WWII Seabee M.T. Allen - "Quonset Hut" Expert
Marion T. Allen (known as M.T.), now 97 years young, was drafted and joined the Navy Seabees on April 20th, 1943. He had “already graduated from Idalou High School back in 1937.” He noted that “back then, the high school only went through the 11th grade.” At the time he was drafted, M.T. was already married to Mary Jane and they had two children. It would be difficult for the whole family to be separated, as it was for millions of young couples during WWII. He noted that “all I had known was construction”, so he thought the Seabees was the place for him. He had been in construction ever since he got out of high school. M.T. had put those skills to work in California, where he had moved his young family because of the depression.
While back home in Idalou, he decided to “go to Dallas to be inducted because that was closer to home”. He was actually registered in California, but they were “more than glad to accept him into the service in Dallas.” After 6 weeks of basic training in Camp Peary, VA, M.T. was sent to Endicott, RI for advanced training where he was placed with the 97th Construction Battalion. He left on the Queen Elizabeth headed for Londonderry, North Ireland. Stripped of their luxury fittings, the Queen Mary and Queen Elizabeth could carry twice as many passengers across the Atlantic as were normally carried in peacetime.
After doing some work in North Ireland for a few weeks, his battalion was sent to Falmouth and other cities in England to assist with the massive buildup of men and equipment in preparation for the D-Day landing in Normandy, France. His unit’s specialty was the “Quonset hut”. He noted that “a usual team of 8 men could build these pretty fast once they got the hang of it”. His unit arrived on Utah Beach in July 1944, only two months after the invasion. This was M.T.’s first exposure to the war and the destruction of men and equipment. He noted that the “German concrete bunkers and pill boxes had been destroyed by large U.S. artillery, and there were still several dead Germans entombed in them.” The Seabees job in France was to clear the beach, build bridges and tear down the dreaded “hedge rows” that slowed down both the troops and equipment.
One of their jobs in France was to “build signal towers with a light on top.” M.T. would “build and move on to the next town” until he received a 30 day leave on December 5th, 1944. He received orders that he and his unit would now be needed in the Pacific. He left out of Port Hueneme which was constructed just to supply the needs of the Navy's construction battalions (Seabees) operating in the Pacific. The depot received supplies, stored them in huge warehouses and then shipped them overseas as needed. Seabee units came and went through the port including M.T.’s 97th Battalion which headed for the island of Okinawa in January, 1945. He noted they “had to stay on the ship for 46 days until the island was secured.” During this time, M.T. and his unit became even more proficient “building Quonset huts for barracks, mess halls and warehouses and even built the occasional outhouse.” While on Okinawa, M.T. and his fellow Seabees heard about the dropping of atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki. He came back to California where he was discharged on November 17, 1945.
Mary Jane and the children were glad to finally have M.T. home, where he was able to find work in construction. He eventually established his own successful construction company and “built over 100+ homes and strip shopping centers” in and around Compton and Bellflower, California. The population boom was on and there were plenty of buildings to construct. M.T. and Mary Jane lived most of their adult life in California but were fortunate enough to travel “many places around the world and it was fun” he recalled. “We’ve had a great life together.” They retired in 1993 and moved back to Idalou. They have 2 children, 4 grandchildren and 6 great grandchildren. M.T. and Mary Jane have now been married for 75 years. Her grandson Taylor Berkstresser said “she doesn’t like to talk about the war years much because it took M.T. away from her for 2-1/2 years.” That separation and anxiety was endured by millions of families during WWII. We owe a debt of gratitude to the families as well as the veterans.
Respectfully submitted by,
Larry A. Williams
Veterans Liaison Co-Chair
Texas South Plains Honor Flight