Heroes: the Seabees
"...Something scored a direct hit on a Higgins boat jammed with Marines -- not a pleasant sight -- made you feel as if someone had kicked you in the stomach..."
The 25th Naval Construction Battalion
On the thirteenth of September, 1942, the Twenty-Fifth Naval Construction Battalion was officially organized at Camp Bradford, Virginia. The enlisted personnel, who had completed their "boot training" at Camp Bradford, and the officers, who had trained at Camp Allen, were brought together and presented with the colors.
Shortly thereafter, orders were received that the battalion,minus one company, was to be attached to the Marine Corps. This left three letter companies in accordance with the Marine Corps table of organization.
On October 12, 1942, the battalion moved to Hueneme, California, where the necessary equipment and supplies were issued. After a short stay in Hueneme the three letter companies and headquarters company moved to Camp Elliot, San Diego, and were attached to the Marine Corps.
Company B, commanded by Lt. Thompson, who was later Officer in Charge of the Firty-Third Sea Bees, had separate orders to report to the Replacement Group, Fleet Marine Force. The detachment company was the nucleus of the Fifty-Third Sea Bees, who were also attached to the Marine Corps and whose travels nearly paralleled those of our battalion.
Upon arrival at Camp Elliot, the official name of the battalion was changed to the Third Battalion, Nineteenth Marines, Third Marine Division, Fleet Marine Force.
During the period November 1942 to August 1945 the battalion was part of the United States Marine Corps, which had both operational and administrative control.
The truthfulness of the posters for Marine enlistment, "Join the Marines and see action." can truly be attested to by this battalion.
In August 1945 the battalion was detached from the Marines and again became the Twenty-Fifth Naval Construction Battalion operating under the control of the Twenty-Seventh Naval Construction Regiment of the Fifth Naval Construction Brigade.
The Bougainville operation was under the operation control of General Douglas MacArthur of the United States Army; so the battalion has the unique distinction of having served under the Army, the Navy, and the Marine Corps.
Native timber was used in these two steps of bridge construction.
BOUGAINVILLE...When the Third Marine Division convoy slipped into Empress Augusta Bay on "D" day, we had our first curious glimpse of Bougainville; a wild expanse of jungle crowding thickly to the water's edge. In the hazy light of dawn it had the outward appearance of being deserted; but there was no doubt in anyone's mind concerning the presence of a healthy Japanese garrison there. At that moment before "H" hour, it was easy to imagine an entire army entrenched in the dense undergrowth, waiting for Sea Bee or Marine victims. There was little time, however, for silent reflection, for suddenly the entire area was awakened to the tune of a terrific pre-invasion barrage; ships and planes laying down a patchwork of destruction from Koromokina River to Cape Torokina. By the time the first wave of Higgins boats was racing for the shore, it began to look as though there might be no reception committee of Nips left to greet them. We were due for a rude awakening on that bomb-scarred invasion sector. Rattling machine guns and sporadic rife fire came from everywhere. Even tiny Puruata and Torokina Islands off shore opened up with machine guns to create a death-dealing lead gauntlet for the landing craft to run. On Cape Torokina a Jap seventy-seven began operating on a business-like basis. Something scored a direct hit on a Higgins boat jammed with Marines -- not a pleasant sight -- made you feel as if someone had kicked you in the stomach. Later a group of Zeros slipped under our air cover to give the boats a working over, and Lafayette F. Farley was killed before arriving at the beach with his "Cat" aboard a tank lighter. Vivid recollections: over the side down those cargo nets; those damn full packs; looking for Commander Whelan's CP; George Beir's deluxe foxhole; Cameron Croasdell's soggy one; rain and more rain; depressing confusion, and, oh yes, that volcano in the distance.
By sundown, it was a worn-out gathering of Sea Bees assembled on that fifty-yard width of beach flanked by ocean and swamp; a gang who soon appreciated the security of a foxhole, and sleep --- oblivious even to sea water seeping in a high tide. Then came those night air raids -- sort of tough on sleep, and nerves.
But out of apparent confusion and chaos, order was to arise. The Marines deserve a lot of credit for that neat job of securing and holding that little corner of Bougainville, and one and all who existed through November and half of December deserve a medal of sorts. The Japanese must have thought none of us could long survive in such a jungle quagmire -- which probably accounts for "Tokyo Rose" broadcasting frequent wishful announcements that we'd been pushed back into the sea. We were in a sea, all right, one of mud, but far too busy to worry much about it.
As assault engineers we had a big job to do for, and with, the Marines. It wa an important job, and many a time our men were surveying or blazing a trail ahead of front lines. On one occasion we paid dearly for that front-line work. Six of our men were wounded, and Chief Eddie Carruthers was killed in a vicious onslaught of mortar fire. Today, near that spot, along a wide Bougainville road stands a white sign, dedicating a bridge to his memory. To those of us who knew him, he will always be remembered as "One of the best."
After forty-five fast-moving and eventful days, we pulled out of Empress Augusta Bay for "Good-old-canal," looking forward to some sack-duty above ground for a change, without air-raid interruptions. The Bougainville we were leaving was a very changed bit of island compared with the place we had found as we waded ashore not so many weeks ago. Glad to be leaving? Hell yes, but looking back, we had that certain pleasant feeling of inner satisfaction, knowing that we had accomplished a worthy task, and thereby done our small share towards bringing that elusive "V" day just a little closer.
LIFE on Guam
We were assigned an important task on this, our last beachead, as combat engineers of the 3rd Marine Division. Cmdr. Whelan was shore part commander for the 3rd Marine Regiment, while Lt. Cmdr. Walker, in charge of beaches Red 1 and Red 2, as assistant shore party commander in charge of Red 1 supervised the distribution of all equipment that poured onto the beaches from ships that our men were unloading day and night.
After nightfall many of our men, after sweating out a 12-hour day at backbreaking tasks, shifted into the hills to a man a second line of defense as the Japs threatened to break through. The Leathernecks will never forget or underestimate the Seabees after this Marianas Campaign, in which our battalion played so vital a part.
As the Marines moved forward we went to work on a few narrow road that had to worked over in order to accommodate the mobile equipment that poured ashore. Cat operators accompanied the Marines inland and cleared paths for tanks and other weapons that were brought to bear against the enemy. Others buried the enemy dead that littered the beaches and had begun to smell to high heavens. A small galley was set up, the first on the beachead. There were lines so long that they never seemed to end. The aroma of coffee, hotcakes and bacon beckoned to Marines and natives for miles and we certainly got off to an excellent start in this department.
The ship that was to bring our gear followed the operation was about 60 days behind schedule, leaving us without tents in an area that received more rainfall than any other section of the Pacific during that time of the year. We can boast of some of the most elaborate foxhole shelters of the Pacific war during those drenching months.
A short time later the Navy played a rotten trick on our Marine comrades -- they detached us from the Division and we became Seabees once more. We became a part of one of the Seabee Brigades and quickly lived up to our reputation ass one of the real Can-Do units. We were working seven days a week, 12 and 14 hours a day, and the sun seemed to reach out and shake us in our shoes. It was terribly hot and many of the fellows came down with dengue fever. One wing of the mess hall was converted into a hospital and Dr. Vander Veer's corpsman certainly earned that 20 per cent during this period.
Nineteen officers and men were awarded the Bronze Star for their achievements during our part in this operation. Some received the Purple Heart and some of our buddies lost their lives.
The chow seemed to be better here than at any previous Pacific base. Chief Gunnoe finally received enough modern equipment to really make with the grub. The new ice cream machines, ice flake machines and electric mixers had our cooks bewildered. We were better set up than at any time in our overseas travels.
The natives were certainly an improvement over those double breasted babes on Guadalcanal. They spoke our language, wore American clothes and wee very friendly. The girls were more or less a tan version of some of our Stateside pin-ups. They attend our movies nightly and enjoyed the picture probably a lot more than we did...they paid attention to the screen.
On April 7, 1945, just before noon, we were given the word that we were to be sent back to the States after more than two years in the Pacific. Everyone who had in at least 21 months was fortunate enough to be on the list. The overseas time ranged from 21 to 27 months. There was not as much excitement as we thought there would be. All of us were a little stunned at the news and too happy to say much of anything.
So, we say farewell to the Marianas. We have changed the face of one of the most powerful bases under the Stars and Stripes on the road to Japan. We doubt if the Japs would recognize it now and they would never believe that a group of Seabees cold do so much in so little time. We are homeward bound and proud of the fact that we are part of the navy's invaluable Seabees.
25th Naval Construction Battalion (Seabees')
Submitted by John J. Ratomski
Source: Cruisebook for the 25th Naval Construction Battalion
Some web sites that are about the Navy SEABEE's and related material:
History of the Seabees'
Navy Seabees' Veterans of America
Naval Construction Force (Seabees')
Sixth Special NCB
Seabee Sites on the Internet
76th Seabees of WWII
Seabee Museum and Memorial Park
Original Story submitted 25 December 2004.
Story added to website on 4 January 2005