| "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
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
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
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"