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This Week in Seabee History (Week of August 20 – August 26)

Consolidated by Dr. Frank A. Blazich Jr., Historian, Naval History and Heritage Command

Aug. 20, 1942, 6th Naval Construction Battalion (NCB) Commander, Cmdr. Joseph P. Blundon, Civil Engineer Corp, reported to Gen. A.A. Vandegrift, U.S. Marine Corps, at Lunga Point in the northern coast of Guadalcanal. The mission of the Seabees at Guadalcanal was to make repairs and complete construction of Henderson Field, a vital air station that was controlled by Japanese air forces in the Pacific campaign of World War II prior to the U.S Marine invasion that had overtaken it. “I guess I was the first Seabee to go under fire,” Blundon recalled in William Huie’s “Can Do! The Story of the Seabees.” “The Marines had been on Guadcanal 13 days…while I was reporting to Gen. Vandegrift, the [Japanese] bombers came over and I hit my first foxhole. I just lay there…while the bombs fell around us.”

August 20

1942: 20th NCB commissioned at Camp Allen, Norfolk, Virginia.

1965: NMCB 8 was transferred from CBC Davisville, Rhode Island, to Port Hueneme, California. The change in home port was part of the augmentation and reorganization of Seabee units for operations in RVN.

1965: Capt. William M. Heaman, CEC, was promoted to Rear Admiral.

August 21

1943: The 100,000th recruit was sent through the Seabee induction mill at Camp Peary, Virginia, less than eight months after the first recruit was processed at Peary on Dec. 6, 1942. Construction Mechanic 3rd Class Emil Mascotti, Bessemer, Michigan, had the figure 100,000 written in mercurochrome across his chest at medical inspection.

1969: Seabee Team 0513 completed its deployment to Ben Tre, Republic of Vietnam (RVN). All enlisted personnel returned to Port Hueneme, California.  Lt. Cmdr. T.N. Withrow, team officer-in-charge (OIC), reported to Camp Hoover, RVN.

August 22

1951: Naval Mobile Construction Battalion (NMCB) 7 commissioned at Construction Battalion Center (CBC) Davisville, Rhode Island.

1954: The French Colonial Forces were defeated at Dien Bien Phu in French Indo-China, May 7, 1954. In accordance with the Geneva Convention of July 21, 1954, Indo-China became a number of sovereign states: Laos, Cambodia and Vietnam. In addition, Vietnam was divided into two, thus creating North and South Vietnam, roughly at the 17th parallel. The truce agreement declared that the people of the two Vietnams should be permitted to reside in the country of their choice, and the United States was asked to provide transportation for the anticipated mass migration from Communist North Vietnam to free South Vietnam. The U.S. Navy was given the task of providing transportation for the migrants, and Seabees of Amphibious Construction Battalion (ACB) 1 were charged with installing and operating pontoon bridges where necessary and building campsites for the refugees. However, when the amphibious Seabees arrived in Haiphong on August 22, 1954, they learned that the truce agreement signed in July prohibited the landing of foreign military units in Vietnam. Thus, the Seabees were prevented from operating until all military insignia was removed from uniforms and equipment; some even donned nondescript clothing. Then they returned to their tasks. The Seabees not only assisted in moving several hundred thousand Vietnamese and their possessions, but also built camps that contributed to the refugees’ comfort. While assisting the Vietnamese in their mass migration, the Seabees helped French troops evacuate the country and built a recreation center in the south for U.S. 7th Fleet personnel engaged in the operation. ACB 1 Seabees who participated in Operation “Passage to Freedom” were commended by the Task Force Commander.

1967: The NMCB 4 advance party, commanded by Lt. R.B. Thatcher, Civil Engineer Corps (CEC) departed Camp Hoover for the Continental United States (CONUS).

August 23

1943: 87th Naval Construction Battalion (NCB) becomes part of ACORN 12. (Used during World War II, an ACORN was a tailored unit designed to carry out the rapid construction and subsequent operation of a landplane and seaplane advance base. Each ACORN had a construction battalion attached to it, as well as trained personnel to operate the control tower, field lighting, aerological unit, transportation, medical, berthing and messing facilities. A Construction Battalion Maintenance Unit (CBMU) also accompanied each ACORN to maintain the base after the initial construction was completed and the construction battalion had been withdrawn. During the war, ACORNs were sent to such places at Guadalcanal, Espiritu Santo, Green Island, Rendova, Treasure Island and Majuro.)

August 24

2010: In a posthumous frocking ceremony, Steelworker 2nd Class (DV) Robert D. Stethem was promoted to the honorary rank of master chief petty officer aboard the USS Stethem (DDG 63) in Yokosuka, Japan. (Stethem was a victim of the hijacking of TWA Flight 847 in June 1985, after being singled out from passengers as a U.S. Navy Sailor and killed by members of the Lebanese terrorist organization Hezbollah, when their demands to release 766 Lebanese and Palestinian prisoners held by Israel were not met. He was returning home with fellow members of UCT 1 after completing a routine assignment in Greece. Stethem was posthumously awarded the Bronze Star.)

August 25

2009: Groundbreaking ceremonies are held at Naval Base Ventura County, Port Hueneme, California, for construction of the new U.S. Navy Seabee Museum to replace the older facility which opened in 1956.

August 26

1943: 105th NCB formed at Naval Construction Training Center (NCTC) Camp Peary, Magruder, Virginia.

1944: 302nd NCB formed at Maui, Hawaii.

1967: Capt. J.M. Hill, CEC, relieved Cmdr. R.L. Foley, CEC, as commander, 32nd Naval Construction Regiment (NCR).

1968: Seabee William Darrah, State Department’s Naval Support Unit, was highly commended for heroic efforts in extinguishing what could have been a major fire at the U.S. Embassy in Prague, Czechoslovakia. Due to a curfew, the local fire department was unavailable. In response, the members of the embassy staff, U.S. news correspondents and private American citizens formed a bucket brigade, and managed to control and extinguish the fire. The U.S. Ambassador to Czechoslovakia said, “By general agreement, the person who merits the highest praise is Seabee William B. Darrah, who knew his job thoroughly and showed great personal courage.”


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