By Lance Cpl. Sullivan Laramie, 2nd Marine Logistics Group
Pfc. Harvey Evans (left), antitank missileman with 2nd Light Armored Recon Battalion, 2nd Marine Division, discusses a Tube-launched, Optically-tracked, Wire-guided missile launcher with a veteran of MCB-12 on display during a reunion at Camp Lejeune, N.C., May 22. Retired Sailors who served with MCB-12 during the Vietnam War toured Camp Lejeune, and compared equipment and stories during the reunion. Photos by Lance Cpl. Sullivan Laramie
They came from across America to build and fight for the Navy during one of the most trying periods of recent American military conflict. When the Seabees of Mobile Construction Battalion 12 (MCB-12) arrived here for the first time during the Vietnam War, many could not imagine the friendships they would create or the challenges they would face.
They came to build and fight…and that is what they did.
The Seabees trained for military operations aboard Camp Lejeune, N.C., for two weeks in 1967 before deploying to Vietnam the following year. Forty-five years after their deployment ended, veterans of MCB-12 returned with family members for a day-long reunion tour of the base, May 22.
The Sailors’ first stop was at the base’s Military Operations in Urban Terrain (MOUT) training center to learn how military training has changed since the street-to-street, house-to-house warfare faced by service members during Vietnam battles such Hue City and Saigon. The Seabees and their families mingled with each other and the MOUT staff, who guided them through a short tour of the facility, a small city in its own right.
Staff Sgt. Luis Santini Jr. (center), operations chief for the MOUT section, Headquarters and Support Battalion, Marine Corps Base Camp Lejeune, leads a tour of the MOUT facility for veterans of MCB-12 and their family members during a reunion aboard Camp Lejeune, N.C., May 22. Approximately 50 veterans and family members from MCB-12 visited Camp Lejeune for a day-long tour of the base.
As they passed by the scarred buildings and battle-worn roads, the veterans were able to recount some of their own stories from Vietnam.
“The majority of the time I was on a bridge crew, and our job was basically to make blown bridges operational and, to a certain extent, work with Marine engineers,” said Bob Williams of Brunswick, Maine, who served with MCB-12 during the 1968 to 1969 deployment to Vietnam. “Our primary mission was to support the Marine Corps with bridge repair and reconstruction and road building, and we worked with Marine Air Group 16 in the Da Nang area building revetments for both fixed-wing and rotary aircraft.”
The Seabees were busy building everything from housing for Marines and other service members to constructing waterfront facilities and defense installations.
“There are so many stories out there, and I would hate to leave out anyone who did a heck of a good job there,” said Williams. “Throughout the battalion, everyone contributed a remarkable effort into what we got done construction-wise and militarily.”
The battalion served in the Army of the Republic of Vietnam I Corps Tactical Zone during the deployment. There, it worked alongside U.S. Marines and soldiers, Republic of Korea marines and South Vietnamese troops.
A Marine with 10th Marine Regiment, 2nd Marine Division, and veterans of MCB-12 discuss the differences in body armor used in the Vietnam War and current models during a reunion at Camp Lejeune, N.C., May 22. Displays of current equipment provided the veterans with an opportunity to see the changes in engineering and support capabilities, as well as a chance to share their past experiences with a younger generation of service members.
In addition to their military projects, the unit contributed to the civilian population by supporting orphanages and providing medical assistance.
On the eve of the tour’s arrival, the base laid out modern engineering and support vehicles and equipment for the Seabees to examine. Personnel from 8th Engineer Support Battalion (ESB), 2nd Marine Logistics Group and 2nd Marine Division provided the veterans with a gateway between the present and the past as they shared their own experiences with the visitors during their tour of the equipment.
A veteran of MCB-12 speaks with Lance Cpl. Craig Murphy Jr. (right), engineer equipment operator with 8th ESB, 2nd Marine Logistics Group, at a static display of engineer and support equipment and vehicles during a reunion aboard Camp Lejeune, N.C., May 22. The display gave the veterans and their family members an idea of how support equipment and vehicles have changed throughout the past 50 years, and an opportunity to share their stories with a newer generation of service members.
One veteran said that many of the names and faces of his fellow Sailors in MCB-12 returned to him during his tour off Camp Lejeune. While the battalion’s stay on the base in 1967 was short, visiting it again and seeing engineering equipment with some of the unit’s other members was enough to bring back fond memories.
“They’ve got some crazy stories,” said Lance Cpl. Kyle Reed, engineer equipment operator with 8th ESB and native of Colchester, Conn. “It’s awesome. A lot of them did the same thing we do now, so seeing the history of how the job has evolved from what they used to do to how we operate now is just awesome.”
Bob Williams (center left), a veteran who served with MCB-12 during the Vietnam War, talks to Marines with 8th ESB, 2nd Marine Logistics Group, about vehicles and equipment on display during a reunion at Camp Lejeune, N.C., May 22. During MCB-12’s 1968-1969 Vietnam deployment, Williams belonged to a team that repaired and reconstructed bridges destroyed by war, a job similar to that performed by Marines with 8th ESB during recent deployments.
Following the visit to the static displays, the group traveled to Courthouse Bay for an Assault Amphibious Vehicle demonstration before getting a firsthand look at the M-22 Ospreys stationed at Marine Corps Air Station New River. The twin-engine, tilt rotor aircraft – half helicopter, half plane – is a fair change from the helicopters used during Vietnam. But even as the equipment changed over the last five decades, the returning veterans noted an enduring continuity in the Marines and Sailors still serving at the base.
“In our brief time here, we’ve been tremendously impressed with the expertise and professionalism that everyone here has exhibited,” said Williams. “It’s a good feeling knowing that [service members] are out here, and we want to thank them.”
Veterans of MCB-12 and Marines with 8th ESB, 2nd Marine Logistics Group, discuss engineering equipment near a Military All-Terrain Crane 50 on display during a reunion at Camp Lejeune, N.C., May 22. Marines and retired Seabees talked about equipment and procedures used by engineers in the past and present during the day-long tour.
(Reprinted from Marines, the Official Website of the United States Marine Corps)