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




ON D+2 WE WERE JUST OFF THE SOUTH END OF THE ISLAND, in a Landing Ship, Tank. At about 5 p.m. we were told to report to our equipment. We started our engines, the LST opened its bow doors, and the ramp dropped. We were at Red Beach. A Caterpillar bulldozer went first, to build a dirt ramp. Once that was ready we moved out—trucks, more Cats, and my Northwest 25 crane. The noise was continuous. Wreckage was everywhere. It was getting dark when I got to shore, close to Mount Suribachi. There was a 30-degree slope up from the beach; I barely made it to the top of that volcanic sand.
My partner Red and I were to share a foxhole. Trying to move that sand was like digging flour. I took the first watch and let Red sleep. When it was his turn, he woke me up every time he heard land crabs. Finally I gave him my bolo knife and told him that only after he had shot the carbine and stuck the enemy with the bolo could he wake me.
We were issued D rations, bars about two-and-a-half by five-and-a-half inches that looked like chocolate but were grainy, not sweet. Three bars was one day’s supply. Navy guys on the ship had gotten into the canned goods we had stowed on the crane, but they hadn’t fooled with the five-gallon can of water we had hidden in the boom. We were thankful to have that, since we were allowed only two canteens of water a day.
On D+3 we woke at dawn but couldn’t leave our foxholes until we had clearance from security. Finally we got up, relieved ourselves—no toilet—and saw men from our battalion. Cats went to clear the beaches. Dump trucks were hauling supplies. After we hung the crane with a clam bucket—the Marines needed a water point dug across the island for distributing fresh and desalinated water—Red and I split up.
I started for the beach in the crane. A Northwest 25 was a big, slow thing on treads with a rotating cab and long boom; even with its big diesel engine it only did about two miles an hour. It was going to be a while before I could dig that water point. All around me were Marines trying to get somewhere. Right in the middle of the road some of them had dug a hole and were setting up a 105mm howitzer that they pointed at Japs a hundred yards away on some rocks. After they shot five rounds that killed everyone on the rocks they moved the gun and I filled in the hole and went down to the beach. Far enough up from the sea to avoid the tides, I dug five holes, each 20 feet in diameter, down to the water table. Other Seabees and Marines set up evaporators, pumps, and storage tanks for the water point.
I was told to go to the battalion’s new bivouac, below the old Japanese airfield nearest Suribachi. I left my machine there at the strip. At the bivouac two guys from my company and I remodeled a shell crater for our quarters. I stole a tarp to cover it. For sanitary facilities we had slit trenches we squatted over.
Around D+5, my company commander, Lieutenant Pond—I don’t think I ever knew his first name; we generally called him “Mister Pond”—told me my mother had died. There was no way he would be able to get me home to bury her. We couldn’t even move wounded men off the island. I wanted to send money for the funeral, but the paymaster was out on the ship. Lieutenant Pond loaned me $100 and took care of sending it home. He was an outstanding officer. I didn’t mind calling him “Mister.”
I needed to work on the airfield, so the mechanics changed my rig over from a bucket to a shovel. I put in 9 or 10 hours a day extending the original airstrip to make it big enough to accommodate B-29s. Marines were fighting for the very piece of ground where we were trying to enlarge the strip. We had to watch out for sniper fire and mortar fire and live ammunition and mines. One evening after I finished my shift the first B-29 landed.
ON D+6 THE MAIN BODY OF THE 62ND CAME ASHORE. By D+7 the cooks and bakers had the cook tent erected and we got our first hot meal with baked bread. Marines didn’t have chow lines, just K rations, so whenever they had a chance they got into the Seabee chow line. We got water for showers from underground. It smelled like rotten eggs but it was hot enough. We made the pipes out of shell casings. The showers were out in the open with no covering. Slit trenches got upgraded to four- and six-holers.
After working about 10 days I was sent to Airfield 2, half a mile north, to help extend that strip. I had to walk the crane with the shovel on it uphill past a B-29 in a gully with other abandoned equipment. I noticed a bottle of sake and had gotten down to fetch it when a passing Marine said, “I wouldn’t handle that if I were you.” His face was bloody from hundreds of tiny holes made by a grenade. He explained that it was a booby trap and showed me the wires inside the bottle. I gently put the bottle down. He was waiting to be treated nearby at an evacuation center that was also identifying the dead. They had men going through pockets and checking dog tags and clothing and then stacking the bodies four or five high at an old Japanese revetment. It was awful gruesome.
There was a 105mm howitzer behind our bivouac. The Japanese tried to knock it out with eight-inch guns. The first shell hit about 20 feet from me and killed two of my buddies. The Japs were also using giant mortar shells that tumbled end over end in the air, making a frightening screaming noise. But they usually landed in the water. We figured they were launched from a trough, like Fourth of July skyrockets.
One day a Marine crawled up into my crane’s cab. He pointed to three guys about 100 yards away and said one was a lieutenant colonel who wanted to talk to me. I hurried over. The colonel asked how far down I could dig. Twenty-six feet, I told him.
“That ought to do it,” he said. “Can you move the rig?”
When I said yes the colonel told me I was temporarily relieved of my duties. His sergeant drove me about three-quarters of a mile to a rise called Hill 382. At the foot of the hill he showed me a flat area covered with dead Japs, big mines, and shell casings, then he drove me back to my machine. It took an hour to fuel the crane and return to the work site.
The sergeant was waiting there with 40 Marines who spread out on either side of me. The sergeant had me move the crane forward to a cave, which the colonel told me to dig out. I dug all day. We found supplies and living quarters, but no people. That evening the Marines dug foxholes; they were on the fighting line. One drove me to my bivouac. The next morning, when we realized we wouldn’t find anything more, the Marines burned out the cave with flamethrowers. Then they sealed it. I found out later we had been looking for the Japanese commander of the island. Hill 382 became known as Meat Grinder Hill.
For 20 days I dug out caves. At some we pulled out dead Japs and rifles, pistols, and ammunition. I sold souvenirs, mostly to air force fighter personnel. One day I found a bail of tube socks. From then on I never washed socks. Every morning I would put on a new pair. I took a gun rack off a wrecked jeep and mounted it on the nose of the crane cab, which seemed a better place to keep my gun than the floor of the rig. The front windows of the cab were hinged so I could get hold of my weapon in a hurry.
OUR BATTALION MOVED TO THE FLAT AREA BY Meat Grinder Hill where all the dead Japs had been. We called it Camp Cadaver. Carpenters laid out six-man tents, mess and supply tents, and maintenance shops. They put in generators. There was mortar and sniper fire, and Japanese bombers flew over dropping bombs, so we dug foxholes. At night Japs would come out of caves to get food and water and try to infiltrate, so we had guards around the clock. After the Japs shot a replacement Seabee from our bivouac who had been nosing around a cave on Meat Grinder Hill, the company commander assigned me to make a trench about four feet across and five feet deep in front of the mouths of the caves so that anyone leaving them would have to cross the trench. Once I had backed my rig out of the way, guards parked trucks about 50 feet from our tents with their front ends aimed at the trench, which they rigged with trip flares; if someone tripped the string, the flares would fly into the air and ignite and float down under a tiny parachute. That night a flare went up, and the guards turned on the trucks’ headlights. They fired submachine guns, .30-caliber machine guns, and rifles and killed 13 Japs.
The next day I was about to start digging at the same cave when I saw a Japanese. He only had on a loincloth. I dove out of the front window of the cab and grabbed my gun from the rack but I had on such heavy gloves I couldn’t pull the trigger. A Seabee lieutenant ran up with a .45 and we took the man prisoner. That didn’t happen often on Iwo. I saw dead enemy soldiers tied to their antiaircraft guns.
When I went back to work, I hit a bonanza—a box about the size of a footlocker, full of 10-yen notes. One of those went for a buck. I borrowed a jeep, loaded it with scrip, and drove to where the pilots and mechanics had their tents. I came back with $150 cash, two bottles of champagne, and 13 eggs, plus souvenirs I could trade. I had to give the jeep back, plus a bottle of champagne for the use of it, but then the guy let me have a motorcycle with a sidecar. Off I went with a load of souvenirs. After I sold them I decided to go to Suribachi. By then the 31st Seabees had built an oiled road to the top; it was so steep I had to go in low gear. At the top I looked into the volcano and at lots of caves and the battleships and cruisers offshore. I didn’t see the famous flag, whether because it had been taken down or I just wasn’t looking in the right place. Coming down was as bad as going up, low gear all the way, but I returned the motorcycle in one piece. Nobody else in my unit ever got up there.
When I got through digging caves, I went back to the northernmost airfield to excavate a drainage ditch alongside the runway. Pilots were supposed to stay off the strip where I was digging and use the completed strip parallel to it. A B-29 touched down on my strip anyway and was heading right for me when the pilot realized he wasn’t supposed to be there. He turned hard, right into a hill, and wrecked the plane. A day or two later another B-29 came in the same way. His brakes were shot. When he stopped, his plane’s nose was against my rig’s boom.
B-29s made me nervous. I would put an iron barrel by whatever hole I was digging so pilots could see I was working. I had no sooner gotten back in my rig than a B-29 made a real wide turn. His outboard left prop hit the barrel. The pilot was screaming. His left engine was wrecked, he had a load of firebombs, and he had to abort his flight.
There was often tension like that. McClenagan, who commanded C Company and ran the asphalt crew, was a real hothead, very protective of the strips his men laid down. When one of the Cat operators accidentally gouged a stretch of asphalt, McClenagan threatened him. The Cat skinner pulled his Ka-Bar knife and slit McClenagan’s shirt bottom to top.
The day after the slit shirt I had a run in of my own with McClenagan. The Japanese had buried ammunition all over Iwo, and I had our battalion’s only backhoe, so I was often sent to dig out ammo. At the edge of a strip that we had blacktopped and which B-29s were using, I scraped a few bucketfuls of dirt a couple of feet from the pavement. Smoke came out. Whoever had blacktopped the strip had laid asphalt right over an ammunition dump that was now on fire.
Fortunately it started raining. I was able to dig a trench that funneled water onto the ammunition and stopped the fire so I could keep digging. At the same place we found some of those giant mortar shells. I was digging around the mortars so the demolition team could get at them when I accidentally cut into the strip as McClenagan was driving up.
“What the hell are you doing?” he yelled. “You’re wrecking my blacktop!”
I explained that I had to clear a path to buried Japanese ammunition. McClenagan was furious. He pulled his .45 and aimed it at me, cussing the whole time. I swung my bucket so it was hanging over his head and told him if he shot me my foot would go off the brake and the bucket would chop him in two.
Right then Lieutenant Pond drove up. “McClenagan, you son of a bitch, you’re bothering my men again!” he shouted. He pulled his lieutenant’s bars off his collar and went right up to McClenagan’s face. “I’m going to beat the shinola right out of you.”
McClenagan got out of there. Lieutenant Pond took me to camp and told me to stay in my tent. I was concerned because I had threatened an officer. A runner told me I was under arrest, but no charges were brought. I never saw McClenagan again.
One day, three or four man-hauls—trucks with seats for troops—pulled up by the air force tents. They had brought Red Cross workers who began setting up coffee and donuts. I hadn’t seen coffee in a regular cup for some time so I got in line. A man asked who I was. I told him I was a Seabee. “Well, you can have a donut and a cup of coffee,” he said. “But this is for officers so don’t hang around.”
ON MARCH 16, IWO WAS DECLARED SECURE. Two days later the 5th Marines reached the north end of the island. I was on Airstrip 2, filling trucks, when the Marines marched by in formation. Wherever a man was missing, they left a space. Some companies had only four or five men in their usual marching positions, but with big gaps all around them. They were dirty, unshaven, tired, and haggard, wearing torn clothing. We stopped what we were doing and watched, silently mourning those missing men. It was heartbreaking to think that all those 18- and 19-year-olds were gone. It took more than half an hour for the Marines to pass the airstrip. They stopped at the 5th Marine Division Cemetery for a short service before going to the beach to load onto ships.
The army took over for the Marines, and army engineer units began working alongside us Seabees. That August, I was in my crane on Airstrip 2, where I had been ordered to dig a big hole for a special hydraulic platform, when a B-29 landed. Military policemen surrounded the plane. I figured something was up, so I got the battalion photographer. As soon as the guards saw him taking pictures they grabbed his camera and shooed us away. Later I learned that a B-29 had been standing by on Iwo to carry the atomic bomb meant for Hiroshima in case the Enola Gay had to abort its mission.

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Rare photos surface of Enola Gay, Bockscar


NEW ULM — Seventy-two years ago this month, the Second World War came to an end after the United States dropped atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki.
For many in America, this event can seem like a distant moment as it happened over seven decades ago on the other side of the globe, but for the Johns family the event is connected to their family history.
Leora Johns lives on a farm outside New Ulm with her daughter Connie Neal. Johns’ husband Erwin was stationed in the Pacific in 1945 and encountered the two planes that dropped the bombs, the Enola Gay and Bockscar, days before they carried out the mission. Not only did Erwin Johns see both planes but he also took photos of them.
Before the war photography was Erwins’ hobby and he continued taking photos throughout his time in the service.
On June 17, 1943, Erwin joined the Navy Construction Battalion also known as the C.B.s or Seabees. The Seabees job was to assist in the construction of naval bases in the Pacific. This included the construction of airstrips on islands. These airstrips were used to launch bombing raids on Japan. He eventually found himself stationed on the small island of Tinian.


Leora said other men in the navy brought their cameras but many were unable to develop their photos until after returning home. Erwin was able to develop his photos early through an inventive plan.
With the help of a friend Erwin constructed a dark room in the island’s paint shop. There, the two were able to develop photos of nearly every plane that landed on Tinian. Erwin was specifically photographing the nose art on a plane’s fuselage. Erwin and his friend sold prints of the photos they made to other men stationed there. This is how Erwin found himself in a position to photograph two of the most famous planes in history.
In addition to photos Leora has a tape recording of her husband explaining his time in the service. The video was recorded in August 1989, a few months before Erwin’s death.
In the video Erwin said he and the other men stationed on Tinian were aware the Enola Gay and Bockscar were not being loaded with the typical ordinance. The bombs arrived on the island by plane and were kept under extremely heavy guard.
The final assembly of the bombs took place on Tinian. Johns said he and the men stationed on the island needed to build a separate building for the assembly of the bombs. He remembered that every part of that building needed to be grounded against lightning strikes.


“We knew it was a bigger bomb, but we had no idea how big it was,” Johns said.
The power of the two atomic bombs was enough to annihilate both Hiroshima and Nagasaki. The total number of Japanese killed in the blasts may never be known, but conservative estimates place the death toll at a minimum of 100,000.
Johns said the dropping of the bombs brought a quick end to the war, which made the Seabees happy because they got to go home.
Johns was officially discharged from service on March 2, 1946, after nearly three years in the Navy.
With the money Johns made from selling plane photos, he was able to buy a new Chevrolet automobile. The vehicle came in handy as his first night back in New Ulm he took Leora Schulz, his future wife, out on their first date. Leora said he took her to the New Ulm Ballroom.


Leora said her husband did not talk about his experience in the war often, unless a friend from the service visited. During these special visits, Erwin would bring out his photo albums and take a trip down memory lane.
Leora and Connie have several photo albums full of original photos taken by Erwin during his time on Tinian. A few years ago Leora had the original photos taken by her husband appraised at the Antique Road Show in Bismark, North Dakota.
Much of this plane art has been lost over the years. For this reason alone, the photos taken by Erwin are valuable to historians, but it is the pictures of the Enola Gay and Bockscar that are most impressive.
“They told us to never sell these,” Leora said. “They said they belong in a museum.”
Photos courtesy of Leora Johns




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March 13, 2012 - Seabees gather for reunion in Manhattan

World War II veteran and coxswain’s CB John Hartford, an 85-year-old Manhattan resident, was honored as the oldest Seabee. Hartford joined the 62nd Naval Construction Battalion, Company B, and recalls boarding a ship headed for Iwo Jima on Christmas Day in 1944.

“We spent 62 days on a ship waiting for the war on Iwo Jima,” Hartford said. “We made it ashore under fire. No one was hurt because the rounds landed in an ammo dump.”

Hartford, who was the youngest man in his platoon, remembers receiving a package from his father.

“I got a package from my dad, which I stored in my sea bag and didn’t see again till we went ashore. When I finally opened it, I found a fruitcake,” he explained. “So, thanks to my dad, we ate fruitcake in a foxhole on my 19th birthday.”

He said his first assignment was guarding a survey party that was building a road, and he felt lucky to have Marines looking out for him.

“We had to watch the front and back,” he said. “Sometimes I got ahead of myself. I got lucky because the Marines on the front lines stopped me before I stepped outside the secured area.”

He recounted seeing the first B-29 aircraft land on the airstrip.

“It was shot up and low on fuel,” Hartford said. “They fueled up fast and took off again. And then there were the C-47 cargo planes bringing in mail and loading wounded Marines to take to Guam. When the magnetic machine that picks up shrapnel on the airstrip was hit by a land mine, we volunteered to go out and pick the stuff up by hand.”

Hartford said he went back to Iwo Jima in 2005 and was proud to see the airstrip still being used. Hartford told those who thanked him for his service: “The ones to thank are the veterans who didn’t come back. I came back and went on to enjoy life.”

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Everett Alfred Farrar (September 19, 1920–May 20, 1996)


Farrar enlisted in the United States Navy on December 5, 1942 in St. Louis, Missouri. 5 The Navy assigned him to the 62nd Naval Construction Battalion (CB), or the Seabees. Assigned to Company C, as seen here, Farrar engaged in work of the “utmost importance,” this being the repairs of the submarine facility on Oahu in March 1943. Additionally, the 62nd Seabees aided in the construction of new naval infrastructure on Oahu, such as communication network cabling, water systems, dykes, and pontoon assembly. After nineteen months on Oahu, in October 1944, the 62nd transferred to Maui to await the Iwo Jima invasion


The 62nd, including Farrar, embarked for Iwo Jima in mid-January 1945; he was a passenger on the U.S.S. Starr on January 11, 1945. 7 The 62nd arrived on February 19, Iwo Jima’s D-Day. The 62nd’s sailor were split across three different ships on D-Day, waiting for their time to land on the beaches after the initial invasion. Farrar likely experienced the terrifying Kamikaze pilots that plagued the stationary ships during the amphibious landings. According to the battalion history, they endured five days of airborne harassment from Japanese forces. On February 24, the first detachment of the 62nd landed at Green Beach as they waited for the battle to stop so they could begin their assignments.


Farrar and the 62nd Seabees began work on Number One Airfield as soon as the battle ceased, well before the area designated for the airfield had been secured by the Marines. The 62nd fought off banzai attacks, hid from Japanese snipers, and took cover from enemy mortar fire as they worked through the night. The first aircraft to land at the airfield was a crippled B-29 Superfortress returning home from a bombing mission over Tokyo. 9 After completing their work at Airfield Number One, Farrar and the 62nd began work on Camp Bola, named after one of their fallen comrades, and Airfield Number Two. Each of these locations expanded the capacity of aircraft and personnel at Iwo Jima, facilitating the vital Island Hopping campaigns towards the end of World War II. Moreover, Iwo Jima acted as one of the ultimate goals for the campaign, as it placed Allied bombers within range of Tokyo and other major production centers in Japan. Records show that 1,191 fighter escorts and 3,081 strike sorties departed from Iwo Jima against Japan after the capture of the island, demonstrating its vital role in the Pacific war


Farrar returned home after spending Victory-over Japan (VJ) Day on Iwo Jima. His service ended on December 17, 1945 as a Construction Mechanic Petty Officer 2nd Class. Before his official discharge from the Navy, Farrar met and later married Neva B. Smith on October 7, 1945 in Fulton, Arkansas.


Everett Farrar passed away on May 20, 1996 in Port Richey, FL. His family later memorialized him at the FLorida National Cemetery in Bushnell, FL on July 8, 1996. He is memorialized with his wife Neva, who passed on January 9, 1999 at Section MD Site 22

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Vestaburg WWII vet shares stories of Iwo Jima

Now just a couple weeks shy of his 96th birthday, Rex Throop was a 20-year-old Navy “SeaBee” when his boots hit the shores of Iwo Jima, one of the first men off his boat as Japanese mortar shells struck the beach in a pivotal battle of World War II.

He remembers his feet were wet as he looked up and witnessed a famous moment: the American flag being raised in the distance.

“I looked up and there she went,” Throop said of the flag raising that was captured on film, a notorious and lasting symbol of an American victory.

A Vestaburg native who joined the Navy’s construction battalion “because I didn’t want to be drafted in the Army,” Throop said he remembers seeking survival advice within moments of landing at Iwo Jima.

“I was a dumb kid so I saw this guy who was maybe 10 years older than me,” Throop said. “He told me what not to do and what to do to stay alive. ‘Dig a dang hole, boy,” he said. ‘Dig a place so you can hide.’”

Mortar shells were landing all over the beach as he dug a shelter.

When it was finished, two other men jumped in to the hole with Throop.

“It was kind of crowded,” Throop laughed. “One of the boys asked, ‘Don’t you think we ought to say a prayer?’ We did. And we all made it.”

Historical accounts of the battles on Iwo Jima note that the Navy’s Construction Battalions – the “Seabees” – incurred severe casualties and were key to winning the island position; Throop has a tenancy to downplay the serious parts.

“A lot of people gave everything. There were guys that saw a heck of lot,” he shrugged. “I thought about (the danger) later. We said ‘This is a job, we gotta get it done, boys.’ What do I remember? I’ve been trying to forget that.”

It’s the way it has always been with his war stories, said Duane Platt, Throop’s cousin.

“That was his story all the time. I’d say tell me about the war, he’d say, “I forgot about it all,’” Platt said.

Platt – along with Throop’s sister-in-law Mary Lu and family friends Carmen and Fred Patterson – listened this week as Rex described the war era.

More than 70 years later, there is a lot he can recall; his time on a California Naval base; his notable farm-league baseball career before and after the war; spending his first night in a bullet-ridden factory on Iwo Jima; seeing Hiroshima not too long after the U.S. dropped a nuclear bomb on the city.

“It was clean. Nothing but a little shack in the middle,” Throop said.

Patterson, a Navy veteran himself who served during the Vietnam era, also saw Hiroshima, but 20 years after the bombing; he remembers new growth and some war-damaged buildings intermingled.

Throop and Patterson met 12 years ago at church and bonded over their shared veteran status; Patterson said listening to stories from previous generations matters because they are a reminder of what we have and were we came from.

“We’re so luck to live in this country. It’s not about materialism, but more about family,” he said. His wife Carmen Patterson, whose father was a tail gunner during WWII, agreed.

“We need the connection to our past. To be reminded of what we have,” she said. “I think patriotism was different; We may be the last generation that believes in family and in sticking together for the good of each other.”

Platt served in the National Guard during the Vietnam era; he said he’s always listened with rapt attention when his older cousin shared stories.

“It’s important to hear the stories. Maybe so someday we’ll quit having these stupid wars,” Platt said.

Mary Lu Throop was 5 or 6 years old during WWII, living out of state near a base; she remembers soldiers coming to town and performing drills on Sundays and the families who lived there would feed the men dinner.

“It’s important for younger people to really understand what’s happened in our past,” she said as the group listened to Rex’s stories. “Our forefathers have built something, a way of life, and we need to keep it.”

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Seabees of the 19th Battalion borrowed a medium tank from the Marines and used its 75 mm. gun to save time and expense in blasting a roadway on Cape Gloucester, New Britain.

The startling innovation in road building came about when CCM Thomas J. Waters, became exasperated with the delay caused by the tedious process of driiling holes with a compressor and 1-1/ 4 inch bit. Such a hole eight feet into a volcanic hill kept a six-man crew busy for two hours, and another six hours were necessary to enlarge the hole enough to insert the explosive charge.

So, when Marine Gunnery Sgt. Frederick L. Adams Came by in his M-4 General Sherman tank, the Seabee chief took one look at its cannon and had an idea. The sergeant agreed to cooperate and obtained permission from his commanding

officer to pump a few shells into the hill. The experiment showed that high explosive shells exploded when striking the face of the embankment but that armor piercing projectiles left holes which could be quickly cleaned out so as to be entirely suitable

for placing the dynamite charges. A check-up on results showed a 6-man crew working with a tank could blast loose enough material in four and one-half hours to keep three shovels working 24 hours; whereas, without the tank, the same crew worked 12 hours, or almost three times as long to keep one shovel at work for 20 hours.

Blasting the holes with the cannon cost $59.50 per hole as compared to $125 for the conventional method.

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January 14, 1968 - Red Beach, Da Nang.


MCB-9 EONCN H.G. Hodges, USN, was killed and EON3 J.G. Stotko, USN, was wounded as the result of an enemy grenade detonation at approximately 0140 while manning a defensive position at the “Project Beaver” helicopter repair facility project at Red Beach, Da Nang. Stotko was flown by MEDEVAC to the 1st Marine Medical Battalion where he was listed in good condition. Preliminary investigations indicated that Hodges shielded the force of the blast from Stotko while attempting to hurl the enemy grenade from the bunker. Subsequently, The Silver Star Medal was posthumously awarded to Hodges for his heroic actions. These men were part of a 16-man security detail from NMCB-9 charged with manning the perimeter of the project site from 25 Dec 67 to 14 Jan 68.

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Seabees Share Khe Sanh Peril

KHE SANH, Viet Nam (UPI) —Frenchie got his second Purple Heart this week. Fragments from an artillery shell that killed two Marines hit him in the left leg. It was a relatively minor wound for this place. Within an hour he had been treated and sent back to the bunker for five days of light duty. Frenchie is EON 3 Emile Blanc, 22, of 5693 Cypress Road, Oxnard, Calif. He heads a squad of Seabees (Navy Construction Workers) supporting the Marines at this besieged outpost. Close calls with incoming communist shells is becoming a daily experience for Frenchie and the other Seabees here. Because of the critical need for more and better bunkers, they are working overtime through the almost constant shelling to dig new holes out of the deep red soil of the plateau. It is a dangerous business. Paul Puchala, 23, of New Bedford, Mass., has one of the tougher jobs. Aboard his giant bulldozer, “Pooch” cannot hear the mortar and sniper rounds the communists often fire at him. “When I work, I have a Marine stand in front of the dozer far enough away so he can hear the sound of incoming artillery

l above the engine,” Pooch said. ■ “If he jumps, I jump.” Pooch’s bulldozer is one of the few pieces of heavy equipment that the seabees have managed to keep in running condition ' here. Take F’renchie’s jeep, for instance. It has been hit by shrapnel four times and now needs parts from three other junked Jeeps to keep operating. “Every time we take a piece of equipment out I get the feeling that Charlie says, ‘There go those stupid Seabees again. Let’s shoot at them’,” said EOL David Nall, 31, of Belle Glade, Fla. “It does not make working any easier.” The risks being taken by the Seabees are paying off. The camp’s bunkers are getting deeper and fewer men die. “Every day the Communists wait, the deeper we dig,” Frenchie said. “He is going to have a tough time overruning this place now.” It has been tough for the Seabees, too. In the past eight weeks, the Seabees have had one of the highest casualty rates in the camp

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SYNOPSIS: Chief Carpenter's Mate Elmer I. Carruthers, Jr. (NSN: 6586399), United States Navy, was awarded the Silver Star for conspicuous gallantry and intrepidity in connection with military operations against an armed enemy while serving with a Naval Construction Battalion at Bougainville, 20 November 1943.


General Orders: Bureau of Naval Personnel Information Bulletin No. 339 (June 1945)
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News Story:
“On November 20, 1943, the advance of the United States Marines along the River Piva on Bougainville, British Solomons Islands was held up due to the resistance of the Nips and also due to the fact that there was not sufficient clearing beyond the front lines to permit the Marines to advance in numbers. At that time the front line was some three hundred yards west of Piva River though a path had been “bull-dozed” nearly half a mile east beyond the river and the Marines were in scattered numbers on either side of the path. Company “I” of the 25th Naval Construction Battalion had been assigned the task of driving a path on beyond this point and to such point as the Nips could be contacted and driven back. It had been a very dangerous and tedious piece of work and it had been necessary for the Marines to guard the “Seabees” while they worked in the area making the needed clearing for a further advance.
Chief Carpenter's Mate Elmer Irving Carruthers, Jr. had been in the area the previous day with his men and was not scheduled to return there on the 20th. Carruthers however, volunteered to go and it apparently eased the minds of those assigned to go in to have him along as he had proved himself a good leader and held the courage of the men together. The party set out on the morning of the 20th of November. They were being guarded by a platoon of Marines under the command of a Captain. Sniper fire was coming into the area, but without serious damage to any of the Sea Bees. Suddenly Japanese mortars opened up and it was necessary for all to seek cover quickly, since it was apparent that the Nips had the range. Carruthers ordered his men to seek cover under the blade of the “bull-dozer,” and as there was not room for him there he fell flat on his face on the ground near a large tree with Marines doing the same thing all around him. A mortar shell hit the top of the tree, and simultaneously another mortar shell hit the ground. Both exploded. The five “Seabees” under the blade of the “bull-dozer” were slightly wounded. Four Marines were killed and several wounded. Carruthers received a shell fragment through his left side (entering from the back) and in his leg.
Carruthers said, “I am pretty badly wounded and I am going to die, for it got me in a vital spot.” Immediately they started to get him out and to a dressing station. Father Robert J. Cronin, Lieutenant, Junior Grade, Naval Reserve, attached to the Marine Raiders in the area came running to assist and was most helpful in getting him out of the danger zone and towards the dressing station, but he died before they could reach the station.
On the morning of November 21, 1943, he was buried in Island Cemetery No. 3. Father Cronin read the burial service as there were no Protestant chaplains available at that time. As many of his fellow men as could be spared went to the funeral and those who could not be spared to attend asked the ones going to pay their respects to him.
It was the desire of the Battalion that some token of esteem be given to Carruthers so a bridge on Bougainville Highway 25 was named, “CARRUTHERS BRIDGE,” plus the following inscription on the marker (one on each side of the bridge): “Dedicated to Eddie (his nickname) I. Carruthers, Jr., who gave his life blazing a trail beyond the front lines.” The members of his Company cast a bronze tablet which was placed at the foot of his grave with the following inscription: IN MEMORY OF EDDIE I. CARRUTHERS, JR., C.C.M. 25th N.C.B. WHO GAVE HIS LIFE BLAZING A TRAIL BEYOND THE FRONT LINES NOVEMBER 20, 1943.

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He watched his friends die in Vietnam. 50 years later, this judge returned to that same spot with their families.

May 25, 2018.

“Greater love has no one than this: to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.” – John 15:13

The judge arrived nervously, sitting alone on a train with no idea what would happen when he walked outside the station.

He told them he would be wearing a polo shirt and khaki pants.

Would they want to hear his story? All of it? Even the parts that had haunted him for almost 50 years? Would they accept him? Would they resent him for bringing up something so uncomfortable? Or would they embrace him?

Would they cry with him?

The judge walked out of the train station not knowing how he would recognize the man he was looking for.

It was 2013. San Francisco. The judge was 66 years old then, thin, athletic, looking younger than his age. It was a fit appearance that hid the fact that the prostate cancer had come back. He had traveled there because, along with the anger and the sadness and the WHY ME? that comes with cancer, there was a hole inside him, and he had to fill it by connecting with the sons and daughters, the brothers and sisters of the men who died on that horrible day on Hill 494 near that dusty rock quarry in Vietnam.

He felt like he had to do it. So, in 2013, Rick King launched this quest to meet all of them. One by one. San Francisco was only his first stop. There would be other visits in Atlanta, in Salt Lake City, in Mission Viejo.

He had figured out a way to honor the dead men from Detail Echo. He wanted to invite all their families to travel to Vietnam and stand with him at the spot where they died on the 50th anniversary of that precise moment.

“What the hell is this going to be like?” King remembers thinking. As an Orange County Superior Court judge for all these years, dealing with uncertain outcomes had always been his strength.

Not this time.

On the street outside the BART station, a monster truck revved its engine. The driver looked like a weightlifter. A woman in the passenger seat said, “Are you Rick?”

The khakied judge gave a furtive nod.

That’s when the driver said, “Well, get in.”

"Get out!’

The monster truck’s driver was Ken Retzloff, a semi-retired trailer salesman from the Bay Area. He took King to an Italian restaurant in Walnut Creek.

“I didn’t know a lot,” Retzloff said of his brother’s death. “I’m not even sure my parents knew very much. They didn’t want to talk about it.”

So King started talking.

“I’m here to tell you I saw the last couple of minutes of your brother’s life,” King said.

“I want to hear it,” Retzloff said.

By the time he finished, they would be calling Rick King a saint.

The names of Detail Echo’s dead are seared in King’s mind: James Galati of Philadelphia; Allan Mair of Park City, Utah; George DeShurley of Roswell, New Mexico; Mark Hodel of Lodi; John Peek of Pontiac, Michigan; and James Retzloff of Redding. All of them were Seabees, the U.S. Navy’s construction battalion, assigned to widen a small stretch of Vietnam’s Highway 1 between the cities of Da Nang and Hue.

King was a power shovel operator and rock blaster with the crew.

They died March 31, 1968. The official story released to the families was shy of details. Their camp just north of Phu Loc was attacked twice by Viet Cong on the same morning. Basically, the relatives were told there was enemy mortar fire and death.

King saw it all from atop a berm about 50 yards away from the pit where his friends died.

“I see the mortar rounds getting closer and closer,” King said. “I’m yelling GET OUT … They could have bailed, but they didn’t. They kept on returning fire.

“Then suddenly there was only smoke. I couldn’t see them anymore.”

Eighty-five Seabees were killed in the Vietnam War – six on that day.

Two of them were Rick King’s friends.

The families, King thought, needed to know the details.

Quick decision

King always loved heavy machinery.

His father, Altie, had sold road-building vehicles and equipment while King was growing up. At Belleville Township High School in Illinois, King’s academic record was ranked 800th out of 900 students. But after school … that’s when he shined. In 1965, he was an industrious 18-year-old kid, making $4.40 per hour (the equivalent of almost $30 per hour today) in the driver’s seat of a bulldozer..

“I had every intention of operating a bulldozer the rest of my life,” King said.

One night he was hanging out with a buddy when they decided, out of the blue, to join the Navy. When his mother found out, she was devastated.

“It was a seven-second decision drinking Blitz Beer,” King said.

He started as a “deck ape” on the USS Sierra, a destroyer tender (repair ship). He swabbed the deck and painted the deck and hated the deck.

“I thought what in the hell did I get myself into?” he said.

In 1966, he played softball on a Navy team with the personnel director of the USS Sierra. King requested assignment with the Seabees. Construction is what he thought he was born to do. In October 1966, King started training to become a Seabee. He found himself operating a power shovel, stripping the earth and dumping rocks in a Mack truck.

“It’s the first time I felt like I accomplished anything,” King said.

Breaking the news

In early April 1968, 14-year-old Ken Retzloff was getting off the school bus in Sattley, a town of 60 residents in Northern California. A family friend approached him somberly and said the Navy had sent representatives to his house.

He knew immediately that his brother was gone.

“I threw everything down and ran to my house,” he said.

Around the same time thousands of miles away, Rob DeShurley was visiting his mother, who was in the hospital in Roswell, New Mexico, when the Navy men showed up in a blue sedan. They talked to his grandfather in the hospital lobby.

“My grandfather sat me down and said my dad would not be coming home,” DeShurley said.

I looked at the young one and said, ‘You killed my daddy.’ The look on his face was pure heartbreak.”

— Laura Rempher, daughter of John Peek, who was killed in Vietnam.

The same scene was playing across America. A dark sedan pulled into the driveway of the Peek house in Pontiac, Michigan. Laura Rempher, who was just about to turn 5, saw two men, one much older than the other, get out and go into the house. They asked if the children should leave the room. Her mother allowed her to stay.

“I remember the white Navy uniforms,” said Rempher, who is now 55. “I thought they were going to let my daddy come home early. Then the old one says, ‘We regret to inform you … your husband has been killed in action.’ I was sure they were lying. They’re wrong. I looked at the young one and said, ‘You killed my daddy.’ The look on his face was pure heartbreak.”

John Hodel, who was raised in Lodi, was 7 years old when his brother died. He was riding his bike when his mother called him inside.

“All I knew was a mortar shell hit him, and we couldn’t view the body because it wasn’t intact,” Hodel said.

They had to learn to live without their fathers, their brothers. Trunks of trinkets from their lost lives were put away in the garage. Bedrooms were left untouched for so many years.

Friendly advice

Over pasta, Rick King continued his story, careful to hold the most horrible details until the end. Ken Retzloff listened intently, tears rolling down his face.

King’s memories took them back to early 1968.

King knew he was in hell when he saw a Vietnamese child shot in the head and left by the side of the road. He hasn’t been able to shake that image.

He rolled into the South Vietnamese region of Phu Loc during the Tet Offensive, when the North Vietnamese began attacking U.S.-supported areas. His job was to scoop rocks from the quarry and get them to the crusher, where they could be used to make the asphalt and road rock that widened Highway 1.

In one stretch, it rained for 28 straight days.

“It was mud and mud and mud,” King said. “Everything that was good in the world became bad.”

He lived in a hooch (hut) in a camp of 180 men. King remembers he and his campmates, shirts off, laying rows and rows of razor wire around the camp, cutting themselves silly in the spring humidity. Their only fun came in the form of Twinkies, cigarettes and the occasional beer, King said. As they were trying to stay alive, the U.S. military was trying to clear the brush around their camp by spraying Agent Orange, a poison that killed foliage.

As if the danger from the Viet Cong wasn’t enough.

King made friends with a couple of guys. One was Jim “J.R.” Retzloff, who had played on the softball team with King a few months earlier. Another was John Peek, who was a quirky guy from Michigan with, despite the fact that he was only 27, a receding hairline.

“I busted his chops,” King said. Years later, King said Peek looked a little like the actor Paul Giamatti, who was in “Sideways” and “Cinderella Man.”

As war buddies do, they talked about the future, envisioning a day when they would not be caked in mud.

Peek said he was moving to California to do construction.

“I told him I was going to work driving a bulldozer for a coal company,” King said. “No more than that.”

Peek was shocked. King was a smart kid who didn’t seem to fit a bulldozer lifestyle.

“He said, ‘Don’t turn out like me,’ ” King remembers. “He said, ‘You should think about going to school. You could do something with your life.’ “

Retzloff overhead the conversation and joined in. He agreed school, not bulldozers, should be in the future for Rick King.

As their time on Hill 494 crept on, Peek and Retzloff kept repeating their message to King.

Go to school. Make your life into something bigger.

Camp under attack

The battle that killed six Seabees was for the bridge at the Truoi River.

Two American tanks had pulled into the construction camp on Hill 494 north of Phu Loc. The tanks aimed 8-inch shells at the north side of the bridge, which was occupied by the Viet Cong and North Vietnamese. Fifteen Marines, one corpsman and 64 North Vietnamese soldiers were killed in the fight.

King knew those tanks would become targets. It didn’t make King feel any better when he considered this: His battle station position was alongside the two tanks.

“I was thinking, how do I stay alive?” King said.

On March 31, 1968, shells started flying into the Detail Echo encampment around 2 a.m.

James Galati was asleep in his hut when the mortar hit.

He suffered massive head injuries.

The attack prompted the camp’s corpsman to ask for volunteers to help the wounded in the Battle Aid station, which was built in a bunker beneath the camp.

King said he was the first to raise his hand. He would have done anything to get away from those tanks.

King was assigned to comfort Galati.

“I could see part of his brain,” King said. “He would go into convulsions. I would hug him. I changed his bandages.”

He told Galati to hang on. A medevac helicopter was on the way.

Galati was the first Seabee to die that day.

What happened next

Rick King remembers the whistling sound.

Incoming mortar fire. It was the second enemy attack of the day.

King saw six Seabees, including his buddies John Peek and J.R. Retzloff, in their battle station near the middle of camp. In the early morning darkness, they began firing back at the Viet Cong with 81-millimeter mortars, destroying two enemy mortars that were firing at Hill 494.

As sunlight appeared over Phu Loc, the Seabees appeared to have weathered the barrage. It was March 31, 1968.

It is impossible to determine how many lives those fighting Seabees saved in the first few hours of that horrible morning. It is impossible to know if they felt a sense of accomplishment. They had done what they had been trained to do. Did they have a cigarette to celebrate?

"I was thinking, how do I stay alive?” Rick King

What happened next would never be forgotten by the families of the men or by King, who, after he found out he had cancer in 2012, decided to track down the family members of all the Seabees who died that day and invite them to travel with him to Vietnam to mark the 50th anniversary.

On that morning, King was helping the wounded in the underground battle aid station, changing the bandages of a Seabee with massive head wounds, telling him and the rest of the wounded to hang on. The helicopter was coming to rescue them.

His patient, James Galati, wouldn’t make it, and neither would the helicopter.

Suddenly, at 7 a.m., the medevac crashed on the hillside next to the camp. Two more men died – Daniel Pesimer of Salt Rock, West Virginia, and Ken Yantis of Philadelphia. There would be no escape route for the wounded.

Just before 8 a.m., King left the relative safety of the underground. He climbed a tall berm and surveyed the camp. He saw his buddies, Peek and Retzloff, surrounded by a circle of sandbags. The whistling of incoming mortars was intensifying now.

King saw an explosion from an enemy round. Then another. Then another. From his position on the berm, he could see the explosions getting closer and closer to the pit where his buddies were fighting.

He started yelling, imploring them to run for their lives.

They didn’t run. They kept firing back.

And then King saw an explosion in their pit. Suddenly, the smoke from explosions in the camp was as thick as shaving cream.

King ran toward the pit. One man, Tuska Terrell of Louisiana, survived the mortar blast. Terrell was screaming, covered in blood.

“He’s walking like a zombie,” King said.

King asked another soldier to lead Terrell to the battle aid station. King kept moving forward through the haze to find his friends.

That’s when King entered the pit.

Getting into college

Rick King served two tours of duty in Vietnam with most of his time spent scooping, breaking and moving rocks for Highway 1. He separated from the Navy in July 1969. He earned the Navy Achievement Medal with a combat V for his efforts.

By the time he landed back in the United States, he had made a life-changing decision.

He was going to college, just like his buddies Peek and Retzloff had implored him to do.

“I thought if I don’t try, I’ll be letting a couple of guys down,” King said.

King went to Santa Monica City College and made his living working as a gardener, then at a liquor store and then as a paperboy. He transferred to UCLA. He graduated cum laude with a degree in sociology. And he kept going. He went to law school at the University of San Diego and graduated in 1977, nine years after he was given advice by his friends.

His career took off.

His first job out of law school, as it should have been, was working as an attorney for the Veteran’s Administration in Washington, D.C. Then he worked in construction litigation with an office in Irvine.

In 1981, King applied for the Orange County District Attorney’s Office and the Office of the Public Defender at the same time.

“The D.A. called first,” he said.

By 1984, King was working as a prosecutor in the prestigious homicide division. He got a conviction in the case of Thomas Maniscalco, the attorney/biker who killed three people in a Westminster home. He got a conviction in the case of William Clinton Clark, who not only killed a woman in a Fountain Valley computer store, but who also convinced his girlfriend to kill a witness to the murder while he was in custody.

King worked in homicide for 15 years, the last eight as supervisor of the division.

He was placed in charge of the District Attorney’s Sexual Assault Division.

In 2000, he was appointed a Superior Court judge, and rose quickly in that position, too. At one point, he supervised all 24 judges in the Orange County judicial system. When he was sworn in, he invited Robert DeShurley, the son of deceased Seabee George DeShurley, to attend.

“I was honored to be there,” DeShurley said.

King’s chambers are filled with law books, family photos (he has four children) and medals, maps and memories from Vietnam.

He talked about the oath that is given at the start of every jury trial. The jurors are told to rise and pledge “to almighty God that I will give a true verdict.”

“While that is happening,” King said. “I look at the flag. In every case, I’m thinking about those guys.”

His “guys” are the Seabees who didn’t come home from Vietnam.

Persistent disease

The cancer diagnosis came in February 2012. Rick King was 65 years old. He didn’t feel sick. He wasn’t in pain.

His exam showed high levels of Prostate-Specific Antigen (PSA). One in 41 American men will die of prostate cancer. It is the second leading cause of cancer death, behind lung cancer. King didn’t know, at the time, about the studies that showed a link between Agent Orange exposure and cancer.

He was given three choices: Do nothing. Radiation treatments. Or surgery.

He chose surgery, which was completed on April 30, 2012.

Six months later, he got more bad news.

“They didn’t get it all,” King said.

So he chose option 2: Radiation.

Even after those treatments, cancer came back.

It’s enough to make a man start to think. King said he went through the stages of grief – denial, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance.

That’s when he got an idea.

“All of a sudden, I thought of those guys,” King said. “They didn’t get to do any of the stuff I did. These guys didn’t get 50 years of life like I did. I owe them something. I had to pay them back.”

Not only would he reach out to the families of all the guys whose deaths he witnessed in Vietnam, but he would also invite them to join him on a trip back to Phu Loc on the 50th anniversary of that horrible day.

Meetings with families of the dead

King wrote letters to the families of five men – Retzloff, Hodel, Mair, Galati and Peek. He already knew the DeShurley family. Galati’s family didn’t want to be involved.

The others were wary.

At first, all they knew was they had received correspondence from a man saying he wanted to talk with them about Vietnam.

“The very first time, I thought it could be a scam,” Retzloff said. “But Rick had so much information. He knew what was going on.”

Laura Rempher, the daughter of King’s buddy John Peek, said a man had contacted her 10 years earlier saying he was a friend of her father’s. The man told her he had been with his father when he died. He was lying. Wary, she checked out Rick King’s credentials. When she found he was a Superior Court judge, she felt more at ease.

All of them wanted to know more details.

“I wanted to know everything,” said Hodel, who now lives in Laguna Niguel. “He (King) stitched the story together for me. The quilt became something I could recognize. It brought me closer together with my brother. That gave me real peace.”

King flew to Utah to meet with Juanita Woolman – Allan Mair’s sister.

“I was curious what he had to say,” Woolman said.

He flew to Atlanta to meet with Peek’s children, Laura Rempher and her brothers, Ricky and Randy.

King told Rempher that her father had helped change his life.

“My first thought was, ‘Way to go, Dad,’ ” Rempher said. “It was so wonderful to hear since I never got to hear those words myself

Revealing the truth

King met each family member with two messages.

First, the men who died were heroes. They not only took out two enemy mortars, they stayed in the fight even when they could have run for cover. They died protecting the rest of the camp.

“I felt proud to hear Rick say that,” Woolman said.

And second … they were not ready for the second message.

King told them that he had volunteered to handle the bodies.

He had walked through the smoke, past the sandbags and into a pit of human remains. And he felt the responsibility to clean it up. He didn’t want some nameless Seabee to do it. Those were his guys.

“I picked up John Peek’s flak jacket,” King said. He had to pause to maintain his composure.

Another Seabee gave him plastic bags with zippers. Carefully, they hoisted what was left of those men into those bags and zipped them shut.

Then King threw up. He remembers smoking a cigarette when it was over.

“I took a shower and washed off all the blood,” King said.

Within two weeks, the Seabees built a cross and planted it in the pit.

Almost 50 years later, he recounted those moments for each family because he wanted them to know that their loved ones were treated with respect. He felt compelled to tell them that.

“It was moving,” Ken Retzloff said. “I had a hard time speaking.”

John Hodel, who met King at a sushi restaurant in Mission Viejo, said in one minute he was listening to the story, and then he was floored by the presence of the man who was telling it.

“The man I’m shaking hands with at the end of dinner is a different man than the man I was shaking hands with at the beginning of dinner,” Hodel said. “Those were the last hands that touched my brother.”

Rempher said hearing that King handled her father’s remains gave her such peace.

“A good friend made sure he was taken care of,” she said. “It was gut-wrenching and surreal to hear him say it. But I’m glad I did. I think of him (King) as a great man.”

50th anniversary

Four families flew to Vietnam with King.

The irony was not lost on anyone when they checked into the Vedana Lagoon Resort and Spa, a luxury property less than a mile from the spot of the tragedy.

To a person, they said they had partially come for their fallen loved one, but also they had come for King. They knew he needed them to be there. They knew about his battles with prostate cancer. He is in the midst of a trial of a new drug, and he has high hopes.

But his future may be murky.

They followed him through the vegetation to the spot where the Seabees had once planted a cross. They burned incense and piled up Twinkies and packs of cigarettes. They left a can of beer.

At precisely 8 a.m., they stood together.

“It was 50 years ago that I had the honor of coming to this mortar pit and putting five people, two of whom I knew very well, into body bags,” King said as the family members wiped their eyes. King paused to catch his breath and hold back his emotions. “It was truly an honor for me to do that. We are here to honor their death. We are here because, in about 2012, I was diagnosed with cancer caused by Agent Orange, and I went through a period of time where I was sorry. I felt sorry for myself. I had anger. Then I remembered, as I did every day, these guys …”

They read a letter that George DeShurley’s mother had written 50 years ago. John Hodel quoted the Bible (John 15:13) “Greater love has no one than this: to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.

They also visited the bridge where 16 other Americans died that day.

King flew home knowing he had done something good for his guys.

“There were chills in me,” King said. “I felt as if it was a mission accomplished. The families got their peace, and that gave me my peace. I feel better for them, and I feel better for myself.”

He said he thought about two things as he stood in that pit.

Death can be so random, he said. If he had been with his buddies, instead of where he was …

“It could have been me,” King said.

And he thought about how those guys, his guys, never knew the impact they would have on their families.

“Fifty years later, you can see the emotion,” he said. “You can see how that war impacted everyone.”

When the short ceremony was over, King was approached by Woolman.

“I never knew how they treated those bodies,” she said later. “Now I know the type of person Rick is. I know he treated them with respect.”

She thanked him.

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In the military: Terry Brick Sr. enlisted in the Navy in 1968 at the height of the Vietnam War. “I got drafted into the Army and changed my mind a day later,” he said. He was trained first at Gulfport, Miss., then went to a Seabee unit in Coronado, Calif. Seabees are naval construction units. Brick then was shipped to Vietnam. He was stationed in Danang at first, then was sent to the DMZ, the area on the border of North and South Vietnam. Brick, part of a 25- or 30-man crew, cleared the brush and trees and built an airstrip there so Marine units could land there by helicopter. “The Seabees were the first in to put the airstrip in before the Marines could land,” Brick said. He said he saw Viet Cong troops that were stationed across a river, but “never a shot was fired for some reason.” It was a different story when the Seabees built another airstrip at Chu Lai, near Danang. “We got hit at night,” Brick said. “We spent the next six hours fighting the Viet Cong. We lived, they didn’t.” Brick said he spent almost two years in Vietnam. When he was transferred home, he went to the Groton sub base, and spent the last four years of his military career here. He said his duties as a Seabee were a little different. “I built a trailer park and ballpark on Gungywamp Road,” he said. Brick also got some bad news about his Vietnam service. A doctor told him he had worked driving a bulldozer at a site that had just been sprayed with Agent Orange, a cancer-causing chemical the military used in Vietnam to kill trees and brush. As a result, Brick got skin cancer and is rated a 100 percent disabled veteran. Brick left the military with the rank of petty officer second-class.

After the military: Brick, 73, got married and stayed in the area after leaving the Navy. He now lives in Norwich. He worked building engines at his company, TLB Auto Machine in Norwich. He said he doesn’t want to retire. “No, no, I’m having fun. I enjoy my work,” he said. He is also a member of the Veterans of Foreign Wars and Disabled American Veterans. Divorced, Brick has four children and one granddaughter.

Quotable: Brick recommends the military to young people. “It would teach how to deal with things,” he said. “When you go to boot camp, you have respect or you’ll be in deep trouble.”

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Palmyra man used farming skills as Seabee in World War II


Stanley Corbin was out with his friends in Jefferson County, Pennsylvania, that Sunday when word came over the radio that the Japanese had bombed Pearl Harbor. It was Dec. 7, 1941, the day that President Franklin Roosevelt proclaimed “would live in infamy.”
At the time, Corbin (now 92 and living in Palmyra), a farm boy of 16 years of age, was a junior at Beechwood High School, and right away wanted to enlist in the Marine Corps. He was told he would have to wait until he turned 17 before he could enter the military. That would be Dec. 6, 1942.


“I enlisted on my birthday,” he recalled, “and it was mid-year of my senior year. I thought someone of the family had to be in there to do whatever they were going to do.”
However, his hopes of becoming a Marine came to an abrupt halt. During his induction in Pittsburgh, it was discovered that Corbin was color blind.
“They told me that I couldn’t enlist in the Navy or the Marines,” he said, “because being color blind, I couldn’t go into jungle warfare and would not see the enemy sneaking through the bushes. Yes, I was disappointed.”


But there was an option.
Rear Admiral Ben Morelle had been given authorization by the Navy Department on Jan. 5, 1942 to form Construction Battalions that became known as Seabees. Throughout the war, 325,000 men served in those Navy battalions. And Stanley Corbin was one of them.
After three weeks of boot camp at Camp Perry in Virginia followed by six weeks of advanced military and technical training at Port Hueneme, Calif., Corbin was assigned to one of 39 Special Construction battalions whose mission was to unload ships in combat zones.
The Navy had discovered that using civilian personnel for those jobs was impractical. Men with practical experience was the answer.
“They put me in with experienced longshoremen,” Corbin said, who at 17 was the youngest seaman in his battalion. “I didn’t feel intimidated. They rushed us through training to unload ships, and then in San Diego, put us on a ship with 2 to 3,000 troops and crew, and headed for Guadalcanal in the South Pacific for a two-year tour of duty. It took 30 days to get there


One day onboard, an officer wanted to know if anybody in the Fourth Special Battalion had been trained to run a loading barge. That’s when Corbin, a Second Class Seaman, heard his name called.


Sir, I’m fresh off the farm, and I don’t know how to run a barge,” he told the officer.
“Kid, if you can run a team of horses on a farm, you can learn to run one of these things,” came the reply.
Looking back at that moment, Corbin said that he soon learned the officer was right.
“I had the experience running farm machinery,” he said, commenting that it helped him in learning to run a barge that floated on large pontoons that he would need to navigate out to cargo ships riding at anchor off the beach at Guadalcanal. “There were no piers on Guadalcanal. We unloaded one ship after another 24 hours a day and built Guadalcanal into a powerful base.”
On the way out to a ship, his cargo was longshoremen who, once on a ship, would set rigging and begin the unloading process.
On the way back to shore, the cargo could be food, ammunition, fuel, troops, “all kinds of supplies,” Corbin said, “and the longshoremen.”
He promised himself that he was “going to do the best I could do to run this barge. I never heard any complaints.”


However, these runs often were not done in the best of conditions. He pointed out that GIs “were battling the Japanese just beyond our camp on the beach at Koli Point.”
“We unloaded ships between air raids,” Corbin continued. “When there was a report that Japanese airplanes were overhead, we took our men back to the beach until the air raid was over. Then we went back to unloading the ships.”
During air raids at night, all the ships and the entire island went into blackout mode. “We worked under fire,” Corbin said, “and wore helmets and gas masks.”



As he began his two years on Guadalcanal, Corbin questioned what he was doing.
“I won’t lie,” he said. “I was afraid and asked myself, 'what did I get myself into?'”
But he had an antidote for fear.
“You were kept busy thinking more about your job and doing it right,” Corbin stated.
His battalion also dealt with malaria


Guadalcanal was a bad place for malaria,” Corbin said. “All 1,200 in our battalion including me came down with it. They gave me medication, but I was young enough that I never missed any of my duties. I took into consideration that I was used to hard work.”
After a 30-day leave back in the States, he was deployed in the 38th Special Battalion for a second tour of duty, this time to the Philippines as replacements for a Seabee outfit that had suffered losses from a bombing raid. The work was to be the same as on Guadalcanal.


Curiously enough, Corbin, now 18 and an experienced barge seaman, was tested to determine if he could handle a barge.
A boatswain’s mate took him out on a barge to see what he could do.
The mate’s report: “He knew more that I know about running the thing.”
When Japan surrendered on Aug. 15, 1945, Corbin as well as his fellow-Seabees breathed a great sigh of relief.
“We knew we’d soon be going home,” he said. “We jumped up and down and were glad it was ended.” Upon his discharge, Corbin had achieved the rank of Coxswain, equivalent to the rank of sergeant in the Army.


His 92 years is proof-positive as are his Victory Medal, service ribbons that include American Campaign, Asiatic Pacific, Philippine Liberation, and one for Good Conduct.



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On This Day in Seabee History: 9 September 1943 -

Before dawn on this day, initial Allied landings took place at Salerno, Italy. For these landings, the 12-mile beach was divided into two parts. The north section was invaded by the 46th British Division that landed from tank landing ships with the aid of the 1006th Seabee Causeway Detachment (CBD 1006). The south section was invaded by the American forces that also landed on causeways laid down by Seabee pontoon crews. The Germans, however, were ready at Salerno. The landing ships carrying the Seabees and their pontoons took a frightful beating. Many pontoon strings were sent ashore and were blown up on the mined beaches. Allied ships guarding the beaches were bombed by German guided missiles and dive bombers and torpedoes and shelled by German submarines and patrol craft. During the first ten days of the battle, the Seabees bivouacked on the Salerno beaches while they unloaded ships, built unloading-slips and roadways, and cleared traffic, and did it all while under constant fire. The 1006th Detachment suffered 28 percent casualties. LT Carl M. Olson, CEC, USNR, the Officer in Charge of the 1006th Detachment, and seven of his men were killed in action. The Allies won the battle at Salerno, and Seabee operations were invaluable in the great victory

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"Seabee News service Report - 8 June, 1945.


EARL R. LEYTHAM PTR. 2c was scheduled to be left in the rear echelon when his battalion lifted anchor for Okinawa. Not wanting to miss the show, he swung a bargain which enabled him to go along. Specifically, he volunteered to take a bulldozer

ashore on L-Day. April 1, 1945.

On the beach they asked for directions."Head that way," an MP motioned vaguely inland, "and keep asking.

The assault waves hit the beaches on schedule. Less than four hours later a call

came for a dozer to excavate a gas dump revetment, somewhere up at the front." Leytham, his machine and two mates, Egbert H. Vaughan, S1c,and Byron R. Hunt, MM1c, were sent ashore.

Leytham and his companions went "that way," the former driving his R-4, Vaughan and Hunt, afoot, their carbines on the ready. They continued to ask MP's for directions. The MP's continued to wave them inland.

Finally the Seabees pulled to a stop. there weren't any more MP's, they noticed. In fact, there weren't any more Marines or anything else.

They decided there was nothing to do but go on. Just as they started, a Matine scout patrol overtook them. "what in hell are you doing up here with that thing?" they queried.

"We're looking for the place we're supposed to dig a gas dump. It's somewhere near the front."

"Front, helI" yelped the sergeant. "You Just passed the last advance scouting parties about 200 yards back!"

It was dark before the cat skinners made their ,way' back to the beach. but Leytham was satisfied. He had been "in on the show."

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75 years later, East Helena veteran reflects on surviving D-Day

CURT SYNNESS Independent Record Jun 6, 2019 .

On June 11, 1944, five days after the Allies’ invasion of Normandy, 17-year-old Navy Seabee Dick Stafford was stationed on Omaha Beach. When Stafford and a buddy spotted a lone German observation plane approaching, they tried to shoot it down with a machine gun.

During the course of action, a hunk of shrapnel came down and struck Seaman Stafford in the face, knocking him to the ground.

“I knew it knocked out my eye, because the fluid was dripping down my cheek,” Stafford, 92, related during an interview last week.

The loss of his left eye meant the end of Stafford’s physical involvement in World War II. But it was not the end of his patriotism and loyalty to his country. For the rest of his life, Stafford has actively participated in countless local-area military events, parades and memoriams, and has remained a staunch supporter of his fellow veterans.

Pulling rank

When I arrived at Stafford’s home for our interview in East Helena with my envoy, Maj. Gen. Gene Prendergast, the old sailor was still dressed in his civilian clothes.

“I was going to get in uniform, but you guys are too early,” he said.

Gen. Prendergast informed him that we had time to change into uniform for a photo, to which Stafford replied, “Well, yes sir, since as a lowly E3 you outrank me.”

When reminded that the general actually used to be one of his students at Helena High School back in the 1950s, he grinned and said, “Oh, yeah, that’s right.”

“And what a strict taskmaster he was,” added Prendergast.

Like father, like son

Dick’s dad, Opie Stafford, served in both WWI, as 16-year-old in the Army Field Artillery, and WWII, as a 41-year-old Navy Seabee.

“My dad joined in World War I to get away from the sheriff, and for World War II to get away from my mother,” Stafford quipped.

Dick attended elementary school in Walla Walla, Washington, graduating eighth grade in 1941. It was his last year of school, until entering college after the war.

He enlisted in the Navy in 1943, at age 16, and lied about his age because you were supposed to be 17 to serve. His father had pulled a similar trick, 26 years earlier.

“I have two birthdays; I was born Oct. 10, 1926,” Stafford said. “But the Navy thinks it was Oct. 10, 1925.”

Serving in the Seabees (prompting his dad to re-enlist in the same outfit), Stafford crossed the Atlantic Ocean on the RSS Mauretania, zig-zagging across water to avoid the German U-Boats.

While stationed in England, he earned the Navy Commendation medal just two days before D-Day, wielding a Browning Automatic Rifle.

“For action at 0207 HRS on June 4, 1944, in Portland Harbor, England, by Seaman Richard E. Stafford,” the commendation reads, “who fired a Browning Automatic Rifle at close range into the pilot and co-pilot compartment of a German reconnaissance aircraft causing the pilot to abort his mission.”

Hitting the beach

On the morning of June 6, 1944, Stafford was aboard a Rhino barge, loaded with Seabees crossing the English Channel.

“When we were 12 miles off the beach, we tried to wed with the LST in front of us, but the waves were too choppy,” he recalled.

As they approached shore, they went by the battleship USS Texas. After they passed, the Texas turned and fired a broadside of 18 tons of shells at the Germans.

Stafford’s Rhino hit the beach hard – they were among the first Allied waves to land on Omaha Beach – at about 4 knots, fighting the wind and the sand bars. Their craft was then beached, and used as a pier.

Many of the tank landing ships were stuck on the shoreline. But the American destroyer’s 5-inch guns hitting the German pill boxes “saved the day,” according to Stafford. And then the Army bulldozers cleared the beach for the rest of the landings.

On that same day, Stafford was hit by shrapnel in his shin and the back of his leg. Those pieces of metal are still in his body, 75 years later.

“The Germans came by us too fast to surrender, so we just ran a barbed wire fence around them,” he remembered. “They ranged in ages from 14 to 60 years old. We gave each of them a box of K-Rations, and they were so happy, you’d thought it was takeout from Del Monico’s Restaurant.”

'Your war is over'

It was five days after the landing, when Stafford and his stablemate were shooting at the Nazi plane.

“We scavenged an air-cooled 30-caliber machine gun from a disabled tank, and even though we knew we couldn’t come close to hitting it, it gave us a morale boost to take the offensive,” he explained, noting that their first week was almost entirely defense.

After being hit and losing his eye, Stafford was loaded on the back of a truck and taken to a front-line aid station, where there was a huge tent filled with wounded. Next, he rode on the hood of a Jeep to the beach, where he was put aboard a tank landing ship back across the Channel.

While aboard the Queen Victoria sailing back across the ocean, a Navy nurse kissed Dick on the cheek and told him, “Your war is over, sailor.”

He had survived one of the most intense battles in world history, a carnage that cost the Allies 8,000 men in the first half hour of the assault.

Stafford’s Purple Heart citation reads: “For wounds received June 6, 1944, and June 11, 1944, on Dog Green Sector, Omaha Beach. Gold Star awarded for second wound.”

M&M, saving a life, higher education

Stafford convalesced stateside at Naval Hospitals in Virginia, and then Seattle. After his release, he rode the old Milwaukee Line train to Butte. Wearing his dress whites, a miner took him by the arm and led him into the M&M Café.

“He bought me lunch and everybody in the place came up and shook my hand,” he recounted.

Advised to avoid the mines and “stay on top of the ground,” a friend’s father hooked up Stafford with a job with the Forest Service. Later on, he spent many summers manning the lookouts with his wife Shirley watching for fires.

“Shirley slept on the bed and I slept on the floor,” he said.

After obtaining his GED diploma, Stafford attended Seattle University. “It was a Jesuit institution, where they unscrewed the top of your head in order to pound in an education,” he quipped.

A memorable episode occurred when he saved a young woman’s life who was attempting to commit suicide. And what was his thanks? “When she came to, she called me a dirty SOB,” he laughed.

Stafford obtained his master's degree in Monterrey, Mexico, followed by his doctorate in Mexico City.

Dick married his wife Shirley in 1949, and the couple was happily married for 60 years before she died in 2009. The Staffords had one son, Morgan, who resides in Missoula.

Shirley was attending Carroll College and scheduled to graduate in 1956, so Dick took a job teaching in the Capital City. For the next 23 years, he taught English and Spanish – first at Helena High for 10 years, then as a Carroll professor for six years, and then closing out his career back at HHS for seven years.

He was also an assistant coach for Bengals football, and played catcher for the Red Meadow Bar team in the men’s City Fastpitch Softball League.

Honoring his sacrifice

On Veteran’s Day in 2014, the City of East Helena presented Stafford with a “Key to the City.” The plaque reads, “To honor and acknowledge with deep appreciation your service to the United States of America, fellow veterans, and citizens of East Helena.

And today, on the 75th anniversary of D-Day, Stafford will be recognized by a group of Indian veterans at Fort Harrison, with the presentation of a “Medicine Bundle,” among other things.

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Canfield veteran’s skills welcomed in Navy

SEP 23, 2019.

CANFIELD — During World War II, it was vital that soldiers who faced countless perils during daily combat needed to be properly equipped, prepared and protected.

It also was of supreme importance that they were able to effectively maneuver and get from one place to another as efficiently as possible.

That’s where those with specialized skills such as Daryl G. Duffett came in.

“I went in the (Navy) Seabees as a fireman second class, the construction unit,” remembered Duffett, 97, who served three years as a Seabee from January 1943 to January 1946.

When the U.S. officially entered the war, the use of civilian contractors stopped, largely so they wouldn’t be in harm’s way, noted Duffett, who graduated in 1940 from the former Townsend High School in Vickery. So in 1942, the first unit of Seabees — construction battalions — was formed that consisted of electricians, plumbers, craftsmen, carpenters, equipment operators and other highly skilled tradesmen for construction and combat purposes.

Duffett spoke recently from his daughter’s Canfield residence about his time as a Seabee.

The World War II veteran learned at an early age to operate a crane in an area steel mill. He originally wanted to be a pilot, but didn’t pass a required test, Duffett remembered.

After undergoing his training at Camp Bradford, R.I., Duffett sailed from Hoboken, N.J., to Algiers, North Africa in April 1943, a trip that took about 30 days, he recalled. While in the Africa Theater for about eight months, he was assigned to a landing ship, tank (LST), a flat-bottom hull that typically carried tanks and mobile equipment.

He helped build pontoon causeways, bridges and runways to get men and supplies ashore in advance of the planned invasion of Sicily, Italy, before returning to New York City on leave Dec. 25, 1943.

“It was the best Christmas present I could have,” he said.

Additional skills Duffett acquired included learning to operate a highly sophisticated bucket crane and, in diving school, how to weld underwater with a specialized piece of equipment that blew water away from the work area.

After spending a short time at a camp near San Francisco, Duffett was sent in October 1944 to Pearl Harbor, where his duties for nearly two months consisted mainly of building 1,800-square-foot pontoon barges for the planned invasion of Iwo Jima, Japan. Soon after, he was assigned to LST 929 to help load Marine units, he continued.

Duffett recalled that one of the biggest honors of being aboard LST 929 was meeting Marine Gunnery Sgt. John Basilone, who was killed Feb. 19, 1945, in Iwo Jima. Basilone was the first Marine to be awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor, Duffett noted.

“I spent 14 days in Iwo Jima. Three Marine divisions were there, one with heavy casualties. About 7,000 Marines were killed and 13,000 wounded,” he said about the bloody 36-day battle there.

Between that time and when atomic bombs were dropped Aug. 6 and 9, 1945, on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, respectively, Duffett spent 15 days in Okinawa to help carry supplies in advance of a planned invasion there. For about a month afterward, he was in Ie Shima, where on April 18, 1945, a Japanese sniper killed 44-year-old Ernest T. Pyle, a Pulitzer Prize-winning American war correspondent and journalist.

In addition, Duffett helped pick up Army troops in the Philippines before a planned invasion of Japan, then returned to Guam in May 1945 to build pontoon barges, he remembered.

After being discharged Jan. 14, 1946, and returning home, the WWII veteran spent many years as an operating engineer and crane operator. He helped construct several well-known area landmarks such as the General Motors Complex in Lordstown and the William F. Maag Jr. Library on the Youngstown State University campus.

In recent years, Duffett’s service certainly has been remembered and appreciated throughout the Mahoning Valley.

In 2016, he spoke during a special program at the Youngstown Air Reserve Station in Vienna to honor Marines. The next year, he was the first Navy Seabee to speak at a D-Day service in Conneaut, and in 2018, he was grand marshal of the annual Ellsworth Memorial Day Parade.

He’s also shared his military experiences with students at a number of area elementary and high schools and continues to do so.

In addition, his son-in-law, Paul Boucherle of Canfield, served six years in the Marines and Reserves that included combat in the Vietnam War.

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27 October

1943...During the invasion of Mono Island in the Treasury group of the Solomon Islands, a party of Seabees from NCB 87 landed within an hour after the assault began. The party, headed by Lt. Charles E. Turnbull, CEC, U.S. Naval Reserve, also included Machinist Mate 1st Class (Construction Battalion – Equipment Operator) Aurelio Tassone and his 20-ton bulldozer. The assaulted troops were being held down by fierce Japanese gunfire from cannon and machine guns hidden in a strongly built pillbox. After some discussion, it was decided that Tassone would see what his dozer could do to it. Raising his blade for protection, and supported by Turnbull, who was armed with a carbine, Tassone rushed the pillbox. When he reached the obstruction, he exerted down pressure on the blade and tore into the barricade, covering the defenders with logs and tons of earth. None of the enemy troops emerged alive. Both Tassone and Turnbull were awarded the Silver Star Medal for their bravery.

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Happy Birthday Navy Seabees! 78 Years strong - CAN-DO!

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