79th USN Construction Battalion
From The Seventy-Ninth United States Naval
Construction Battalion Cruise Book, pp. 44-47:
|"THIS RESUME of the battalion's history
will not be a detailed account of camp life, nor will paragraphs be devoted to training,
navy chow, cold barracks, quonset huts, or early morning muster. Most of the
families and friends who will read this publication will have heard about these things
time and again from the men of the 79th, will have read of them many times in other
publications, and will have seen pictures of them on the screen. Instead, it will be
a simple travelogue; for every service organization that trains in the States and is then
shipped to foreign countries for duty certainly becomes familiar with the word
The Majority of the personnel
of the 79th Battalion left the security of their homes and their families during the
Christmas Season of 1942. Instead of the usual Christmas Spirit which pervaded homes
throughout the world, these men were met with a totally different existence;
bleak weather, gloomy living quarters, service clothing, hard work,
strict regimentation, different food, different routines and homesickness were their
lot for the first weeks of their service. For those who have not experienced
this transition, it is quite a task to adapt one's self to service life and become
acclimated to the changes which the service demands, especially at a season of the year
which is synonymous with good cheer and happy associations.
All of us had our "boot" training in
Virginia, a state rich in the lore and traditions of liberty. Camp Allen, Camp
Bradford, and Camp Peary were the three Seabee Training Centers in Virginia. Most of
the 79er's trained at Allen or Bradford. We didn't see the beautiful part of
Virginia, which is natural, for large military reserves cannot always be established where
the scenic attractions are best. Yet we did learn of the stately beauty of the
pines, the particular blue of Chesapeake Bay, the deliciousness of Blue Point oysters, and
many of us experienced that brand of hospitality for which the Tidewater section is
renowned. We left Camp Bradford on March 11, 1943 and began our trek which has
brought us to the Alaskan Sector. We traveled two days and nights enroute to
Gulfport, Mississippi, and arrived there on the 13th of March. The order to take our
nine-day leave came unexpectedly and the men living on the East Coast and Mid-West left
the next day for their long awaited visits home. Our nine days at home, seeing our
families again; marveling at the growth of our babies, eating food cooked to perfection,
wrestling with ration points and worshipping in our churches were enjoyed more than anyone
can realize. However, Uncle Sam couldn't wait long and we were back in Mississippi on the
24th of March ready to go again.
* The short training period in Mississippi was
climaxed by a thirty-mile hike, which is a lot of walking in any war, but sore feet, sore
backs and the democratic feeling of being just "sore" didn't phase us in the
least. It seems that each training camp in America is situated in the choice
historic spots, and certainly the most colorful. Gulfpot is a beautiful little town,
clean and well planned, and flanked by the exotic Gulf of Mexico. Pass Christian
drew many 79ers on liberty, and although New Orleans was some miles away, the more
intrepid individuals ventured over and were enchanted by its old world beauty. We
particularly enjoyed the weather in the deep South after the continual battle with the
elements in Virginia. But this sojourn was short-lived for the orders came to move
again, and we hied ourselves westward.
* On March 30th we left Mississippi bound for
the West Coast, Pullmans this time, and four days of nothing to do but watch the passing
scene, dream, write letters, eat, and do guard duty on the train. For those of
us who had not traveled to any extent, this trip was a revelation. We saw the lush
beauty of Louisiana's bayou country, the plains and blue hills of Texas, herds of cattle,
an antelope here and there, the torrid beauty of the desert, Indians selling souvenirs,
and the beautiful towns and irrigated land of Arizona. And then California. So
beautiful that it all but hurt your eyes. The mixture of modern architecture blended with
the hacienda motif; the orange and lemon groves; the gaily dressed people; the palm trees
and wide avenues. The cities of Hollywood, Los Angeles, Ventura, Oxnard, Santa
Barbara, Santa Monica, Fullerton, Alhambra and Compton, became well known to us and we
learned that the South is not only the part of the United States where hospitality is a
by-word. We were astonished and humbled at the scope of the war industry, and the
omnipresence of soldiers, sailors and marines gave us an idea of the amount of manpower
involved in this undertaking. On the 4th of April the men from the West Coast
received their nine day leaves, returning to camp on the 13th.
* On April 18, 1943, Lieutenant Commander Alec
T. Brown, CEC V(S) USNR, assumed command of the battalion. Lt. Comdr. Brown, through
his quiet efficiency and thoughtfulness, has the respect of every man in the 79th.
It was through his efforts that the conveniences we later enjoyed on Island "X"
were made possible.
* Fate did not intend for us to bask long in
this paradise, and after a month in Port Hueneme (Camp Rousseau) we left for Seattle, our
port of embarkation. On this two day and night trip we passed through some of the
most beautiful country in the United States--Northern California, Oregon and
Washington. The variations astonished all of us, little towns built on the
sides of mountains, the sunrise over Mt. Shasta; the level farm lands; mile after mile of
timber; the fruit country, and the realization that this was a part of our United States.
* We arrived at our port of embarkation and
proceeded directly to the pier. Then followed endless periods of checking gear,
mustering, and just waiting. Finally we boarded the ship. The voyage was
uneventful--the usual sea sickness was common but some of the more fortunate came through
unscathed. We still trained and worked. K. P. duty, abandon ship drill, guard
duty, clerical records to be maintained and the inevitable waiting in chow line.
Sleeping four deep in the hold will be remembered always. We made it, however, and
the morning of our fifth day out we spied the snow-capped peaks of our Island
"X" looming in the distance.
* None of us knew what to expect, and what a
surprise it was to discover that our assignment meant to be stationed at a modern advance
base equipped with many conveniences. It didn't take long for the news to spread
that a small town was just a stone's throw from the base. The village is crudely
constructed, with mud ankle deep, but it is picturesque, combining the modern with the
sourdough effect. The village is a typical example of the profound influence
military personnel has on sparsely settled areas. Many civilians are drawn from the
States to the village and many of them are becoming wealthy. Almost any article
desired could be purchased and it was a real treat to see the very charming girls behind
the counters dispensing pillow covers, moccasins, AND STEAKS.
* There are many interesting things to see in
this particular part of the North.
* The most spectacular event is the salmon
run. This is an annual migration of the salmon from salt water to their home
streams. There are myriads of streams and each stream is milling with fighting,
struggling fish, each prepared to reach his native haunts or die. The scenery is
something upon which books have been written. Alaska is a country of extremes, and
it is inconceivable that the rugged Winter scenes could be replaced by the green vista
which Spring heralds. The prolific fireweed is the most common flower and it tints
the mountains with red, sprinkled with the hues of wild roses, violets, wild iris and many
* Space and security do not permit a complete
review of this battalion's activities. Much work has been done and the record speaks
for itself. Every man in this unit typifies America at its best. The men come
from all parts of the country but have welded themselves into an organization with a
common purpose. Victory will be ours through the efforts these men put forth.
The most menial job becomes magnified many times during a crisis. The men of the
79th will meet all obstacles and overcome them, as will all men of the service."