Monday, May 3, 2010
The SeaBees In Da Nang, 1965-66
We were off on a short trip this last weekend, and I came across something that really interested me and gave me pause to reflect.
My wife and I stopped in a typical "Greasy Spoon" to get breakfast near Whidbey Island Naval Air Station here in Washington State. The restaurant was covered with military pictures and local news articles about soldiers and airmen from the last five-or-so wars, not something I usually experience.
On the window ledge next to me was a hardbound yearbook; the accounts of a SeaBee unit at Da Nang Vietnam, 1965-66.
For those who are not familiar with the SeaBees, they are a "Naval Mobile Construction Battalion" (CB's). In this case, they were building the airbase at Da Nang.
The yearbook was quite a bit like my high school yearbook, which I received ten years after the Da Nang edition was published. Along with individual pictures, there were hundreds of candid pictures of young men engaged in all forms of construction. This included road building, well drilling, and assembling temporary and permanent structures. They also detailed social services the SeaBees provided, including work at an orphanage and medical attention for the local population.
All the guys were so young, many listed with nick-names or staging practical jokes. Many were sporting those clunky government issue heavy black-frame eyeglasses.
One pic showed a SeaBee holding a Civet Cat he had shot raiding the food stores, it was about the size of a Bobcat over here. A couple of pages were produced in amber or purple tint, reflecting the emerging psychedelic culture back in the States.
The obvious high point in social life was captured in a USO show, hosted by Bob Hope and a large number of pretty girls. Ann Margret also hosted a similar show, and no doubt gave the guys something to dream about. There were lots of very pretty Vietnamese girls, of course.
What really stuck out is that these guys were really proud of their engineering work, and they were practicing a trade that they could take home after the war, continue in construction and make a good living.
I can only hope that the men and women currently serving in Iraq and Afghanistan can return home to a similar bright future.
Here's a very short video mash-up of the SeaBees in Vietnam: