Heroes: the Seabees
"...yet when the body landed on the ground upright it stayed upright gyrating and dancing due to the degree of electricity jolting through it..."
Homer Duane Coons
Homer Duane Coons
- Branch of Service: Navy Seabees
- Unit: 60th & 50th Battalion
- Dates: 1943 - 1945
- Location: Pacific Theater, New Guinea, Marshall Islands and Tinian
- Rank: Heavy Equipment Chief
- Birth Year: 1926
- Place of Birth: Kansas
Homer will always be my hero:
by Ms. Tanya Coons-Redig
In the 1920's Dad and a buddy quit school and made a trip to California when they were teenagers. They gained experience on heavy equipment as Kansas boys building segments of California's coastal #1 Highway.
In the late 20's Homer returned to Kansas and found his parents had divorced. He stayed to help his father raise his 2 younger brothers who were still in high school.
In the 30's Homer moved to Kansas City, Mo to live near his mother.
He became a successful, hard working auto mechanic, married and had two sons. Through the depression he made career sacrifices that allowed fellow mechanics the income to keep their families fed. He prevented their layoffs by presenting ultimatums to the car dealer "If you lay them off, I will quit". The car dealer chose to keep his most valuable mechanic and dad's colleagues kept their jobs as a result. Dad eventually worked also with heavy construction equipment in the Kansas City area at local air bases.
He signed up for the Navy in August 42 as an older enrollee (34 years of age). He served as a Chief in Heavy Equipment with the 60th and 50th Seabees clearing New Guinea and Pacific Island jungle. He dug island coral to create air strips for US planes to operate from on the Marshall and Solomon chain of Islands, as well as on Tinian . He told of attacks on those small islands from Japanese pilots and said that at times the Seabees were sitting ducks to fire upon working on small freshly cleared islands. Air strikes from Japanese pilots were common.
One night Dad was a passenger in a jeep whose lights were spotted by a Japanese machine gun pilot. As they were being chased by rapid bullets from this plane, they turned off their head lights and were racing through the dark. The jeep hit a tree. Dad's back was injured, others were passengers were killed and injured as well.
However, death had its' unanticipated agents. Dad told of irregular enemies which you had to fight to survive. Mosquitoes were deaths agent.
Dad was one of many men who spent some of their war time lingering near death, with Malaria.
One of Dad's most traumatic memories did not come from a Japanese weapon, but from a combination of timing, nature, and machine. He and other Seabees were using heavy equipment to dig and move coral when a storm arose quickly. One buddy, in a noisy loader beside Dad, could not hear dad and others yelling at him to get off his machine. His buddy's uplifted loader bucket was hit by lightening. Dad told us that the lightening killed his buddy instantly, yet when the body landed on the ground upright it stayed upright gyrating and dancing due to the degree of electricity jolting through it. It was an image that stayed with dad for years. Storms would bring that memory back.
The Seabee's motto: "We Build We Fight" entails the duty of accomplishing monumental construction tasks while in enemy scopes and under, over, and through hails of enemy bullets and bombs. Dad was discharged from Tinian in late 1945.
Heroes with stamina have a tendency of staying heroes, don't they?
After the war, Dad returned to his hometown of White City, Kansas. He and a fellow veteran started a business. They hoped to boost the economy of this small town by providing gasoline and auto mechanic service.
In 1953 Mary's divorced, homeless, pregnant sister - Louise, came to visit from California. She delivered twins in early 1954. At 3 months of age the twins had been primarily cared for by Louise's sisters as she spent time with new local friends. Mary and Martha (sisters of the biological mother - Louise) predicted that the girls would end up in a poor state if they were raised by Louise. They talked Louise into returning to California.
Mary and Martha decided they would each attempt to raise one. This was somewhat logical reasoning, yet Homer was 46, Mary was 42.
They had two sons in the Navy. Martha had two young children and a husband absent to the service. The babies had trial separations, each cared for by Mary and and Martha in separate homes.
Mary, Homer, Tanya, Terra Coons, circa 1956
Soon Homer stepped up and declared the twins were no longer going to be raised separately. He stated that he and Mary would raise them as twins.
Mary came to agree.
He and Mary built us twins a peaceful, small-town childhood. Life for us consisted of simple joys. We watched Dad fix engines, rode with him on gunless safaris for prairie wildlife, went along on fishing trips to local ponds and creeks, and picked wild plums from roadside thickets. Dad gave answers with unlimited patience to all my questions. Their boys, Bob and Jim, came home from the Korean War and accepted us as their baby sisters
Dad fought for us once, when he had to in 1964. Mom's sister was coming from California to visit. As we were both in the tub bathing, Mom told us we were her and dad's girls because they chose us. She said Louise gave birth to us, but her and dad wanted us.
We were sent up to the depot to show her the way to our house. We waited behind bushes 30 feet away as the train stopped. Only one woman stepped off onto the platform of the one room shack depot. She wasn't the young woman in the picture mom kept in a drawer. She wasn't like a young Judy Garland. This woman stepping off of the train was a tiny, very dark colored adult. We went home puzzled that "Aunt" Louise had not been on the train.
Minutes later the old rigid mailman, Mr. West, was stopping his old green truck on the street in front of our house. It ended up that this short, dark woman, now face to face with us on our lawn, was a very tanned and older Louise.
In the evening something was up. We were sent to bed - just as a discussion amongst the adults had started. We couldn't hear a word from our rooms, so we snuck out into the dark and leaned a ladder, undetected, against mom's kitchen window.
On the inside Louise, mom, our uncle Jimmy, and dad were under the yellow light. Sis and I were on the other side of the window, awkwardly perched to hear every word while simultaneously avoiding the downward beam of spotlight this little window would have created on our faces. We had already missed too much of the conversation when we heard "her" haughty, poisonous voice.
Louise was not thanking them for a job well done, she faulting mom and dad for never having had our ears pierced. She was stating that she wanted to take us back to California, to live with her.
We had never heard Dad's voice raised until that night. No one knew we were listening. Dad told Louise, "You will never get them Louise". Louise coolly replied that she would. There was much turmoil under the glow of that light, but twice as much swirling in the 10 year old minds of sis and I. We could not swallow the threat of pierced ears and a home away from mom, dad, or our brother Bob. Our turmoil swelled, spilled out of our thoughts, and hit our tongues like drops of water on mom's hot cast iron skillet.
We yelled at the same time, "Go home Aunt Louise. We don't want you here. We have a mom and dad. We don't want our ears pierced!" (Later in life Aunt Martha told me she continually warned mom and dad that Louise would want us back once we were old enough to serve her or earn money at a job. Louise had a history of meanness. She had lost a son to the state of California, before we were born.)
Louise was on a train the next morning, accompanied by my Uncle Jimmy assuring mom and dad that he would make sure she returned. Her brothers and sisters knew she was not stable enough to raise two children. Everyone in our family knew that Homer was the stable brother-in-law, because he had been there for all of them when they were growing up. Our town knew dad the same way.
My future was secured and established because of dad's unselfish, courageous decision to serve in war, and to be a father again in 1954.
Homer will always be my hero.
Information and photographs were generously provided to World War II Stories -- In Their Own Words by Ms. Tanya Coons-Redig, daughter of Homer Duane Coons. Our sincerest THANKS for allowing us to share this story!
Original Story submitted on 11 August 2003.
Story added to website on 18 August 2003.
Some web sites that are about the Navy SEABEE's and related material:
31st Navy Seabees' Association
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