Bill and I just returned from the 74th Annual Seabee Ball held on Saturday, February 20, 2016, at the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library in Simi Valley, California. Bill has written extensively about the Seabees in his four WWII military histories and is a Life Member of the Navy Seabee Veterans of America. We were honored to be invited to the VIP Reception and seated among VIPs at dinner. I’m always moved by these military events … the younger generation thanking Bill for his service in WWII, and Bill and I thanking the younger generation for their service and sacrifices. The Ronald Reagan Presidential Library is – in a word – awesome, and we encourage everyone to pay it a visit.

 

Bill with Air Force One in the background.

Bill with Air Force One in the background.

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At the Ball.

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The lovely wives of Naval Mobile Construction Battalion 3. Their husbands are currently deployed to Iwo Jima or the Middle East.

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A keynote address by “President” McGee. Note the familiar faces in the audience.

A Brief History of the Seabees. The U.S. Navy Seabees were formed in World War II with the prime objective: to build major military construction. A Seabee is a member of the U. S. Naval Construction Forces (NCF). The name “Seabee” comes from initials “CB”, which in turn comes from the term “Construction Battalion”. Their motto: We Build, We Fight. Their symbol: A flying bee with a hammer, a wrench, a machine gun in its hands, and the words “Can Do!” During WWII, the Seabees constructed more than 400 advanced bases, bulldozing and paving thousands of miles of roadway and airstrips. Admiral W. F. Halsey, USN, Guam, 1945, said of the Seabees: “Every time I pass a bulldozer, I want to stop and kiss it.” 

1-USNCSA Cover Winter 2016The year 2016 is off to a good start with a story in the national quarterly magazine of the the U.S. Navy Cruiser Sailors Association (USNCSA). In it, I recount my participation in 1946 on the heavy cruiser, USS Fall River (CA-131), as she makes her way from Norfolk, Virginia, to the Bikini Atoll for “Operation Crossroads,” the first post-war atomic bomb tests. -Bill McGee

P.S. If you have trouble reading the story on your device, please send me your email at mcgeebmc@aol.com and I will gladly send you a PDF of the 3-page story. Write “PDF please” in the subject line.

USNCSA Operations Crossroads Story, Part 1, Winter 2016

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New recruit William Lionel McGee, U.S. Navy, 1942

I remember Sunday, 7 December 1941, as if it was yesterday. I had just turned sixteen and was living with the Reverend Hawley and his family at the Vancouver Barracks in Vancouver, Washington, just east of Portland, Oregon. Rev. Hawley had been the pastor at the Malta Community Church in my hometown of Malta, Montana, and was called up to serve as a Chaplain in the U.S. Army in Vancouver. When I dropped out of high school, Rev. Hawley got me a job at the Vancouver Barracks “PX” (Post Exchange) while I trained to become a welder at the newly-opened Kaiser Vancouver Shipyards.

On this particular Sunday morning, my buddies and I were walking down Broadway Street in downtown Portland checking out the movies. All of a sudden, someone opened a store door and shouted, “The radio says the Japanese just bombed the hell out of us … somewhere called Pearl Harbor!”

My friends and I were in shock.  We forgot about the movies and hurried back to the barracks to listen to the radio. Like most Americans, we read about and listened to the ongoing debates regarding the threat of a war with Japan.  But we never expected anything to happen that close to home (sound familiar?). Now the facts of the matter were quite different.

On that frightful morning, in what turned out to be a long-planned secret attack, Japanese warplanes appeared suddenly over the unsuspecting U.S. Naval Base at Pearl Harbor and proceeded to bomb or aerial torpedo what was then the mightiest U.S. naval force in history. The next day, President Roosevelt indelibly described 7 December 1941 as “a date which will live in infamy” and declared war on the Japanese.

Like other guys my age, I was gung-ho to join the Marines or Navy and get in the action. I checked in with both recruiting offices thinking there might be an age exception now that we were in a war.  The bottom line was at 16, there was no way I could enlist; at 17, I could enlist providing one parent signed a consent form; at 18, I was free to do as I wished.

So I waited out the next ten months, eager to turn 17, and worked as a welder on ships at the Kaiser Vancouver Shipyard.  On 30 September 1942, my seventeenth birthday, I took the underage consent form signed by my mother and proudly joined the U.S. Navy.

(Excerpted from BLUEJACKET ODYSSEY, 1942-1946: Guadalcanal to Bikini, Naval Armed Guard in the Pacific by William L. McGee, BMC Publications, 2000)

PacificExpress Adm Turner

RAdm Richard Kelly Turner, USN (left) and MGen Alexander A. Vandegrift, USMC (right) review logistics plans for Guadalcanal, July – August 1942. (Photo courtesy Naval Institute Press)

Veterans Day, November 11, 2015

On 7 August 1942, six months to the day after the Japanese sneak attack on Pearl Harbor, the first major offensive by the United States was launched against the Japanese in the South Pacific.

The 1st Marine Division under MGen A. A. Vandegrift landed on Guadalcanal and Tulagi in the Solomon Islands northeast of Australia. It was the beginning of a two-pronged offensive aimed at dislodging the Japanese from islands that would provide stepping stones to the eventual invasion of Japan.

It was the beginning of the bloody six month battle for Guadalcanal.

The cost and the return in lives and ships lost in the entire Guadalcanal campaign. There it was—2,500 square miles of miasmic plain, thick jungle and savage mountains in American hands, after exactly six months of toil, suffering and terror. What had it cost? What was the return? Where were we going next?

In war’s brutal scale of lives lost against lives risked, the blood-letting from 60,000 Army and Marine Corps troops committed to Guadalcanal, had not been excessive; 1,592 killed in action. Navy losses were certainly in excess of that figure, and several score fliers of all three air forces had given their lives. But the Japanese had lost about two thirds of the 36,000 men who fought on Guadalcanal—14,800 killed or missing, 9,000 dead of disease and 1,000 taken prisoner. Many thousand more soldiers went down in blasted transports or barges, and the number of Japanese sailors lost in the vicious sea battles will never be known, because such matters do not interest the Japanese.

On the material side, the tallies of combat ships lost by each side in the Guadalcanal campaign were surprisingly even.

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(Above table compiled by Mr. W. L. Robinson. It does not include transports (AP. AK or APD) of which the Japanese had far the heavier loss, or auxiliaries such as Seminole, or patrol craft.)

Tactically—in the sense of coming to grips with the enemy—Guadalcanal was a profitable lesson book. The recommendations of Guadalcanal commanders became doctrine for Allied fighting men the world over. And it was the veteran from “the ‘Canal” who went back to man the new ship or form the cornerstone for the new regiment. On top level, mark well the names of Halsey, Turner, Vandegrift, Patch, Geiger, Collins, Lee, Kinkaid, Ainsworth, Merrill. They would be heard from again.

Strategically, as seen from Pearl Harbor or Constitution Avenue, Guadalcanal was worth every ship, plane and life that it cost. The enemy was stopped in his many-taloned reach for the antipodes. Task One in the arduous climb to Rabaul was neatly if tardily packaged and filed away.

There were more subtle implications to Guadalcanal. The lordly Samurai, with his nose rubbed in the mud and his sword rusted by the salt of Ironbottom Sound, was forced to revise his theory of invincibility. A month previously Hirohito had issued an imperial rescript stating that in the Solomon Islands “a decisive battle is being fought between Japan and America.” Radio Tokyo gave out that the Imperial forces, “after pinning down the Americans to a corner of the island,” had accomplished their mission and so departed to fight elsewhere. There was a laugh for Americans in that; but Guadalcanal never inspired much laughter.

For us who were there, or whose friends were there, Guadalcanal is not a name but an emotion, recalling desperate fights in the air, furious night naval battles, frantic work at supply or construction, savage fighting in the sodden jungle, nights broken by screaming bombs and deafening explosions of naval shells. Sometimes I dream of a great battle monument on Guadalcanal; a granite monolith on which the names of all who fell and of all ships that rest in Ironbottom Sound may be carved. At other times I feel that the jagged cone of Savo Island, forever brooding over the blood-thickened waters of the Sound, is the best monument to the men and ships who here rolled back the enemy tide.

(Excerpted from THE SOLOMONS CAMPAIGNS, 1942-1943: From Guadalcanal to Bougainville, Pacific War Turning Point by William L. McGee, Chapter 2, “The Landings, 7 – 8 August, 1942”. Excerpt also includes portions of Volumes IV and V of Samuel Eliot Morison’s History of United States Naval Operations in World War II.)

Bugles Across America was founded in 2000 by Tom Day, when Congress passed legislation stating that Veterans have a right to at least two uniformed military people to fold the flag and play Taps on a CD player. Bugles Across America was founded to take this a step further.  In recognition of the service these Veterans have provided to their country, Tom Day felt that they each deserved a live rendition of Taps played by a live bugler. To this end, the non-profit group actively seeks capable volunteers to provide this valuable service to Veterans and their families.

Bugles Across America now has over 5500 bugler volunteers located in all 50 states and growing number overseas. Since the Department of Veterans Affairs is expecting more than 1/2 million veterans to pass every year for the next 7 years, Bugles Across America is ALWAYS recruiting new volunteers. For more information, visit Bugles Across America.   (Video courtesy Associated Press)
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