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Gayner B. Conner
Company B-1, 79th Battalion
U.S. Navy Seabees
World War II

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     Originally a native of Texas and the 8th son of Serreldia and Henry F. Conner, Gayner's grandparents were early immigrants from Indiana to Texas in 1848, settling near Dike, Sulphur Springs, Texas.   The family eventually relocated in Arizona.

    Gayner's formative years were spent in Arizona where he excelled in school in woodwork, basketball and track.  After High School, he dated his future wife, Lyona.  After the bombing of Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941, Gayner joined the Naval Construction Battalion (Seabees) together with his brother, M. O. Conner.   Gayner was assigned to Company B, 79th NCB where he remained throughout the Battalion's Aleutian and Pacific Theater tours.

    Gayner first went to Port Hueneme, California, then shipped to Norfolk, Virginia and Gulfport, Mississippi for training.  From Mississippi, he went to California and then north to the Aleutians in May of 1943.  First assigned to Kodiak, Company B was detached from the rest of the Battalion and proceeded westward for the construction of additional base facilities.  Gayner wrote home of Dutch Harbor, Amchitka, Eniwetok, Adak, and Attu.  Conditions were harsh for Company B.   According to Gayner, it was not uncommon on Attu to experience 5 or 6 days of rain in a week, with an average rainfall of about 80 inches per year.  Gayner once related to his wife that they would hold onto a rope from the barracks to the chow hall to keep from being blown away and the wind blew so hard that it would lift them from the ground.  In April 1943, the wind was clocked at 105 mph!  While in the Aleutians, they built runways, mess halls, barracks and anything else they were called upon to do.

     Company B was heavily involved in sports and Gayner Conner trained in track for the Alaskan Olympics to be held at Anchorage, Alaska on May 5, 1944.  The team won and Gayner won 1st in the 220-yard dash, setting a record (he ran 440 in 53 seconds in practice); rated 2nd in 1/2-mile, 1 mile and the broad jump.  On the 4th of July, the Navy competed against Army and won the relay by 75 yards.  The 79th Battalion Cruise Book records:  "In the summer of 1943 a drill competition was held on the base.  Company "B" won the inter-battalion competition and then proceeded to win over the other Navy units, Marines and finally won over crack Army units to gain the drill team championship of the island."

    On October 1, 1944, Gayner returned to the States for a 3-month Leave during which time he and  Lyona were married.  They had dated for three years prior to his leaving for the Service.  Gayner and his new wife went to Oakland, California where he was to "ship out" from Camp Parks to begin their second tour of duty in the Pacific Theater.

     The main invasion of Saipan by the U.S. Marines took place in June, 1944.  On January 31, 1945 the 79th departed San Francisco and landed on the island of Saipan on February 26, 1945.  The island had been captured and, when the 79th arrived, there were still some pockets of Japanese resistance and the Marines, as well as Army, were still conducting "mopping up" operations.  While on Saipan, Gayner Connor helped build runways and a hospital and prepared with the 79th for the "Gun To" invasion of Okinawa.

     Following the main April 1,1945 invasion of Okinawa, Company "B"remained on Saipan until May 7, then sailed on LSTs and beached on Okinawa where they joined the rest of the 79th Battalion, part of which had already arrived there days earlier.  Tools and equipment were unloaded off the ships.  They ate "K" rations before they brought food off the ships and, within five days after "hitting the beach", had built a chow hall.  Fierce fighting was still raging on both the northern and southern ends of the island.  While on Okinawa, they built runways, mess halls, barracks and whatever they were called upon to do.  While there, Gayner and close friends raised a small vegetable garden.

     Gayner Connor amassed enough points based on overseas service, age and battle area in 1945 to return home and he mustered out of the Service.  After returning home, Gayner and Lyona built a home in Arizona where they raised 3 boys and 1 girl.  Gayner was active in several organizations:  a City Basketball team (where they once played the "Redheads" and won!!), coached Little League, and was a Boy Scout Leader.  He also loved to fish and hunt in the Payson, Arizona area where they had purchased a home on the East Verde River.  The river was stocked by the Fish and Game Department and he often fished along the river.  Gayner entered into a Cabinet Construction Business in 1957 after purchasing a private airport location.   His wife, Lyona, worked as an Administration Assistant for a Superintendent of Schools for 10 years and then at the University of Arizona for 8 more years.  Gayner retired in 1988 and, after suffering a stroke, entered eternal rest in 2003. 

     This memorial tribute is given to 79th Battalion Seabee Gayner B. Connor for the service and sacrifice which he gave in World War II and throughout his life.

The Family of Gayner B. Conner may be contacted at
lyonamconner@AOL.com

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Please remember to visit the World War II Memorial website and say "Thank you" to our U.S. Navy Seabees who sacrificed of themselves and their lives in World War II.

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