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This Week in Seabee History (May 13 – May 19)

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

This Week in Seabee History (5-14-17)
A Seabee in full deep-water diving gear used by the combat demolition units and deep sea construction divers circa 1943. On May 14, 1943, the first Seabees reported to Amphibious Training Base Solomons, Maryland, to begin the four-week training course for what would later become the Naval Combat Demolition Units. (Photo courtesy of the U.S. Navy Seabee Museum)

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May 13

1967: One man was killed and seven were wounded following a nighttime mortar and recoilless rifle attack on the NMCB 8 compound located at Chu Lai, RVN.

1968: Due to the augmentation of the Naval Construction Force (NCF) required for the war in Vietnam, Reserve NMCBs 12 and 22 were ordered to active duty at Gulfport, Mississippi, effective this date. This is the first time reserve Seabee units were called to active duty; the last C-130 flight of NMCB 10 personnel departed Quang Tri for CONUS.

1969: Seabee Teams 0705 and 0706 were assigned to the 21st NCR for 18 weeks of specialized training.

1971: Delayed party for NMCB 40 departed Davisville, Rhode Island for deployment to Diego Garcia.

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May 14

1943: Seabees from Camp Peary, Virginia [six Civil Engineer Corps (CEC) officers, 18 enlisted men], report to Amphibious Training Base Solomons, Maryland, and begin a four-week training course for what will become the Naval Combat Demolition Units.

1943: 87th Naval Construction Battalion (NCB) commissioned at NCTC Camp Endicott, Davisville, Rhode Island.

1946: 3rd Special NCB inactivated on Okinawa.

1965: A detail of one officer and 74 enlisted men from Naval Mobile Construction Battalion (NMCB) 9 arrived at Da Nang to assist the NMCB 3 advance party in construction of the first Seabee camp at Da Nang main compound (Camp Hoover) near Hill 327. The camp was originally programmed for two battalions, but later reduced to one battalion.

1969: NMCB 12 (reserve battalion) was disestablished as an active duty unit and returned to reserve status.

1970: Seabee Team 0412 departed Guam and arrived on Koror Island, Palau District, Trust Territories of the Pacific Islands.

1980: The Operation “New Life” camp reached its peak population of 50,233 on this day, after that the pace gradually slackened as the flow of refugees to the states outran the influx of new refugees. By 26 June the camp population had dropped to 10,138 and Operation “New Life” began to wind down.

 

Aerial view of the refugee camp at Orote Point, Guam (USA), following the Vietnam War, circa in 1975. Note the outline of the old airfield. (U.S. Navy photo)

 

About Operation “New Life”, on 29 April 1975 the government of the Republic of Vietnam surrendered to the North Vietnamese as North Vietnamese regulars and Viet Cong closed in on Saigon. Before the surrender, President Gerald Ford ordered a mass evacuation of Americans and Vietnamese from the capital. For the latter who were political refugees, it meant the beginning of a long journey to a “new life” in the United States. In addition to the evacuation by air, many thousands of Vietnamese chose to flee the country in ships, and even small boats. The first stop for many on this journey was Grande Island, located at the entrance of Subic Bay, Republic of the Philippines. Here, Seabees, assisted by Marines and civilian employees from the Navy Public Works Center built a tent camp for the refugees. From Grande these refugees moved to the larger camps which had been built on Guam in the Marianas.

 

View of the refugee camp at Orote Point, Guam (USA), following the Vietnam War, circa in 1975. (U.S. Navy photo)

 

On 23 April 1975 the 30th Naval Construction Regiment directed all Seabees on Guam to halt their normal construction projects and mount an around-the-clock effort to prepare facilities to house the approximately 50,000 refugees who were even then fleeing South Vietnam. Seabees first rehabilitated the abandoned Naval Hospital Annex at Asan Point. The Seabees worked around the clock and by Friday, 25 April, the camp received the first arriving refugees and quickly filled to its 10,000-person capacity. On 24 April Seabees began construction of a huge, 50,000 person tent camp at Orote Point. This was a monumental undertaking as it involved clearing the jungle from more than 50 acres of land. Once again, the Seabees worked 24-hours a day and the camp received its first refugees on 26 April. Not only did construction ratings work, but the battalions also pressed their support personnel into action. Supply clerks, mess cooks, and yeoman all pitched in and worked around the clock to get the job done. Construction continued and in about a week, Seabees erected 2,000 tents with no end in sight. Support utilities were also provided: messing facilities and kitchens, thousands of feet of water mains to supply showers and washing facilities, as well as the necessary sanitary facilities.

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May 15

1944: ACORN 23 dissolved and absorbed into Naval Air Base, Ebeye (Kwajalein Atoll). (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, Treasury Island, and Majuro.)

1966: Cmdr. Tom C. Williams, CEC, commanding officer of NMCB 10, assumed command of Camp Hoover, Da Nang, Republic of Vietnam (RVN).

1968: The last flight of NMCB 11’s 16-flight airlift to Vietnam was marred by disaster. The flight crashed on landing at Quang Tri airstrip. Seven passengers were injured and immediately flown by Medevac helicopters to the hospital ship, USS Sanctuary, cruising off the coast of Vietnam. The left wing was torn from the plane on impact and strewn ablaze for several hundred yards from the plane. Fires broke out within the fuselage of the plane, and one of the remaining engines burst into flames. While the crash trucks were rushing to the scene, Seabees poured out of the rear hatches carrying the injured with them. The battalion’s dentist, Lt. Conley T. Snidow, who was accompanying the troops, administered first aid on the scene.

1968: The second increment of NMCB 1’s advance party of 48 personnel deployed via one C-141 aircraft from Davisville, Rhode Island to Da Nang, RVN.

1969: NMCB 121’s Hospital Corpsman 3rd Class Gustave Pappas was wounded by a grenade thrown into the back of an ambulance during a civic action visit to the village of Phu Long, RVN.
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May 16

1943: 10th Special Naval Construction Battalion (NCB) formed at Naval Construction Training Center (NCTC) Camp Peary, Magruder, Virginia.

1966: Seabee Team 0405 departed Chu Lai for Port Hueneme for training prior to deployment.

1970: NMCB 5’s battalion flag was transferred from Camp Haskins North, Da Nang to Bien Hoa, RVN. Personnel remaining at Camp Haskins North became Detail Yankee.
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May 18

1942: Advance Base Depot Port Hueneme, California, was established and went into operation.

1943: 67th NCB commissioned at Camp Peary, Magruder, Virginia.

1965: An NMCB 3 advance party of one officer and 99 enlisted men arrived at Da Nang, RVN, from Guam. They traveled by U.S. Air Force (USAF) aircraft.

1966: Construction Battalion Base Unit (CBBU) homeported at Construction Battalion Center (CBC), Port Hueneme, California, was redesignated as the 31st Naval Construction Regiment (NCR) under command of Capt. Robert D. Thorson, CEC, with Capt. Harold F. Liberty, Officer-in-Charge (OIC) of CBBU as the deputy of the regiment.

1969: Team 1013 compound and Xuan Loc City, RVN, came under heavy enemy rocket, mortar, and small arms fire. Construction Electrician 2nd Class (CE2) Phillip Lee Grieser was killed by shrapnel.

1970: Seabee Team 0313 returned to the continental United States (CONUS) via government aircraft.
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May 19

1968: A rocket attack began at 1930 (7:30 p.m.) on NMCB 4’s almost completed camp site at Camp Evans, RVN. One rocket hit the ammunition supply point (ASP). Fires and explosions spread destruction to the major ASP area and fuel farm. Debris from the exploding shells and rockets caused moderate damage to five berthing huts, and Alpha Company shops and repair parts buildings. Explosions continued into the morning of the 20th, but with no Seabee casualties.

1971: Ceremony held turning Camp Moscrip, Roosevelt Roads, Puerto Rico over from NMCB 1 to NMCB 62.
May 19-20, 1971: NMCB 1 main body flights departed Roosevelt Roads, Puerto Rico for Davisville, Rhode Island.

2007: Capt. Katherine (Kate) Gregory assumed command of the 30th NCR, the first female active duty regimental commander in the history of the Naval Construction Force.

Sept. 2012, Real Admiral Katherine L. Gregory, Commander, Naval Facilities Engineering Command and Chief of Civil Engineers, United States Navy. (Photo by NAVFAC PAO)

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