit to the island of Emirau, "a tiny dot in the vast expanse of the Pacific."


Emirau, in the St. Matthias group of the Bismarck Archipelago, was transformed from raw jungle, coral and sand by the 63rd and three other Seabee battalions [27th, 61st and 88th Seabees, commanded by the 18th Regiment--SCK]. It became a massive advance naval base with all the functions of a harbor port military city, including an airfield.


Six months of two, six-hour shifts per man, per day, and the job was completed. Board ships again, to the Admiralty Islands, and construct another massive base at Manus, recently secured from the Japanese.


Work at Manus progressed into 1945, and the 63rd followed the news of U.S. ground and naval forces, which had begun the liberation of the Philippines. Rumor spread the Seabees would be sent back to the states by April for deactivation. Rumor proved wrong.


"It was on a bright and sunny Sunday, 25 March, that troops boarded the SS Mexico with full infantry gear for the voyage to Manila. . . . Slow progress was made in the South China Sea, but Luzon loomed on the northeastern horizon in the early afternoon of Friday, 6 April."


The 63rd Seabees newest camp was in the Manila suburb of Pasay. The unit's major assignment was the construction of 7th Fleet headquarters, a massive 40-acre project of buildings and facilities on the war-ruined site of the former Manila Polo Club. Work on that project ended for these Seabees on Sunday, July 22, a day described in their history as "drizzling." But, a day with a brighter tomorrow. There was an announcement, and it was official. The 63rd was heading stateside.


July 24, 1945, more than two years since they had departed for "Island X," the Seabees of the 63rd sailed for an unnoticed and unheralded 3:45 a.m. arrival in San Francisco on Aug. 15, 1945.

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Larry E. Klatt, Navy Seabee. (18th NCB, 3/18, 2nd Marine Division). At one point during WW2, each Marine Division included a Seabee Battalion. For twenty-three year old Carpenters Mate 1c Larry Klatt, a former architectural draftsman from Denver, this ment the submergence of his 18th Seabee Battalion into the 2nd Marine Division for Tarawa. Klatt and his unit had tasted combat in the Solomons, but Tarawa would provide their defining moment. In the savage melee, the Marines learned that the most valuable vehicle on the beach was a Seabee bulldozer, equally useful in burying low-lying Japanese bunkers, digging howitzer parapets, or clearing the runway. Klatt ashore on D+3, received a personal welcome when a snipers bullet zipped within an inch from his head. By Saipan, Klatt and crew considered themselves amphibious veterans, but the long hours spent in a bobbing LVT proved unsettling. Some of those who trained the hardest lay greenest in the bottom of the boat. Ashore, Klatt survived sniper fire as a stretcher bearer, experienced profound fear when a Japanese 8-inch gunner methodically bracketed the beachhead with high explosive shells, felt compassion for a native Chamorro woman whose newborn baby died in the battle. Klatt's Seabees then devised breaching ramps to help Marine LVT's assault Tinian's steep escarpments. but Klatt's greatest contribution to the storm landings of 1944-45 lay in his meticulous scale drawings of the Japanese fortifications on Betio at the demand of Chester Nimitz, appalled at the failure of Naval shelling. Nimitz's engineers used Klatt's blueprints to build exact replicas on Kahoolawe in Hawaii. No gunship could thereafter go west to war without first assaulting "Klatt's pillboxes."


From the Book, Storm Landings: Epic Amphibious Battles in the Central Pacific, By Joseph Alexander.

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SPEED LANDING OF WOUNDED


When Seabees of CBMU 538 learned that casualties from an advanced force would be evacuated to'their "Island x" by water-based planes, they knew that they had a problem.


Coral reefs in the shallow waters plus the limited boat-handling facilities would necessitate handling the wounded several times in transferring them from plane to shore.


After assembling pontoons into a dock for the evacuation planes, the Seabees anchored it to the coral breakwater and then ran a string of pontoons from the shore to the dock.


When the huge planes had been anchored to the dock, casualties were transferred directly to ambulances waiting on me pontoon causeway.

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BRAVE MINES TO RESCUE EXPLOSION SURVIVOR


Two Seabees who swam through mine-infested waters to rescue a badly injured sailor the second day of the Normandy invasion have been commended for heroism. The men, Thomas Newman, CM3c, Alfred H. Dare, MM3c, were on the beach when four incoming "Ducks" hit obstacles and mines.·


All except one of the crafts' occupants were killed and the lone survivor was too badly dazed to make shore himself. Although Newman and Dare knew there were other mines in the water and servicemen yelled to them to stay clear, they plunged in and succeeded in hauling the wounded man to safety.

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Baker arrived with the 4th Marine Division on Iwo Jima in the dead of night on Feb. 25, 1945, a last-minute replacement to a battalion of Seabees. Because he had no construction experience, he was assigned to a security detachment protecting units clearing two airfields, the first near Mount Suribachi — scene of the iconic U.S. flag-raising. Initially, he was armed with an M1 carbine. Later, he got a Thompson submachine gun.


He was the first off his unit's landing craft.


"When the clam doors opened, I had no concept of war," he said. "I became a man in a matter of seconds.


"The beach was by this time a chaos of men and equipment under Japanese mortar and artillery fire. It was a sobering and aging experience. I quickly moved into a shell hole," he said.


With sunrise, his unit moved toward the south end of the first airfield and dug in for the night. Baker found his best friend, Lincoln Clement, dead in a foxhole the next morning.


At first, most of the Japanese soldiers Baker came across were either dead or hidden in the tiny island's thick foliage, extensive labyrinth of caves or heavily fortified firing positions.


It might have been the second day, or maybe the third — Baker had already lost his sense of time — when it happened. He and his foxhole partner were moving northward. It was morning.


"We encountered this small pillbox, which had been neutralized earlier by the Marines," he said. "As we moved past the pillbox, I cautiously looked into the firing aperture."


Inside he saw a Japanese soldier huddled down in a corner. The soldier moved.


"It was standard operating procedure not to bypass a questionable 'dead' enemy soldier without making certain that he was dead."


So, without hesitation, Baker fired.


"He was so close when I shot him the blood splattered on me," he said.


"We were indoctrinated throughout that the Japanese were a people to be hated; that they considered prisoners as cowards to be brutally treated, if the prisoner was lucky, or killed at the slightest provocation, as so many were," Baker explained. "Before Iwo, we had learned of this inhuman treatment, not only of the prisoners of war, but also of the civilians they conquered. The Japanese exhibited no compassion. We saw them as the terrorists of the time."


Baker's battlefield experiences, for the most part, reinforced his hatred.


"I was a good soldier. I developed a brutal mentality. I didn't avoid contact."


Only once did he hesitate to pull the trigger.


On Iwo Jima, some of the worst fighting was around Hill 382, the highest point on the northern part of the island, from which the dug-in and hidden Japanese fought desperately. The area was known as the Meat Grinder.


Walking in a column with his unit, Baker prepared to jump over a shell hole when he spotted a Japanese soldier moving below. The soldier faced Baker and raised his left arm above his head. Baker aimed his machine gun and motioned for the man to raise his other arm. They were just a few feet apart.


"I threw off the safety on the Thompson and prepared to kill him," Baker said. "His eyes pleaded for his life as he turned enough to show me that he had been shot in the back in the area of his right shoulder blade."


The Marine behind Baker yelled at him to quickly kill the Japanese soldier.


Baker said no. He was taking the man prisoner.


After making the soldier strip to his underwear to be sure he was unarmed, Baker gave him a cigarette and some water. Then he was taken away.


"I have always wished that I could have found out what he did with his life," Baker said. He will probably never know.



Baker and his 4th Marine Division comrades will hold their group's final muster this summer at Camp Lejeune in North Carolina. It was with these vets that Baker first opened up about his past. He was president of the 4th Marine Division Association for a year.


"Our attending numbers have become so small that we will have to fold it up," he said.

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STUART — Albert W. Steffen, 85, quit school in Elgin, Ill., when he turned 17. It was 1944 and World War II was grinding on in the Pacific and he joined the Navy. He told his parents he didn't want to be in the Army and fight a ground war.


Steffen took his boot camp at the Great Lakes Naval Training Center in Illinois and was assigned to one of the Navy's construction battalions, known as "Seabees," which built land facilities for the Navy. He had no construction skills and was sent to a six-week school with the Marines in Rhode Island where, he says, he "learned how to kill people."


A train trip across the country and Steffen was put on a ship in a convoy that grew to 1,300 ships before it reached the island of Okinawa. "We sailed passed Iwo Jima and I heard the tales of the Marines who died on the beach without even getting to fight," said Steffen. "I thought I at least wanted the chance to fight before I died."


Steffen's unit was to help build a port, but the fighting bogged down and turned bloody, and a typhoon destroyed their pontoon port, killing many Seabees. He said he and some other saved themselves by running to high ground to escape waves 90 feet tall. The Seabees became infantry, using their equipment to help drive Japanese from caves or bury them in them.


His friend Bill Barker, from New Jersey, was the man Steffen looked up to. "He was tough. Would throw two grenades into a cave and run in with his pistol blazing. He killed 25 (Japanese) before he was shot in the chest," Steffen said. "When you are young, you think you are bulletproof."


In getting Barker back to an aid station, Steffen used his rifle to force two officers in a Jeep to carry Barker back. They told him what he was doing was a crime. He replied: "Yeah." But Barker got help and survived the war.


Steffen and another Seabee were in a hole when a Japanese soldier threw a grenade near them. They shot him, but the explosion made Steffen deaf in his right ear.


When the war ended, Steffen had to stay on Okinawa for a year, helping guard a galley at night and then becoming a butcher's helper. Finally discharged, he went back to Elgin and became a carpenter. He married Shirley Stickling and they have been together for 53 years. Eventually, he became a general contractor building banks, stores and custom homes.


The couple came to Florida as winter visitors for 40 years before settling permanently at Indian River Plantation Ocean House 22 years ago.

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SEABEE SERVICE WITH THE MARINES
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.
"WOULD BE MARINE"
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.
BASIC TRAINING
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.
WARM UP: KWAJELIN
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.
TRAINING IN HAWAII
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.
WE TOOK THAT BEACH ON OUR BELLIES
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.
THE FINAL DAYS
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.
ON TO JAPAN
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.

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As I Remember


By Bob Pintar


My Experience on a Breakwater

nick-named a coffin

code name Phoenix


Written November 1999

Story taken from my diary of June 15th 1944





I was on the Isle of Wight along with my SEABEE MATES Al E. Williams, Cliff Winders, Harry James Winslow, and Al Willaert, Chief Isaac Willingham was our leader.


On June 6th, 1944 D-Day the sky was full of planes as far as the eyes could see. It was ear deafening. WOW!! My seabags were all packed, I did some target practicing into the channel. After lunch I got ready to go to war.


On the morning of June 7th, 1944 I got dressed with five layers of clothing, plus a rubber tube life ring, and a MAE WEST JACKET. We were given 6 pork chops and a loaf of bread, this was to be our dinner.


We went aboard our large concrete caisson, a "phoenix," 200 feet long, 60 ft high, and 60 ft. wide, at about 1330 hours (1:30 pm).


Our gun crew was 6 British tommies, who were to man our 40 mm aircraft guns. They were in the bow of the Phoenix, and we were in the stern of the Phoenix. We left our dockage early afternoon, when the U.S.A. tug boat came and hooked us up, and pulled us at 4 knots per hour, headed for Omaha Beach Normandy, we were to arrive the morning of June 8th, 1944.


The 6 of us Seabees were paired off to stand 4 hour watch each, I, Bob Pintar went on watch at 2400 hours with chief Isaac Willingham from Company "D" Pl. 1. We were to be the 2nd phoenix to arrive at Normandy June 8th at dawn. It was dark and the skies full of airplanes, and ships all around-- red skies on the coast of France, sounds of war gave chills up one’s spine!


Standing on the stern deck watching the tug towing us at 0115 hours, I, Bob Pintar, heard a splash - splash and a hissing sound on the port side, and saw 2 torpedoes skimming along the surface that crossed our bow and aft of the tug boat "missed" us!


The Germans misjudged our slow speed of 4 knots. The tug cut us loose, I was speechless!! Then I hollered below to the other 4 Seabees, “Torpedoes—Torpedoes, may day, all on deck.” Then I ran along the gangway to the bow section to alert the British gun crew with the same warning.


I, Bob Pintar, ran back to the stern and made sure Chief Willingham's mae west was tied tight.


At this time we could hear the deep-throated diesel sound of the enemy "e" boat, and 2 more torpedoes splashing, as they were launched - German loosed... We watched them hissing along the surface in a form of death towards us, one along our starboard and the other on the port side, both missed us again,


By this time I cut one of our life rafts loose, “How dare the Germans shoot at us.”?

We were all on deck now looking & listening, Harry Winslow from Co. "C" Pl. 4 and myself were standing on the stern. Off in a distance dead center we heard splash torpedo #5 was off to starboard, Harry and I leaned over the stern rail to watch torpedo #6 slam into our stern with a --Ka—BOOM. We were about 45 feet above the water. The #6 torpedo, the same as used by the "u" boats.


We were blown 20 ft, into the air. By the time we landed back on deck, the phoenix was listing to port about 30 degrees and sinking fast.

We slid and tumbled on the deck to the port side and into the sea.

The sinking phoenix caisson sucked us down with it to the bottom of the English channel about 25 fathoms or 150 feet, and about 10 miles from the coast of France,


The noise under water seemed to me to be made by angels hollering plus the sound of under water explosions and many bubbles. When we came up to the surface, Harry and I found the life raft to float on. Chief Isaac Willingham hung on to a crate with "k" rations. The other 3 seabees were strangers to me as we had been selected as a team. They were Al E. Williams Co. "C" Pl. 4, Cliff Winders, Co. "C" Pl. 4 and Laurance Waelert Co. "C" Pl. 4. We all surfaced trying to keep alive.


We still heard the sound of the enemy's diesel engines as he patrolled around us. Chief Isaac Willingham was crying out, “God Save Us,” very loud and out of the darkness the German "e" boat, we could see the scull cap bridge. A machine gunner opened fire and laced the water in front of chief Willingham, and fired from bottom to top. Chief Isaac Willingham was gone !! The "e" boat disappeared into the darkness.


All through the early hours we would be silent, or whisper, Harry Winslow and I would take turns to hold up two soldiers who didn't have any life jackets on -- we didn't see any life in them. As time passed we were numb and cold and let them slip under!


During the time in the water we were drifting towards Cherbourg, and the coast. We encountered many body parts and dead bodies, like fishing bobbers, heads down and feet up. The sea was full of debris--what a solemn sight-- Harry Winslow lost his hearing, Cliff Winders got his leg crushed and all the others were banged up. We watched the red glow at night from all of the blasting of the French coast line and the sounds of explosions. On June 8th at 0635 am the coming of dawn we sighted, to the west, a ship. It came closer and it was the HMS Vivacious British Destroyer. It stopped to pick us up, putting its starboard side bow along side.


The crew put its cargo nets down at that point the Vivacious crew pointed to the eastern sky , we looked up just in time to see a German Stuka 87 D nose over with its wing dive, brakes in position along with 2 fifty lb. bombs slung under its belly, the wheels were extended and shrouded with its spats; looked like an eagle with its talons extended.

The Stuka J 87 D went into its dive with the wheel spats and a screeching sound along with the roar of its engine gave the look and sound of an eagle as it came in for the kill----very menacing----

The crew of the Vivacious along with us survivors were mesmerized as we awaited the bombs!


Two loud --Ka-- Booms-- we were about 20 feet from the starboard side of the ship. The two bombs missed the ship and us. The bombs landed into the water between the Vivacious and us. The concussion blew our legs back up under the "K" ration crate and our raft. The backs of my legs were all shredded.


The Stuka J 87-D went out of its dive and disappeared into the clouds

The crew of the Vivacious, with lowered nets, had to help us up the nets as we were shocked and numb and cold. We would have not lasted much longer.


The crew removed our clothes and wrapped us in blankets and gave us a grog of rum and hot tea. The crew washed our oily clothes and gave them back to us to us to wear


The British officers notified us that we were prisoners of war


Note: not a shot was fired at the Stuka as the crew was mesmerized. The rest of June 8th we sailed with the Vivacious, as they were on submarine –U- boat patrol.


The Vivacious turned us over to the British War Ministry to have our wounds treated and interrogate each one of us.


We were taken to London, and put up in a hotel on the 2nd floor near Picaddily Circus--how convenient---


Early that evening we crawled out of that hotel window and down the fire escape, and off to Picaddily Circus with our oily torn clothes only with French invasion money.


We went into a pub, didn’t need any money, soon Scotland Yard was called and we were picked up, and escorted us back to the hotel, and they put a guard on the door and the window.


The next morning they took us to Plymouth, England to be processed. We rested again and went over the hill! In the same oily torn clothes.


We came back after a few hours and rested and made out our lost claim forms and was awarded the Purple Heart.


On June 14th we were taken back to the Isle Of Wight, and eventually Tiegnmounth, England, a rest area until our ship The New Amsterdam sailed for U.S. Of America.


Note


I, Robert Pintar, was in the water for 5 hours and 10 minutes; I was wounded twice in those time frames, all due to torpedos and bombs


That gave me a 40 % hearing loss and a very bad hip, and left lower back.

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THE STORY OF OKINAWA - By Carl Dorman, Jr. 71st Seabees.

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. The trip up had been the same as all boat trips; the food was fair and the living quarters crowded. There had been a Victory dinner on Good Friday with steaks large enough to cover a standard navy tray and all the trimmings necessary to make a good dinner.

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, tides of the battle were pure conjecture. 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.

The original plan of operations called for construction troops to be landed on D-plus-3, but the negligible resistance on the beaches speeded up the assault. 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. In a sweet potato patch the battalion awaited orders to move into a bivouac area. Occasionally a shell would go whistling overhead on it's way to the Nips or a patrol would pass through on it's way to the lines.

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.The first night passed quietly. The following day everyone set about building temporary homes; putting the camp area in order. There was little work to do until the LST's were beached and unloaded. The first days on Okinawa were little worse than an extended picnic. The equipment had not arrived, so there was little work to do. Enemy planes made their first formal appearance at 0320, 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. Despite annoying air raids, one LST was completely unloaded and the other started. One carpenter crew, previously assigned, worked at the 3rd Corps Medical Battalion Hospital.

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. 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 for miles around 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 to 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.

By April 29th the battalion road responsibility extended from Yamada to Nago, a distance of more than 20 miles. The road was an old Japanese road which followed the China Sea coastline as much as possible. It was narrow, as it was built to take the narrow beamed Japanese trucks. Throughout the entire distance the road was widened sufficiently to accomodate the northward drive of the 3rd Corps, and was repaired as best as possible under existing conditions. 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. The strip, 1000 feet long and 130 feet wide, with all necessary accessories, was finished April 24th. 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.

On April 26th improvement was started on Route 6 crossing the isthmus near the middle of the island at its narrowest point, from the villages of Nakadomari to Hizonna, a distance of 3 miles. Work was started at the west - it's junction with Route 1 at Nakadomari. The road was widened for two lane traffic, and a new section was built from Yamagusuku, northwestward to straighten the route. On the 6th of May the main part of the battalion moved south with the 3rd Phib. Corps. A camp was established west of junctions of Routes 1 and 32, on Route 32. This was camp #2 long remembered for the mud and ugly living conditions. A condition black existed on the night of May 6th. Two nights previous the Japanese attempted a landing on the beach below the camp. During May, Camp #2 was under enemy artillery and anti-aircraft fire. The Japs would set their anti-aircraft shells to go off fifty or sixty feet from the ground, spraying the area with shrapnel. One night a cache of oil drums was hit by artillery fire, but did not explode or burn. Two men were wounded by sniper fire. At the same time Camp #!1 was beginning to have difficulties. On several occasions Japs ambushed vehicles and bivouacs within a few miles of the camp. The war was catching up to the 71st.

The improvement of Rout 1 was started by a battalion of Marine Engineers, but was taken over by the 71st May 7th before much work had been done. Widening was started at RJ 32 and the road widened for two lane traffic. Convoy traffic over Route 1 to the combat area was extremely heavy and interfered greatly with the progress on road work. However, the road was kept in passable shape and was coral surfaced to RJ 34 by the 16th of May when the first heavy rains started. On may 19th and 21st, two attempts were made by Japs, who infiltrated American lines, to blow up two separate bridges. On May 19th, a single-span concrete bridge was skillfully drilled, but the failure of the entire demolition charge to go off minimized the damage and the damage was quickly repaired by crib and fill. On May 21st, during daylight, in an area alerted by previous attempts, another attempt was made by the Japs to blow up a second bridge. Again the failure of the charge to go off prevented serious damage. The extremely heavy rains on May 25 and 26 brought the road improvement to a standstill. All efforts and resources of the road gangs were taxed to keep traffic moving. On May 30th conditions had not improved and road work went on a 24-hour basis. Prior to May 30th night lighting was not permitted in the combat area because of enemy artillery and air attack. Due to the emergency, field lighting was authorized and about sixty Marine Military Police were assigned to out-post sentry duty at construction operations and isolated equipment. Thus all battalion manpower was engaged on Route 1 in order to keep it open to traffic.

On June 10th, in order to keep pace with the forward movement of the combat zone, the 71st N.C.B. was assigned road responsibility in a more forward area, and the forward camp # 3 was established at the junction of Routes 5 and 44. Camp # 3 had a nightly show of fireworks. Japs were infiltrating back from the lines carrying demolition charges. To make matters more interesting, on a hill behind and slightly to the left of the camp was a "boot" Seabee outfit just out of the states. They were trigger happy. Behind the camp was another outfit, the Army. They too were apparently just out of the states. They were trigger happy too. From dusk to dawn the tracers careened over and through Camp # 3. Several nights there was danger of a war developing between neighboring outfits, especially those nights when the Nip's weren't around to be shot at. One night the "boot" battalion guards did manage to get a Japanese.

Building construction consisted entirely of camp and hospital facilities, construction of a temporary nature typical of forward areas where camp locations are frequently changed. Carpenter crews worked with the 3rd Corps CP, 3rd Corps Medical Battalion, 3rd Corps Evacuation Hospital, No. 2, and 3rd Corps Rest Camp.

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HELPS UNIT ESCAPE GERMAN AMBUSH


WHEN A NAVY RECONNAISSANCE PARTY OF 40 OFFICERS AND MEN WERE AMBUSHED OUTSIDE OF CHERBOURG BY GERMAN INFANTRY AND TANKS, A LONE SEABEE COVERING THEIR FLANK KEPT OPEN A PATH WHICH ENABLED THE PARTY TO ESCAPE.


AN ACCOUNT OF THE EPISODE GIVEN BY LT. C.E. STOCKDALE, CEC, USNR, EXECUTIVE OFFICER OF A CONSTRUCTION BATTALION IN FRANCE, MADE CLEAR THAT THE HEROISM OF THE SEABEE, CARL E. SMITHSON, SF1C, OF DOYLINE ALABAMA, PLAYED A LARGE PART IN PREVENTING THE PARTY'S COMPLETE EXTERMINATION.


THE NAVY CONVOY, SAID LT STOCKDALE, WAS MADE UP OF THE 40 OFFICERS AND MEN AND FIFTEEN VEHICLES. IT WAS ABOUT SIX MILES IN ADVANCE OF THE AMERICAN LINES, TRAVELING EAST ON A HIGHWAY LEADING TO THE TOWN OF DOL, WHEN IT WAS ATTACKED BY THE GERMANS. A MEMBER OF THE FRENCH ARMY OF RESISTANCE WHO MADE CONTACT WITH THE AMERICANS SAID THE ENEMY HAD BETWEEN 500 AND 900 HEAVILY ARMED MEN AS WELL AS TANKS.


THE NAVY MEN DEPLOYED AND RETURNED FIRE. PARTIES WERE SENT TO PROTECT THE NORTH AND SOUTH FLANKS, SMITHSON OCCUPIED THE MOST SOUTHERLY POSITION ON THE SOUTH FLANK....A SPOT DRAWING HEAVY ENEMY FIRE. UNABLE TO ELIMINATE THE SEABEE, THE GERMANS COULD NOT TURN HIS FLANK, A MANEUVER THAT WOULD HAVE ENABLED THEM TO CUT OFF THE LINE OF RETREAT WHICH LATER PERMITTED THE SURVIVORS TO REACH SAFETY.


SMITHSON HELD HIS GROUND UNTIL LIGHT U.S. TANKS AND COMBAT ENGINEERS CAME TO THE RESCUE. CONTINUING TO COVER THE WITHDRAWL OF OTHER MEMBERS OF THE PARTY HE WAS AMONG THE LAST TO MAKE HIS RETREAT.


HE HAS BEEN RECOMMENDED FOR AN APPROPRIATE AWARD.

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Seabees Unload Under Japanese Fire

Seabees hit the beach at Namur in the third wave while the first wave of assault Marines was still pinned on the beach, according to a wireless dispatch from Robert Trumbull to the New York Times. Under fire, the Seabees unloaded supplies while splashing in the bullet-spattered surf.

The next morning, after they had formed an ammunition line, a Japanese dashed from a blockhouse with a grenade in his fist, making for an ammunition wagon. A Seabee guard mowed the Japanese down with a tommy gun, and"the grenade thereupon blew him to hell", the guard said.

Shoot Straight

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Guam Needs Rebuilding --Seabees At It Again



GUAM (Delayed)—The little town of Agat is taking on new life. Growling bulldozers, with their rain-spouted exhaust pipes, billow thick black smoke as their Seabee operators cle-ar the debris littered streets for better things to come.


The Seabees are at it again. < The rebuilding of Guam had been without letup since D-day. Hardly had the first wave of shock troops hie the beaches than the first bulldozer blade dropped in to the gooey, cement-like mud. MONSOON SEASON On top of everything else, Seabees have been confronted with the monsoon season. The galedriven downpours come and go without schedule, bogging down everything in general — everything, that is, but theSeabees. One of the first jobs undertaken by the Seabees was the construction of a sorely needed road from beach to bsittlefront, over which supplies and "the heavy stuff" could pass in a minimum of time. The rattling of machine guns and the deep throated roar of field artillery were ctosely followed by survey parties, who were in turn followed by the actual road building crews. GUARDS ON TRUCKS The machine operators varied their usual procedure. Instead of one man, each truck, road scraper, and bulldozer had two—a driver and guard. Not once, but often, did bullets fly at these men. Some found their target.—USMC Sgt. Bill Allen, Combat correspondent.


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Seabees At Guam With First Wave



SOMEWHERE IN THE PAClFlC—Members of a Seabee maintenance unit had construction work started 72 hours after the initial landing on Guam after fighting shoulder to shoulder with Marines in establishing the beachhead. They landed an hour behind the first assault wave and unloaded ammunition under withering fire. The Seabees, under Lt. F. B. Winslow, USN, of Silver Spring, Md., had a galley in operation by the fourth day and were carrying hot bread, coffee and fresh water to front-line Marines in trucks. Rather than bring the trucks back empty, they loaded them with captured equipment—including a Japanese sawmill and power generator.

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CAMP PENDLETON —Jan, 1944 - In another of their almost miraculous speedy jobs, Seabeesset up a new training center for themselves and moved in exactly three weeks to the day after the area, on the north bank of the Santa Margarita river, had been first surveyed. Guided by blueprints drawn by Lt. G. L Walling, CO, the men began work 4 Jan. A contributing factor to their speed was the early installation of mess halls so that not a working moment was wasted in getting chow. This is the second self-contained west coast training center the Seabees have built, the first being at Port Hueneme. LARGE OUTFIT According to Lt. Walling, who supervised the project, approximately 400 men took part in the operations. The new camp comprises 57 huts, all containing heat and ample lighting facilities, and several large tents, some of which also will be used for sleeping quarters. It has a laundry, suitable mess halls, a supply depot, PX, postoffiee, theater and Hq. Bldg. Asked if a new speed record for construction had been established on the Pendleton job, Lt. Walling replied: "We wouldn't say that— exactly. Fast as this job was completed, it is only what Seabees should do."

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Seabees Provide Hospital On Guam


SOMEWHERE IN THE CENTRAL PACIFIC (Delayed) — Seabees attached to the engineers of the 3rd Mar. Div. made possible the advantages of modern hospitalization for the wounded on Guam while the battle was still in progress. The Seabees repaired and improved a battered two-story, prePearl Harbor building in the Navy Hospital compound in Agana immediately after the Japs had been driven from the town, converting it into a first-class sanitarium for the 3rd Div. Field Hospital. They not only supplied the skilled labor on the project, but begged, borrowed, salvaged and reclaimed the necessary materials. They repaired the plumbing with salvaged pipe and installed a water system with a 10,000-gallon metal tank atop the building serving as a reservoir. They provided a pump to transfer water from a nearby stream to the tank. Abandoned Japanese supply dumps furnished the cement to close the shell and bomb holes in the roof and walls of the building. Scraps of corrugated sheet metal were turned into canopies for the paneless windows. Sufficient screen wire was accumulated from various sources for doors as well as windows. The Seabees rummaged in the rubble of Agana and unearthed

lavatories, commodes and other plumbing fixtures. They patched sewer pipes, installed septic tanks, obtained a generator and rewired the building. — Sgt. Harold A. Breard, combat correspondent.

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Seabees Salvage Two-Man Japanese Sub Off Guadalcanal


GUADALCANAL (Delayed) —A sightseer's "must" here is the twoman Japanese submarine which, although scuttled by her crew during the second battle of Savo Island in November 1942, was raised in five hours by enterprising Seabees. Sunk 300 feet offshore in 20 feet of water the submersible was thought at first to be a floating mine, when it scraped the bottom of a Higgins boat. An examinationwas made by two Seabees who converted ordinary gas masks into diving masks by attaching tubes from the masks to an air compressor carried on a boat. HARD TO DISLODGE The first attempt to raise the 50-foot craft was unsuccessful. She was wedged fast in the sand and cables attached to her bow and stern and hauled by Marine tractors couldn't budge her. Eight sticks of dynamite, planted under the sub by Seabees, finally did the trick. Two unexploded torpedoes in her bow were said to have been rendered harmless by long submersion. Inspecting officers said the craft had probably been dropped over the side of a transport before the second battle of Savo Island, November 1942, and abandoned when the Japs fled.

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