AI was sent my induction notice at the age of 20 1/2 years old. I reported to Jefferson Barracks in St. Louis, Mo. On the 16th of April, 1943, after going through the medical lines, the recruiters wanted me for their service, but I was insisting on the navy Seabees. I got my wish and was transported to the federal building that evening. At 7 pm I was sworn in and on April 22nd 1943 at 8 am seven of us were sent by train to Williamsburg, VA, Camp Peary.
When we arrived at Camp Peary all of the boots hollered, “You'll be sorry.” We mustered for the first time and were put in groups of forty men. Our instructor was a private with the marines called Smitty. We were issued clothing, dog tags, stencils, a ditty bag, two duffle bags, and a mattress. Smitty introduced us to our new quarters, Hut 104 in the D/9 area. It was chow time and Smutty told us where the chow hall was, still in our civvies, we all got in the shortest line and had our first of many chows to come. On returning to hut 104 we were told that we couldn't leave the D/9 area, and Smitty passed out the 1940 version of the Blue Book Manual. We were told lights out at 2100 hours (9 pm) and the showers were out back.
For six weeks we marched and marched. We cleaned up another area as a big V.I.P. was coming to inspect Captain Wares’ base. All clothes had to be rolled and your name displayed on each item. After six weeks of discipline, we were told that we must parade and that was the graduating part of boot. After the parade we were issued a weekend pass to go into town, I chose the city of Richmond, VA. Others chose Washington DC. On returning to base we were told that we could go to the ship’s store, and visit other areas. Most of the mates were ten and twenty years older than me so I behaved and listened to them.
June 5th the Bob Hope show by Pepsodent tooth paste was going to be on radio from the Camp Peary Auditorium. I heard Frances Langford sing and Jerry Colona with his wit, and I visited the ships bar for the first time.
We were told to be ready for transport on June 8th 1943 our destination to be Camp Endicott in Davisville, RI. Camp Endicott was barracks with double bunks. We located our two duffle bags and was assigned our barracks. The 97th NCB was formed with Lt. Cmdr. Sommers in charge of 38 officers and about 2000 Seabees, Companies A, B, C, D, E, and Hdqs.
July 29th 1943 we were split into two sections, Companies B, E, and Hdqs, going into the 1st section, and Companies A, C, D, and part of Hdqs. were put into the 2nd section under the command of Lt. Cmdr. Clyde Maitland and 18 officers. I was put in Co. C, Pl. 1. Chief Edward Woodward was our platoon chief. We went to schools, and marched in cadence, and the firing range. We did maneuvers at Sun Valley in Davisville, RI. We were issued weekend passes to go to Providence, RI for liberty. I was re-rated to SF 3/C after being placed into a battalion. On Sept. 2nd 1943 I was issued a 10-day embarkation leave.
On returning to Camp Endicott we were told to pack up. A train took us to N.Y. harbor where we boarded the Empress of Australia. We landed in Liverpool, England September 23, 1943. we debarked at night for security reasons. We were then transported by train to Roseneath, Scotland called base two. I was given the job to fill all the oil stoves on that base, which ran from chow in the morning to late chow at night / seven days a week. When I finally got liberty the towns were Glasgow, and Edinburgh, Scotland.
Company "C" officers were Lt. Wm. P. Larsen from NY, Lt. Wm. Ablondie from CT, Ensign Charles Via from VA, and W.O. Raymond Jennings from TX. Mr. Larsen received orders to move company "C" to Vicaridge, near Plymouth, England, to build a 40 hut and galley base on the Tamar River. We left Thanksgiving Day 1943. I was in transportation and hauled rubble, sand, and supplies and I was in hut 128 when erected. I also took my turn driving the liberty truck into Plymouth. After completion of that base in January 1944, Mr. Larsen received orders to rehab the Queen Victoria hospital at Netley, which sat dormant for 10 years. Everybody's trade was used in this project.
While at Netley the 97th 2nd Sect was transferred into the 108th on April 26th 1944 to participate in the invasion of Normandy, France. We were doing the finishing touches to the Queen Victoria Hospital, when I was sent to the Isle of Wight to help set up lodgings and stores for the rest of the battalion from Roseneath, Scotland.
Captain Adolphus Dayton Clark, USN was in charge of the (secret mulberry floating harbor), and the 108th NCB would operate this giant puzzle. Company "C" was given the pierheads. Company "A" was given the breakwater (phoenixes). Company "D" was given the bridge spans called (whales). Hdqs. Co. was placed where needed. Training areas were Selsey, England, Southampton, England and the Isle of Wight.
On June 5th a tug came as usual and towed us out. However, it kept going and we asked our skipper Ensign Ben Siegelman what gives and he said we are going to do the job we have been training for. It was an eerie feeling. And then to make matters worse our Chief Boatswain, Charles Smith, had a heart attack and died during the night. We arrived prior to the bombardment, and at "H" hour the battleships and cruisers and the US Navy blasted the Omaha Beach where we were being held by the tug, Superman. I remember the shrapnel hitting our steel deck from the German’s 88's. Then we saw an LST get a direct hit and lots of land mines were exploding. That first day was frustrating as bodies floated by our pierhead, then we were subject to the Lutwaffe air raids.
The 200 foot long phoenix started their sinking on the 2nd day. On the 3rd day there was enough breakwaters set that we could pull into shallow water. The Seabees worked day and night and on d+9 the first LST docked and unloaded its cargo, three days ahead of schedule. The 108th Seabees also sank the blockships that were used as breakwaters. D+13 a storm brewed and on the d+14 we had to abandon our pierhead as we lost 3 of our 4 ? 60 ft spuds. And one corner of the pierhead was sunk. The storm was terrible.
I huddled with a few of my mates in a bombed church, and then the army took us to a pup tent camp for displaced military. After the storm the skipper rounded us up and the Seabees patched the hole in the side under water and we re-floated the pierhead. On August 3rd we were towed into Falmouth, England and turned the pierhead over to the Limey's.
Commander Edward Herman Honen from CO. and skipper of the 96th NCB was given the task of building two phoenixes at Tilbury, England on the Thames River called buzz bomb alley the 108th gathered at Tilbury on August 6th 1944. We had two twelve-hour shifts, and this was a big construction job. Cmdr. Honen and the 108th Seabees beat the army by 2 weeks as they had two phoenixes also to build.
After that project they sent us to Tiegnmounth, England to get ready for a ship to take us back to the USA. We boarded the New Amsterdam and we were back at Camp Endicott October 26th 1944. We were issued a 30-day leave and returning to Endicott we were told that they were disbanding the 108th NCB. I tried to go in the 139th NCB, but was told the compliment was full. I went to personnel and Yeoman Stew Cunningham said there were a lot of 108th mates going with the 1081st CB detachment. I volunteered and my name appeared on the bulletin board as member of the 1081st.
We traveled across the USA by troop train and arrived at Port Hueneme, CA. I drew boiler watch, which consisted of 24 hours on and 24 hours off. We went to different schools and learned about the carbine rifle.
May 24th we were told to pack up and get ready to ship out. We boarded the George F. Elliott (p-105). After a couple days out we stopped at Pearl Harbor, and then we picked up a large convoy. A close mate of mine, Henry Hoover, and I were watching the regular navy chip and paint. We asked if we could work for them. They obliged and we went through their chow line and saw their movies. There were stops made at Wake Is. and Enewetok Is. to get our legs going and refreshments. We arrived at Okinawa Purple Beach in Buckner Bay on July 5th 1945. Our first night we marched and set up pup tents. The next day we marched to the sight picked out by the powers to be and set up regular tents. I was given the assignment to work for Eugene Silliman SF11c. Mr. Charles Via and W.O. Casper were the ones that were ahead of the water works, and I now became part of my trade. We located a spring and we used that for our source of water, we installed a purification system. Others were building a galley, shops, and two large potable storage tanks.
A typhoon disrupted our work and Seabee ingenuity saw them save all projects by lashing down the roof of the galley and the tanks. However, the gale took our tents and personal belongings for a ride. Silliman gave me the job to install the drains, water and gas lines for the galley. Mr. Via re-rated me to SF 2/C. As there were nothing to do but work and sleep, I can attest the duty in Europe was far better than what we had on Okinawa. I was always amazed at the way the Seabees got things done. Sept, 2nd we heard by the grape vine that the Japs surrendered, but the stragglers were still sniping at us. Our next project was to install two 4 1nch steel piping lines, one for air and the other water, and we were to take them up the side of the road toward Naha, the older mates were going home as they had sufficient points and that left me in charge. I was called into the personnel tent and was given an option to stay 4 more months and finish the project and I would be given a chiefs rating or they said I was eligible to go home by Thanksgiving Day as I had accumulated enough points. I really liked the Seabees but my mates were going home and I elected to go home. I boarded the Lucky Lucy (P-103). I remember having Thanksgiving dinner on the way home, we docked at treasure island and after a week I was issued a train ticket to St. Louis, MO, and separated from service at Naval Base Lambert Field St. Louis, MO on December 8th 1945.
Raymond B. Dierkes
When World War II broke out the United States Naval Construction Battalions (Seabees) did not exist. The vast oceans between the U.S and the enemy on both sides made the logistics of war a major concern. Rear Admiral Moreell completely understood the issues at hand. What needed to be done was build staging bases and create a military construction force to do build them to take the war to the enemy. The concept of Naval Construction Battalions had been slowly developing at Naval Facilities Engineering Command Bureau of Yards and Docks (BuDocks) in the 1930s. The onset of war clarified to Moreell the need to be able to develop advance bases to project American power. The solution was to tap the United States vast pool of skilled labor. Put it in uniform to build anything, anywhere under any conditions and get the Marine Corps to train them. The first volunteers were skilled recruits at enlistment. To obtain these men, military age limits were modified to take 18–50 years old. It was later found that several past 60 had managed to get in. Men were given advanced rank/pay based upon experience making the Seabees the highest paid group in the U.S. military. The first 60 battalions had an average age of 37.
In December 1942 voluntary CB enlistments ceased per presidential order. For the next year Seabees were picked by the Selective Service System. Recruits were younger and came with only basic skills." To address this issue the Seabees created training programs in more than 60 skilled trades. They would become renowned for unofficial trades like souvenir making, and the arts of obtaining materials by unofficial and unorthodox means. The key tools of the Seabees were bulldozers, float pontoons, Marston Mat, corregated steel, applied with "some ingenuity and elbow grease" Nearly 11,400 officers joined the Civil Engineer Corps during the war, and 7,960 of them served with CBs. The Seebees simultaneously constructed on multiple islands, across vast distances in support of American forces. On February 13, 1945 the Chief of Naval Operations, Fleet Admiral Ernest J. King, approved the retention of CBs as a permanent part of the Navy. Before that happened they would provide the men and skills needed by the top secret Chemical Warfare Service Flame Tank Group.
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A big THANK YOU to the United States Army Center of Military History for their help in providing the input for these pages. All pages on this website are constantly being refitted with acurate data and texts and it is an ongoing process.