“Can Do” – Life as a Seabee in WWII
Updated: Apr 11, 2018
C.B. Martin learned about the bombing of Pearl Harbor watching a movie with a buddy in downtown Lubbock on Sunday Dec. 7th, 1941. As C.B. noted, “Neither one of us had ever heard of Pearl Harbor and we had no idea where it was located. I was very aware of its location before the war was over!”
C.B. was drafted in Sep. 1943, and was interviewed by a Navy Seabee recruiter. When he found out C.B. had construction experience, he offered to make him a Third Class Petty Officer. He decided right then to become a Seabee. The Seabees were formed as part of the Navy in spring of 1942, by Admiral Moreall. He came up with the idea of a Construction Battalion which would be called Seabees. Their motto was “We build, we fight." As he noted wryly, “C.B. became a Seabee."
He and a buddy headed to Camp Peary near Williamsburg, VA, for boot camp. Here they learned the joy of military training. C.B. began to wonder if he had made a mistake. As he noted, “In the military if one guy fouls up, the whole platoon pays for it.” After a two week leave, he was on his way to Pearl Harbor and sailed past the ships that had been sunk on Dec. 7th, 1941, that he had heard about in that movie theatre in Lubbock over two years prior. As C.B. said, “What a sight for a country boy.”
After a three month stay in Hawaii, C.B. shipped out to “parts unknown” in the Pacific on the USS Storm King. The crew of this converted German ship was Army and the only Navy personnel on board were Seabees. Their first stop was at an island called Kwayalain. From there they “just meandered around the Pacific trying to dodge submarines.” On the morning of July 21st, 1944, he witnessed battleships, cruisers and destroyers firing onto the island of Guam. When they finally landed on the beach, he saw a lot of destroyed tanks, trucks, various equipment and dead Japanese soldiers. The natives of Guam were treated very harshly by the Japanese. C.B. said their resentment of them was deep, but that they loved Americans.
Immediately after settling in, the Seabees began their real work. They built roads, air fields, power plants, radio stations, warehouses and other projects all over the island. The Seabees knew to stay armed even while working. Toward the end of the war, they built a makeshift prison camp for surrendering Japanese soldiers. C.B. said that the Seabees were not noted for discipline. They were building a camp for incoming Marines when a Marine lieutenant came over to talk to the Seabee in charge and asked, “What do you have to do to rate a salute around here?” to which the Seabee answered, “I’ll be damned if I know,” turned around and walked off.
C.B. finally left Guam in the fall of 1945 and married Conny McDonald on December 21, 1945. As he would say later in life, “I am proud I was able to serve the good ole USA during WWII.” C.B. went on the 2012 Texas South Plains Honor Flight.
Larry A. Williams
Texas South Plains Honor Flight Committee