There is a painful reality of war that many veterans keep forever silent.  Sincerest gratitude is expressed to a 79th Seabee Veteran whom I came in contact with and was so graciously willing to step back some 55 years ago in time and share these recollections.
   "Just a couple of words of background. I was just a few months past 17 when I went overseas with the 20th NCB on their second cruise.  To show what an airhead I was, I recall it as a big adventure, like being an extra in an unreal Hollywood epic, completely amazed by what was going on around me but understanding nothing.

   Afterwards, I put it all behind me in the rush to become a civilian again. Therefore my memories are few, somewhat hazy and lacking in depth and probably accuracy. But, for what they are worth, here goes.

   Our group, from the 20th NCB, were only with the 79th for a short time after war's end while in transit to other assignments. The original Seabees who had done two cruises were discharged as soon as possible. We "greenies", who had done only one, had to wait another year and ended up in the floating Navy. However, from Saipan on, I think our routes were pretty similar. Unfortunately, there does not seem to be a cruise book for the 20th's second cruise, so I will have to rely on a somewhat unreliable memory.


    I'm not sure of the date we arrived there from Pearl but it was during the buildup in 1944. We were not particularly busy there as I can remember going out on B29 search missions for downed pilots in off duty time. The same flights served as test flights for just repaired aircraft so they were just looking for volunteers with good eyesight.
   We also were sent out to clear out stragglers hiding out on Mt Tapotchau. I do remember being frightened by the truck rides down the mountain at high speeds on a one and a half lane dirt road with long drop-offs on the side. The drivers thought this was hilariou
   Later on, being the youngest in our company, I was made a Master at Arms and assigned to guard some Red Cross ladies who came to the island. Women being such a rarity, I think they were in less danger from the Japs than from our own.
   Like your Dad, I do remember the suicide cliffs where the Japanese and native people were cornered and decided to end it all by jumping down to the rocks a couple of hundred feet below.
   I never stopped to think of how the natives must have felt about this inferno that they had not caused but of which they were innocent victims. For us, they looked just like Japanese and while many of them were in the service of the enemy, sadly many others met their end by our trigger-happy mistakes especially at night.


    We sailed from Saipan to Okinawa on an APA (troop transport). When we got there, there were ships as far as the eye could see. We were part of 60,000 troops who landed on April 1st mostly on Hagushi Beaches. We were quite up tight about what might happen during the landing but there was no resistance that I saw in our area. So much for the movies! The Marines moved ahead of us quickly and we first had to drain some rice paddies to set up a campsite. Then we went to work stevedoring at a floating dock someone had built.
    The first ships had a lot of ammunition and were a secondary target for the Kamikazes, the primaries being the warships. The vast majority of the Kamis were shot down by the fleet before getting near us. So, odd as it may sound, we welcomed their appearance sometimes twice a day, as we did not work during the attacks. Instead we sat on deck and cheered as they were shot down.
    That changed drastically later on when, through sheer numbers, they started getting through the screen. One day, the ship we were unloading was hit. It had a 500 lb. Bomb on board which did not explode but lodged in the 8 by 8 timbers which separated the levels of the hold. Only one of our people who was in the hold at the time, was killed. I remember that his name was Tersian and that he was a champion boxer. We quickly put out the fire. I will skip the sight of the hold after the fire was out but I will never forget it nor the feeling of fear when it was certain we were going to be hit.
    The Kamis kept on coming but we never cheered again. We saw one hit a troop ship not far from us and another time a small tanker loaded with aviation gas about a mile away literally disappeared in front of our eyes. We heard the explosion and then there was no trace of it.
    (I learned after the war that my Mother had the family on its knees every night while I was away praying for my safety. I never really got a scratch.)

    When the stevedoring was finished we began repairing and then constructing airstrips. There were quite a few air raids in the early days and a lot of runway repair to be done. We were then involved in the building of, I think, the Awase airstrip from scratch. We were working 12 hour days, driving trucks or small bulldozers. I had never even driven a car but was promised training which never came to pass. My first attempts to locate my dump truck anywhere beneath a 4-yard shovel of crushed coral was to understate the case, completely hilarious.
    But soon we were roaring down the incomplete strip, 6 or 7 in line, in a cloud of coral dust. I remember many of us were so tired from the long days that we didn't even think about getting into the ditch during air raids, especially at night.
    As soon as the strip was anywhere near finished, they started landing Marine fighters on it. Of the first group that came in, four crashed because of the condition of the surface. My recollection was that they were Corsairs but that may be wrong. Anyway, more work was done improving the strip before more landings were attempted. You can imagine our feelings at seeing the crashes.
    Your Dad mentioned the burial caves and using them for air raid shelters. We had a bunch of them near our camp. Many had a large turtle shaped concrete entrance. I never went near one but can remember being warned that most were booby-trapped. I believe that they were a favorite hiding place for Japanese stragglers and holdouts.
    I remember VE and VJ days and running for the air raid ditches when the celebratory tracers which the fleet fired in V shapes started landing nearby. Having come that far, I wasn't about to go down from that kind of accident. During the time on the island however many did lose their lives from accidental causes. During air raids many would get under a piece of heavy equipment for shelter, fall asleep and then not be noticed when the equipment started up. There were lots of mid-air collisions and the odd ammunition dump explosion that would go on for days dropping fragments all over the island.
    After the war was over, there was a typhoon that hit Okinawa. I think it was in October. It sank a number of ships in the harbor and blew down everything but anchored Quonset huts on the island. The rainy winds reached a high of 120 mph. We lived in shelter halves and ate K rations for about ten days. Perhaps your Dad had left by then.
    Those are the things that come to mind off hand about Saipan and Okinawa.I hope they are of some use to you in picturing the world that your Father lived in at the time. I'm sorry there's nothing about the 79th but perhaps it provides some of the ambiance your Dad experienced. It was a defining experience for most of us. That was 55 years ago so I'm amazed that anyone remembers.
    On the CEC and Seabee Museum site there are testimonials to the Bees from Marine Generals Holland M Smith and Roy Geiger. The Marines carried most of the heavy land fighting load all through the islands from Guadalcanal to Okinawa. I am proud when these people say that the Seabees never let them down.

All the best:
    A 79th Seabee Shipmate"



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