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This Week in Seabee History (Week of September 10 – September 16)

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

In September 1953 agreements were signed between the United States and Spain granting the US the right to construct and operate air and naval bases in Spanish territory. From Rota to Zaragota the OICC Madrid was charged with building 20 major air and naval facilities with Rota being the crown jewel. Across the bay from Cadiz, Rota was the main terminal for the 485 mile underground fuel transportation system which supplied Air Force and Navy bases with aviation and motor fuel products. Once the OICC Madrid completed its massive projects, the Seabees were tasked to deploy to Rota every year to support the air base and local community with public works projects and civic action programs. (Photo courtesy of U.S. Navy Seabee Museum)

September 10

1943: First CEC officer killed in action, Lt. Carl M. Olson, at Salerno, Italy.

1945: 8th and 42nd NCRs inactivated. 84th NCB inactivated at Palawan, Philippines.

1965: NMCB 10 renames Camp Banister at Chu Lai, Republic of Vietnam (RVN) as Camp Shields, in honor of Construction Mechanic 3rd Class Marvin G. Shields, fallen hero of the Battle of Dong Xoai. Shields is the first – and so far only – Seabee to receive the Medal of Honor.

1968: Seabee Team 4002 arrived in Davisville, Rhode Island, from RVN for reassignment to NMCB 40.

2010: Capt. Louis V. Cariello, CEC, assumed command of NCBC, Gulfport, Mississippi, and 20th Seabee Readiness Group, from Capt. Ed Brown, CEC.

September 11

1943: The 11th Naval Construction Regiment (NCR) was commissioned.

1945: The 62nd Naval Construction Battalion (NCB) was inactivated at Iwo Jima.

1965: The main body of Naval Mobile Construction Battalion (NMCB) 8 moved from Port Hueneme, California, to Da Nang, Republic of Vietnam (RVN), via Military Airlift Command.

1966: NMCB 3 received message notification from Commander, Naval Construction Battalions, U.S. Pacific Fleet (COMCBPAC) of its selection as fiscal year 1966’s “Best of Type,” Pacific Fleet.

September 12

1944: UDTs, led by Civil Engineer Corps (CEC) officers and mostly comprised of Seabees, began clearing the approaches to Peleliu for an amphibious assault. Three days later, Marines of the First Division came ashore accompanied by Seabees of NCBs 33 and 73, and Construction Battalion Division (CBD) 1054. Initially, CBD 1054 Seabees operated pontoon barges and causeways to assist in the landing of supplies and vehicles, while the Seabees of the 33rd and 73rd worked on the beach unloading cargo. On September 19, however, when the airfield was captured, they began clearing debris from the airstrips. The following day, their construction equipment was brought ashore and the Seabees began making rapid repairs. Only 72 hours later, three squadrons of fighter aircraft were able to land and begin operations. On September 23, the Seabees began constructing a bomber base which, despite land mines and mortar fire, was made operational in seven days.

1945: The 80th NCB was inactivated at Subic Bay, Philippines.

1966: A facility containing two NMCB camps and the 30th NCR headquarters at Red Beach, Republic of Vietnam (RVN), was named Camp Haskins in memory of Builder (Light Construction) 2nd Class Donald Dean Haskins, NMCB 9, who was killed in action on October 28, 1965, when Camp Adenir, Da Nang, RVN, came under Viet Cong attack.

1968: An NMCB 1 jeep carrying the Delta Company commander and company chief, Lt. j.g.  Arthur D. Moscrip Jr., and Builder Constructionman W.W. McGinn, hit a mine en route to a job site at 2/1 Marines south of Da Nang, RVN.  McGinn was killed instantly, while Moscrip died the following morning.

September 13

1942: The 25th NCB was commissioned at Camp Bradford, Norfolk, Virginia.

1945: The 6th NCB was inactivated at Okinawa, Japan.

Joan Shields, widow of CM3 Marvin Shields, with their daughter Barbara Diane, receiving her husband’s Medal of Honor from President Lyndon Johnson, September 13, 1966. (Photo courtesy of U.S. Navy Seabee Museum)

1966: Construction Mechanic 3rd Class Marvin G. Shields was awarded the Medal of Honor posthumously for his acts of heroism at the 1965 Battle of Dong Xoai, RVN. The medal was presented to his wife, Joan, and daughter, Barbara, by President Lyndon B. Johnson at the White House. This Medal of Honor was the first and only one ever awarded to a Seabee.

September 14

2007: The 25th NCR and NMCB 11 were re-commissioned at Construction Battalion Center (CBC), Gulfport, Mississippi.

September 15

1943: The 4th NCR was inactivated. Section I of 106th NCB was decommissioned at Camp Parks, Shoemaker, California.

1944: A naval task force landed the First Marine Division accompanied by Seabees of NCBs 33 and 74, and CBD 1054 on Peleliu, Palau Islands, in the Western Carolines. The island had been subject to air and shore bombardment prior to the landings, while minesweepers and personnel of the UDTs cleared channels and beaches. The UDTs, led by CEC officers, were mostly Seabees. Peleliu marked the first time the Japanese used new tactics to oppose amphibious assaults. The tactics included light resistance on the beaches with heavy counterattacks and a main line of defense inland. Fighting on Peleliu was heavy, because the Japanese had well-prepared positions in caves and tunnels. The island was not secured until November 25.

1945: The 27th NCR was inactivated; the 41st and 59th NCBs were inactivated on Guam.

1950: Seabees of NCB 104, later re-designated as Amphibious Construction Battalion (ACB) 1, participated in amphibious landings with the Marines at Inchon, Korea. Building pontoon causeways and unloading eight tank landing ships carrying supplies into Inchon posed major challenges for the Seabees. Inchon harbor had a fantastic tide, over 30 feet in most places. The tide receded to the main channel and left a vast mud flat in front of the city. Small craft, tank landing ships, patrol craft and other supply vessels were left high and dry on the mud when the tide withdrew. In their usual “Can Do” spirit, the Seabees had a pontoon causeway built on the second day that allowed Gen. Douglas MacArthur to walk ashore dry-shod, from USS Mount McKinley.

1950: NMCB 2 was commissioned.

1967: Cmdr. Richard Foley departed as officer in charge (OIC) of the “Ghost Battalion,” Site X, Quang Tri Province, RVN. Lt. Cmdr. T.L. Lonegan assumed command as acting commanding officer, NMCB 3.

September 16

1854: The Mare Island Navy Yard, San Francisco, is formally established with Cmdr. David G. Farragut as its first commandant. This was the first West Coast navy yard.

1967: The main body of Construction Battalion Maintenance Unit (CBMU) 302, commanded by Lt. M.H. Harper, departed CBC, Port Hueneme, California, for duty at Cam Ranh Bay, RVN.

1968: A ceremony was held to officially present NMCB 7 with the Navy Unit Commendation, earned for serving as a supporting unit of NCR 30 in RVN during the period of September 1966 through July 1967.

1970: The 21st NCR Detail Yankee (UCT, 1) returned to Davisville, Rhode Island, from Santa Maria, Azores Islands.

The Ghost Battalion

Ghost Battalion flag, Quang Tri, Vietnam, September 1967.

Two days after General Westmoreland ordered an alternate airfield built near the Demilitarized Zone because the Dong Ha air facilities were being subjected to an unceasing steady bombardment, Seabees moved into what then became known as Site X in Quang Tri, Vietnam.

The airfield project included construction of a 3,500 ft. runway with 300-foot overruns at each end, a 20,000 square yard parking apron, and a 90,000 square yard helicopter facilty together with living and support cantoments for 500 men.

For the first time in the Seabee construction history in Vietnam, the U.S. Navy’s fighting contruction men and their equipment, from virtually every in-country battalion, joined forces to begin the urgent project.

NMCB-10 received orders and deployed from Okinawa to Quang Tri to take over the mammoth job. Men from nine Naval Mobile Construction Battalions culminated to complete the construction in the alloted time frame. The multi-battalion effort was under the operational control of the 32nd Naval Construction Regiment with men and officers from NMCB One, Three, Four, Seven, Ten, Eleven, Seventy-four, One Twenty-One, and One Thirty-Three engaged in various important stages throughout the project.

The OICC for Site X was CDR Richard Foley, CO for NMCB-THREE and the AOICC was LCDR Ahrens XO from NMCB-121. One of the major issues the Seabees faced was moving 11,000 Vietnamese graves which were in the middle of the projected air facility.

After two weeks, and close cooperation with Vietnamee officials, the Seabees moved the graves in accordance with local customs and traditions. This earned the construction men the name “Ghost Battalion.” That name stayed with the Seabees until the task at Site X was completed.


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