Compiled by Gina Nichols, Archivist, U.S. Navy Seabee Museum, Naval History and Heritage Command
LT Ryan welcomes Marine Raiders to, then, enemy held, New Georgia Island. Drawing by George Lange.
On June 21, 1943, two companies of the Fourth Marine Raiders disembarked from the destroyer-transports Dent and Waters and cautiously landed at Segi Point on New Georgia Island. The Marines had initiated the American amphibious attack against the strategic enemy-held island. They did not meet the heavy Japanese resistance they had expected. Their advance up the beach was unchecked by gunfire.
Suddenly a figure emerged from the jungle and walked forward, not to threaten, but to greet them. “Colonel,” he said, “the Navy Seabees are always happy to welcome the Marines to enemy held territory.” As they shook hands, astonished Marine Lt. Col. Michael Currin could only mutter, “Well, I’ll be…”
The surprised Marines owed this unusual reception to a brave officer, Lt. Robert L. Ryan, Civil Engineer Officer, U.S. Navy Reserve. The 49-year-old Ryan of Santa Paula, Calif., led a reconnaissance party of two Army officers ashore on June 14, 1943. His party gathered landing and enemy disposition information, which was presented to an advance survey party headed by Commander Wilfred L. Painter, CEC, USNR.
On June 25, Ryan returned to the 47th Naval Construction Battalion on Russell Island. Five days later on June 30, 1943, one-half of the 47th Naval Construction Battalion departed from Russell Island, arrived on New Georgia to construct an emergency airstrip. The Seabees landed at Segi with bulldozers, power shovels, and trucks the day the American invasion started. Ryan also returned to New Georgia and participated in the construction of the Segi fighter airstrip.
In nine days from the moment the first tree was uprooted, the first fighter plane made an emergency crash landing on the coral airstrip. The first pilot took off from the new field eleven days after construction began. The Seabees did their job of building the field in record time, although rain delayed regularly established operations as a fighter base until late July.
For the zeal and professional skill displayed during his reconnaissance mission in New Georgia, and his later participation in the construction of the fighter strip at Segi Point, Ryan was awarded the Legion of Merit by the United States Army.
Citations being read to the Battalion. Photo courtesy of U.S. Navy Seabee Museum, Naval History and Heritage Command