Chuck and Betty Kramer of Thousand Oaks had been married three years and were expecting the first of their two children, when the 26-year-old Chuck enlisted in the Navy. The date was Dec. 7, 1942.
Through 1945, Kramer served as a chaplain's assistant with the 91st U.S. Naval Construction Battalion (Seabees). "There were a lot of under-aged kids who joined at 16," Kramer said. "I helped them complete their high school education through the U.S. Armed Forces Institute."
Now, at age 76, Kramer is still very much involved with the Seabees. He will be on hand as a docent to assist museum guests during Seabee Days, the Seabees' 50th anniversary festivities June 4-6 at the Naval Construction Batallion Center and Seabee Museum in Port Hueneme. It was 50 years ago that the base at Port Hueneme was established to train the Seabees, a group created by Adm. Ben Moreell as the Navy's equivalent of the Army Corps of Engineers.
Special Seabee commemorative activities are scheduled in June. Former Seabees who served in World War II are especially urged to attend the events, which include several battalion reunions. But there's an open invitation to anyone who would like to learn more about the Seabees.
What little people know about this military group comes from the 1944 film classic "The Fighting Seabees," which starred John Wayne, Dennis O'Keefe and Susan Hayward.
It might surprise some to learn that the wartime movie that inspired so many to enlist in the Navy was filmed at Port Hueneme and the Rose Valley work camp. And John Wayne's last film, a short training documentary called "Home of the Seabees," was made at the Seabee Museum on the base less than two months before his death in 1979.
Vincent Transano, an historian for the Naval Facilities Engineering Command at the Naval Construction Battalion Center, said that before 1942, the Navy had employed civilian contractors to build air strips and shipyards at continental and overseas bases. But when the Japanese began to capture U.S. bases in the Pacific, civilian construction workers bearing arms could be executed as guerrilla fighters under the Geneva Convention.
"So the Navy recruited from the older population who had built the Empire State Building, Boulder Dam and all the major projects of the 1930s," Transano said.
The name "Seabee" comes from a play on the initials of the Latin motto "construimus, batuimus," meaning "we build, we fight," and the term "construction battalion." And the insignia of a bee wearing a sailor hat and firing a machine gun while carrying the tools of his trade symbolizes the valiant efforts of Seabees who built and defended sites during World War II, the Korean War and the Vietnam War.
Those who attend the anniversary festivities and are interested in more Seabee history might want to keep an eye out for Kramer. He will very likely have some good stories to tell.
Besides his work as chaplain's assistant, Kramer also edited the battalion's 12-page newsletter, "Tropical Topics," which he donated to the museum. During a recent tour, Kramer showed me his favorite Seabee artifact--the victory edition newsletter. "VE + VJ = PEACE," he read. "That's the best one of all."
FYI: Many Seabee Days events are planned for June 4-6 in celebration of the 50th anniversary of the Seabees. For general information on Seabee Days, call (805) 982-5395.
* Thursday, June 4: Seabee Reunion Day begins at 8 a.m. at the Civil Engineer Corps/Seabee Museum, one block inside the Sunkist Gate of the Naval Construction Battalion Center.
* Individual battalion reunions will also be held locally throughout the year. For details, call Loretta Cavanaugh at the Seabee Museum, 982-5165. If you want to attend the big reunion June 12-14 at the Seabee birthplace, NCBC, Davisville, Rhode Island, call Odette Griffin, (401) 267-2518.
* Friday, June 5: A fishing derby, golf tournament, reunion barbecue, as well as several team sports events, including a bulldozer rodeo, are scheduled for active duty and retired military personnel. There are various deadlines for entry, the first one Friday. For details or to enter events, call Master Chief Art Violanti, 982-5650.
* Saturday, June 6:
7:30 a.m., 10-K run and two-mile walk/run. For details, call 982-4747.
9 a.m., the Naval Construction Battalion Center at the Pleasant Valley Road gate off Ventura Road in Port Hueneme will be open to the public.
10 a.m., military parade.
11 a.m. to 5 p.m, military displays, food, game booths, free entertainment and a tour of the USS Reasoner. There will also be a giant craft show (call 982-4282 to enter) and a classic car show (call 982-4399 to enter). A carnival midway will be open from 11 a.m. to 11 p.m. The midway also will be open 11 a.m. to 11 p.m. Sunday.
2 p.m., concert by country-pop singer Crystal Gayle. Tickets are now available to the public for $5 at local TicketMaster outlets ($8 day of the concert). Children age 5 and under will be admitted free. Free concert tickets for active duty military personnel and their dependents are available at the NCBC Port Hueneme information, ticket and tours office, Building 1167. Military IDs will be required at time of purchase and upon entering the concert.
* A one-hour VHS videocassette--"We Build . . . We Fight, 50 Years of Navy Seabees"--containing Seabee history, interviews and highlights of the 1992 anniversary celebrations will be available in November for $36.95. For details, call 1-800-762-0338.
* Ongoing: The CEC/Seabee museum is generally open to the public, with free admission Monday through Friday 8 a.m. to 4:30 p.m., Saturdays 9 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. and Sundays 12:30 to 4:30 p.m. It is closed on all legal holidays. For more information, call 982-5163, 982-5167 or 982-5912.