U.S. Navy Seabees to drop anchor in Walla Walla Oct. 6-9

2016-09-28 | Walla Walla Union-Bulletin

Sept. 27--Tom and Peggie Vandenberg of Touchet will be on deck in Walla Walla Oct. 6-9 when they host a reunion of U.S. Navy Seabees.

The Vandenbergs are expecting up to 150 members of Construction Battalion Maintenance Unit 302 ­-- which operated in Vietnam, The Republic of the Philippines and Guam -- to convene at the Courtyard Marriott hotel, 550 W. Rose St.

"We are putting together some points of interest in Walla Walla for all attendees to take in while they are in town. Many are coming from the East Coast and (places) in between," the Vandenbergs emailed.

They have formed special bonds with other couples who attend these reunions and have traveled the country over the years to attend other Seabee gatherings.

Needing a unit that could support war efforts by building bases, runways, port facilities and roads -- and defend what they built -- the Navy in 1942 formed construction battalions after America entered World War II.

To shorten the moniker, the Navy devised the nickname CBs/Seabees.

First to come on board were men already versed in civilian construction. They then trained in combat, which allowed regular fighting troops to do what they were trained to do, Tom said.

Tom and fellow "dirt sailers" with CBMU 302 served a 30-month stint. He was in Vietnam from October 1970 to October 1971.

CBMU 302 formed in August 1967 and immediately shipped out to be homeported at Cam Rahn Bay, Vietnam, about 180 miles north of Ho Chi Minh City (formerly Saigon), and about 600 miles south of Da Nang, which was near the demilitarized zone shared with North Vietnam in the South China Sea.

The 302 performed public works projects for the Navy in 2, 3 and 4 Corps of Vietnam, Tom said.

"Our sister battalion, CBMU301, was also assigned to Vietnam to operate in I Corps up near the DMZ. Both battalions did projects for the U.S. Army, Navy and Marines as well as the Vietnamese and Korean Armed Forces. When CBMU 301 was decommissioned in September of 1970, CBMU 302 took over the I Corps area, also absorbing some of the personnel from 301."

The mission of 302 changed to mostly building housing for Vietnamese dependents of the Armed Forces by that time. The teams operating in more than 20 areas of Vietnam took on the name Naval Construction Action Teams or NAVCATs for short.

"The project became so large that 302 utilized men from the three areas of the Navy Fleet -- airmen, seamen and firemen -- as well as training the Vietnamese to build and maintain their bases," Tom said.

CMBU 302 became the first battalion to operate in all four areas of Vietnam. It was the largest battalion since World War II. It was the only battalion authorized to wear a shoulder patch NAVCAT, the longest serving battalion in Vietnam -- 41/2 years -- and the last Seabee battalion to leave Vietnam.

In spring 1972 CBMU 302 relocated to Republic of the Philippines where it did public works projects for the Navy at Subic Bay. When the U.S. left the Philippines, CBMU 302 relocated to Guam to perform the same functions and in 1994 it was decommissioned.

Seabees operated in all major areas where the U.S. fought, including Normandy, France, North Africa and mostly with Marines island hopping in the Pacific Theater.

Once a defended beachhead was established Seabees came in and offloaded supplies needed for the war effort and built bases and runways out of which Marines operated.

Seabees were called in during the Korean and Vietnam wars to support the efforts and currently operate in Iraq, Afghanistan and many other areas of the world.

To help Peggie and Tom organize outings in the area, they're assembling packets of information for guests to choose from.

"If you have anything you would like to add to this experience for our Seabee Vietnam veterans and other area veterans that will be in attendance, please let us know.

There will be a hospitality room set up at the hotel with refreshments for these veterans. To donate goodies, beverages or funds to help purchase snacks for the room or for more information about the reunion, call Peggie or Tom at 509-520-5396.

"As we worked with all branches of the service, we welcome anyone who served in or with the Seabees from World War II to the present day. We invite you to stop by and say hello.

To attend the banquet, register by calling the Vandenbergs as there is a small charge for the dinner being served.

"There is no charge for stopping by the hospitality room during this reunion and thanking these fine veterans for their service," Peggie said.

Seabee logo

Wikipedia reports Frank J. Lafrate, a civilian plan file clerk at Quonset Point Air National Guard Station, R.I., designed the original Seabee "Fighting Bee" logo early in 1942. It originally was encircled by a large capital letter Q as the border connoting Quonset Point, but was changed from a Q to a hawser rope before it was officially adopted. The logo, predominantly unchanged, remains in use to this day. In late 1942, after designing the logo, Lafrate enlisted in the Seabees. During World War II, artists working for Walt Disney designed logos for about 10 Naval construction units, including the 60th Naval (Canal) Construction Battalion and the 133rd Naval Construction Battalion, in 1945.

Etcetera appears in daily and Sunday editions. Annie Charnley Eveland can be reached at annieeveland@wwub.com or afternoons at 526-8313.

WCIC is the United Voice of the Construction Industry in Washington State.