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"With compassion for others we build - we fight for peace with freedom!"

 

-=Seabee Memorial in Arlington National Cemetery=-

 

Origins of the Seabee name and insignia

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As you scroll through this page, Click on the pictures for larger, higher pixel copy or additional information.  Use the "Back" button to return.

Many of these pictures are from Hugh Oldham Sr.'s personal collection. 

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Contrary to a popular belief, this sign did not greet the Marines landing on Guadalcanal, it greeted them landing on the Admiralty's.

 

"Henderson Field, Guadalcanal, seen from a USS Saratoga aircraft in August 1942" 

 

"Guadalcanal is not a name but an emotion, recalling desperate fights in the air, furious night naval battles, frantic work at supply or construction, savage fighting in the sodden jungle, nights broken by screaming bombs and deafening explosions of naval shells...."

Adm. Samuel Elliot Morison

 

  On August 7th, 1942 the 35th Construction Battalion (Seabees), with the United States Marines, waded ashore on the north coast of an island in the Solomonís chain, Guadalcanal .  Thus began the first ground offensive of United States forces in World War II.

  

Among those young men was my father, Hugh E. Oldham of Atlanta, Georgia.

 

 

After graduating from high school, Dad went to work for the Atlanta Stove Works as a Pattern Maker. 

 

A Pattern Marker is an expert wood worker.  In a iron foundry the Pattern Maker fabricates the wood patterns of the part to be molded in iron.  The "pattern" is then place in a mold, and a special sand is packed around the wood pattern.  The wood is then carefully removed and molten iron or steel poured into the cavity left by the "pattern."  

 

The major challenge is the complexity of the shapes of the cast parts and the fact that the "pattern" must be larger then the actual part due to the metal contracting as it cools.

 

Hugh Oldham must have been a highly skilled craftsman to have landed such an important job during the Depression.

 

WE Logo - "Golden Boy"Dad soon move on to the cutting edge of 1930's technology when he took a job with the Western Electric Company, an association with the "Phone Company" that would last a lifetime.  

 

He was with Western, installing telephone central offices across the southeast, when the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor on Sunday, December 7th, 1941.

 

Like many young men of that time, he took his responsibilities to his country seriously and when the US Navy came looking for men with construction experience he answered the call.

 

After Navy Basic training and special schools in many aspects of construction (including his participation in the launching of a torpedo casing on a sub-orbital mission to the Camp Pendleton Parade Grounds) he was shipped out to the South Pacific.

 

Fast forward to August '42.  America was still reeling from Pearl Harbor but the blackness had been broken by Jimmy Doolittle's Raid on Tokyo , the Battle of the Coral Sea, and the first American victory, the Battle of Midway.  

 

 

Problem was: the Japanese troops guarding Guadalcanal didn't know they were losing.  It took six months of hard fighting to secure the 'canal and the situation was in doubt many times.

 

The first major counter attack came only two days after the landing, the Battle of Salvo Island.  This night battle was unbelievable.  The Seabees watched the flashes of the big guns and, in a major defeat, the Allied naval support forces were forced to withdraw, leaving the force ashore short on needed supplies.  

 

The first set back was compounded when the American air forces could not gain and keep air superiority over Japanese Army and Navy Air Force.  This resulted in the continuing inability to effectively supply the American forces on the island.  The Marines and Seabees survived on limited rations and food captured from the Japanese stockpiles.

 

 

 

These guys are not that trim by choice; malnutrition and hunger was a fact of life during the early weeks on Guadalcanal.  The Japanese controlled much of the air and sea, re-supply was difficult and sometimes impossible.  That's Hugh Oldham on the lower left.

 

 

Billeting was limited.  Between the Japanese destroyers and cruisers sailing down "the Slot" to shell the US positions and nightly air raids by the likes of "Washing Machine Charlie," (remember no air superiority, absolutely no night fighter capability)  a foxhole like this was a good investment in longevity.  Note the "above grade" construction, this allowed the rain water to drain; a must in any high class abode on Guadalcanal.

 

 

The current Solomon Island Chamber of Commerce paints this picture of the climate:

"The climate is tropical, though temperatures are rarely extreme due to cooling winds blowing off the surrounding seas. Daytime temperatures are normally 25 to 32 c., falling about 3 to 5 at night. From April to October, the Southeast trade winds blow, gusting at times up to 30 knots or more. November to March is the wet season - the northwest monsoon - typically warmer and wetter. Cyclones start in the Coral Sea and the area of the Solomon Islands, but they usually steer towards Vanuatu and New Caledonia or down the coast of Australia."

That's a "normal" temperature of about 95 F and a balmy 90 F for sleeping (no air conditioning ashore or afloat) and the monsoon brings "typically warmer and wetter."  Results: Mud!

 

The Chow Hall was a great place to visit: (This was on the Admiralty's)

 

 

 

TO BE CONTINUED

 

 

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