1953 - 1957
submitted by John Daly

 

 I was sent to San Clemente Island, 1953,  where we resurfaced the landing strip, built an observation bunker for the marines to observe and direct the suing the island for target practice. In a valley about one mile from the observation post we welded a track about a mile and a half circle and we placed a jeep chassis in running order with a radar screen attached which was used as a target for 120 ships. The last 3 months on the island was great duty as our Seabee detachment was reduced to an ensign, a chief, a cook and two construction men (including myself). We had a lot of free time, most of it spent by myself and the other construction man, hunting wild goats and gray fox with carbines. This proved to be too easy as he was from Billings, MT and myself from WY, so we decided to become cowboys, obtained rope from the warehouse and made lariats. We weren't too successful at roping the goats and it came to an abrupt halt when my buddy slipped and rolled down one of the hills to the ocean and into a large bed of cactus with only a pair of shorts on. Covered in cactus quills, he looked like a porcupine. Fortunately there was a cruiser in the bay with a doctor on board. He came ashore with twelve pair of tweezers and we spent most of that afternoon and night pulling quills from all parts of my buddies body. They were still popping out a year later while we were on Kwajalein.
    I then joined MCB11 in Kodiak where I spent 3 months in the chow hall preparing salads for the salad bar. Great duty as I had much of the day off and explored parts of Kodiak. I had a buddy from Dayton, OH who loved to fish, so the 3 months I spent there, I hardly ever ate evening meals in the chow hall. My buddy would catch a large salmon which we brought to the civilian cafeteria after filleting it. For 50 the cook would cook it for us with all the french fries we could eat.
    In September 1955, we returned to Port Hueneme for leave and training until October 26, when we boarded the USNS Ainsworth for duty on Kwajalein in the Marshall Islands. While on Kwajalein the battalion had varied work assignments. There was roadwork and rehabilitation of 20 existing temporary buildings for short term use. The big project was construction of 78 buildings for the Department of Defense Housing. I was assigned to the rebar crew, cutting, bending and placing 560 tons of reinforcing steel into 14 base slabs; 45 second deck slabs and 78 roofs. This was a chore trying to tie the steel with the temperature during the day between 95 & 130 degrees (being so close to the equator). We tried putting our pliers in a bucket of water, but the water got to hot during the day, and we couldn't wear gloves as they just got in the way. We endured til our hands and fingers hardened, then it was enjoyable. After this phase of the work was completed, there wasn't much for a steelworker to do, so I was assigned 6 men and we did finish painting on interiors at the units. One of the highlights during our time on Kwajalein was the dropping of the Hydrogen Bomb on Eniwetok. I was in chow hall very early in the morning it was detonated. It lit up the area just like daylight. I made SW3 while on Kwajalein.
    After finishing our Kwajalein tour, on Oct. 26, 1956, we returned to Port Hueneme for 5 months, which was spent on leave and training both military and advanced training in construction work. While there I was promoted to SW2.
    On March 29, 1957, MCB11 boarded the USNS Barrett for our next assignment to Adak, Alaska. The weather from Seattle to Adak was terrible and 90% of the men were seasick, myself included. I decided then it was a good thing I was a Seabee. I didn't want anything to do with sea duty after that cruise. On April 6, 1957, we arrived on Adak, very glad to be back on land where we commenced our various duties. I was assigned to the pier crew. Our job was to repair a large pier damaged by earthquakes and years of service. I was assigned 4 men and our job was to install bracing between pilings under the pier which was quite a job. The braces were 4 X 12's coated with creosote. We tacked them onto the pilings with 100 penny nails, then drilled holes through the 4 X 12's of piling so we could install bolts and nuts with washers. We devised our own floats to work on with pike poles to maneuver ourselves around the pilings and braces. One day while I was retrieving a brace which had floated away from the pier, one of our devil winds called a williwaw came up suddenly sweeping my float and myself out into the Bering Sea. I yelled for one of the men to get in touch with the tug boat which they did. In the meantime I hooked onto a dolphin with my pike pole and pulled the float up to it to await the tug. When they arrived the wind was carrying them right into the dolphin to which I was attached. The tug captain was afraid the tug would crush me up against the dolphin, so he gave the engine the gun which separated me from the float. Our safety manual said we were to wear a life jacket at all times while working off the float, which I thanked the Lord for at that time. The tug then got downwind of me and I made my way to the tug which picked me up. They brought me to sickbay where the doctor tried to make me drink some brandy, but I refused as I am a Born Again Believer and did not believe in drinking alcohol, regardless of the circumstances, so the Doctor was not too happy with me. Chief Hoffman, who was in charge, was a very interesting person with a great sense of humor. He decided we needed a smoke house to smoke salmon. I asked him where we would get the wood for burning and he said no problem, follow me, and we got into the jeep. We went to the warehouse and requisitioned a lot of hickory handles. We built the smokehouse, but had no salmon. Back into the jeep to the warehouse where he requisitioned hand tools. He said now we wait for a Japanese fishing boat to come in for water and supplies. A few days later a fishing boat arrived. he ten traded the hand tools for a couple of hundred pounds of salmon which we smoked. He make several more trips to the warehouse while we were on Adak. Another phenomenon we encountered while on Adak occurred near the pier early in the morning. Looking across the bay we saw hundreds of shrimp on the surface of the water. i ran and got some buckets and a hammer and nails and punched holes in the bottom of the buckets. We then got on our floats and collected pounds of shrimp and had a shrimp feast. I was talking to a civil serviceman on the Island several days later and he said when the king crab come into the bay the only way the shrimp can protect themselves is to surface.
    Two other  noteworthy incidents are as follows:
    We  had a crew painting the air force barracks for which they were not too happy about. While painting the shower rooms, they removed the shower heads and filled the bend pipe with plaster of paris, which needless to say got a couple of guys in trouble, but gave everyone else in the battalion a good laugh. The second incident occurred in the barracks (build in World War II) on stilt like foundations. There were a lot of rats around the barracks. Several of the guys decided they would get rid of some of the rats, so they started spraying them with lighter fluid and setting them afire. The rats ran under the barracks causing a lot of excitement. Thankfully the barracks survived.
    The highlight of our tour of Adak was the shooting down of Gary Powers in the U-2 Spy plane over Russia, which had us on alert for a week. Being Adak we were very close to Russia.