General Douglas MacArthur waded ashore in the Philippines on October 20, followed closely by Battalions of Seabees hastening to get bases established for the host of flight outfits eager to move closer to Japan..
After several false starts, (the 93rd Seabees spent a month in a swamp at San Antonio, near Basey) the area surrounding the town of Guiuan in Samar was selected. It was 20 miles from fleet anchorage. But it did offer the vital space, coral, and building conditions to become the enormous base that would eventually hold 32,000 SeaBees and scores of flight, administrative, and other personnel..
The 93rd and 61st Seabee
Battalions began to arrive on December 1st, 1944 and broke ground on the
6th, despite almost constant rain (averaging .66 inches per day that
December). The air strip was constructed over a swamp, requiring a massive
transport of fill. Those who said the area could not sustain
runways were proven wrong by the intrepid Bees, and on December 18, a
Fairchild L-3 Cub successfully made the first landing. By the 22nd, heavy planes began landing.
Four transport planes loaded with cargo arrived on the 28th, and on New
Year's Day fighters and medium bombers flew in en
masse. The Guiuan strip was in operation. VMF-223 (Bulldogs) Corsairs arrived on Jan. 8 to a yet unfinished strip and dispersal space.
Immediately, however, Bob Conner notes a high incidence of severe crashes involving a variety of aircraft and wonders if a cross wind on the strip is responsible for the carnage.
Combat operations from Guiuan were a challenge. The urgency of liberating the rest of the Philippines was matched by the difficulty of locating arial targets in populated areas. Flights from Guiuan targeted islands to the north instead.
There is also a noticeable difference in the Guiuan base: it sprawls confidently across the open plain, with rows of quanset huts. There is no longer a need for camauflauge.
Unbelievably, even before the first plane lands on the strip, Bob notes that building crews have provided luxurious accommodations for the officers. By April, his exasperation with officers' extravagance, womanizing, and diverting of common resources is thorough. It is a theme that dominates enlisted men's memories. William Joynes with CBMU 554 on Johnston Island and Hugh Aarons with the 133th NCB were among the most eloquent and published sources.
There was an abundance of local labor - filipino men were employed in various crews, women supplied laundry and sewing services to the grateful troops, and children entertained the homesick Seabees at Christmas. In return, the 93rd Seabees designed a Chapel-by-the-Sea, distinguished by a Mural over the Altar commemorating the mutual friendship and collaboration of Americans and Filipinos. The Chapel was dedicated on March 18, 1945, and remained as a legacy until it was destroyed by Typhoon Agnes in 1984.
There were fewer memorable events. On
April 11, Donald E. Shackelford was severely injured near a blasting
(Bob Conner noted with disgust that both doctors were at the show, one departing shortly before Shackleford died. He was buried at the Tacloban Cemetery, Chaplain Ball officiating and a memorial service was held April 15 in the Chapel The first landing of a B-29 brought crowds, including Bob Conner, to the air strip for a view of the Flying Fortress on April 23rd.
However even Pacific Duty skims over the year spent in Guiuan. The defeat of the Japanese navy and landing in the Philippines have sealed the outcome of the war, Guiuan does not have an enduring "Mission," and the Guiuan/Calicoan area quickly becomes an eclectic mega-base. The 93rd itself is in its second year overseas, knows it is unlikely to tackle another project, and experiencing a soaring divorce rate. Despite having constructed the air strips with just one other battalion, the 93rd NCB is rapidly joined and even merged with other battalions.
An enduring rumor holds that Lt. Tibbit landed the Enola Gay in Guiuan en route to Tinian Island. However there is no mention of Guiuan in records of the flight, and the Philippine base would have been far out of the way. Lt. Tibbit did not respond to an enquiry.
By the end of the war, Seabee Battalions depleted by the return of men to the States had bivouacked at Guiuan to consolidated their remaining men. The 93rd absorbed several battalions before being decommissioned itself.
Among the last to depart the Guiuan/Calicoan area was the NCB 143rd Advanced Base Construction Depot (ABCD) to which Allen McSweeney had transferred from Construction Battalion Detachment 1067 (Automotive Repair Unit), CBD#1067 (ARU). Departing Seabees had "escaped" with only the seabags on their backs, leaving behind the massive detritus of a base including tents, Quonset huts, automobiles, combat vehicles, and supplies. Stateside manufacturers had stipulated that it was not to be returned to the US.
The bounty also did not fall on the people of Samar, whose brief windfall ended with the war. Like their counterparts in the Green Islands, they resumed their primitive, impoverished existence, but without the abandoned weaponry that has supplied a Green/Bougainville revolution for many years..
OF LEYTE GULF: The Greatest Air Sea Battle
Hyperwar is a growing collection of original and official accounts of WWII.
So far, it is organised by country and branch of service. Specific Islands,
outfits, and campaigns are best
located through external search engines.
Hyperwar links to the Pacific Theatre of Operations
HyperWar: Pacific Theatre of Operations: Return to the Philippines: Liberation of the Philippines during World War II:
US Navy: Support Activities at Leyte-Samar 373-378
The Seabees in the Philippines
History of United States Naval Operations in World War II (Paperback)
History of United States Naval Operations in World War II: Leyte, June 1944-January 1945
|The end of the war was celebrated in the Overseas Edition of the New York TIMES while SeaBee published the locations of all Battalions at war's end on August 29, 1945. A commemorative edition on October 10 listed every Seabee outfit and its wartime service. Penny Hoffman contributed these valuable newspapers.|
NAVAL CONSTRUCTION BATTALIONS
Memoirs of the 93rd Seabees
Bob Conner's Diary notes their muddy campsite close to Guiuan and Sunday ice cream parties
Special Seabees: The 6th
Special NCB arrival in San Pedro on USS Zaudak
Exerpt from forthcoming book by Frank Jardim, Director, Patton Museum of Cavalry and Armor:
Leyte Invasion: Zaudak unloads 6th Special in typhoon (The 93rd NCB was still at sea when the
6th Special was dumped in San Pedro swamp during the typhoon)
The 6th Special NCB Company itineraries
The 6th Special NCB- Banika, Green, and Samar-John Esposito
6th Seabee photos and insignia from John Ratomski
|64th Seabees: Had arrived by July 3 when Pat
Fowler, cousin of Bob Conner's wife, Lib, showed up. He was an
officer and much respected for his cordial and honest relations with
Bob Conner's Diary, Letters, Photos (Pat at Chapel)
A ^th Special Daughter's film
about the Seabees
87th Seabees photos - look for the Aurelio Tassone drawing
Construction Battalion Detachment 1067 (Automotive Repair Unit), CBD#1067 (ARU) Calicoan: Allen McSweeney:
NCB 143rd Advanced Base Construction Depot (ABCD).disposal of war supplies
Other Seabees noted in Bob
105th NCB: 2/6
42nd NCB: 2/26
99th NCB: Norman Warner boot camp, 6/3
10th NCB: 8/18
88th NCB: merging with 93rd
123rd NCB: merging with 93rd
111th CB: entertainment on 10/2
VMF-223 (Bulldogs) Describes living and flying conditions. and testing
Flight Echelon arr Jan. 8; Ground crew Jan. 12. Depart in May
ARMY AIR FORCE
13th Army Air Force: (The Jungle Air Force)
Exerpts: From Fiji
Through the Philippines, by
Benjamin E. Lippencott, et Al.
April 11, Donald E. Shackelford; buried in Tacloban
Cemetery with Curtis:
Glenn J. Amo
Second Lieutenants Milton H. Thompson
Second Lieutenant Roy C. Pratt
Second Lieutenant Robert Huxham.
Bob Conner recounts an appalling number of plane crashes and deaths, particularly in the early days of the base. Whether a cross wind or the incessant rains may have contributed, the air strip was certainly not a happy place.
Present day Guiuan - remains of strip and Cathedral
Resort in San Antonio
Plans for improving WWII airport
Guiuan Seabees and their Chapel By The Sea which was destroyed by Typhoon Agnes