MCB 53 Alumni Association

A veteran is someone who, at one point in their life, wrote a blank check made payable to "The United States of America" for an amount "up to and including my life."

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John D. McCurdy         United States Navy
 53rd CB – Seabee w/3rd Mar. Div.        World War Two
 11/20/1942 – 11/10/1945        Guam – Bougainville

   By November, 1942, the United States was at war, and the country was searching for skilled labor for the newly formed Construction Battalions attached with the US Navy. John had already been doing work in construction in Iowa , where he had been born and schooled, and wanted to help his country fight overseas.

  He joined the United States Navy on 20 November 1942 just before the Thanksgiving holiday. After passing his examinations, he was sworn in and transported to his first training camp.  He was assigned to the 53rd Construction Battalion (Seabees). The 53rd Construction Battalion was primarily trained and formed to be attached to the 1st Marine Division, from its formation in February, 1943, until the latter part of August, 1944, when it was detached from the Marines to join the Fifth Naval Construction Brigade on Guam. The Battalion, once it left the United States, became so closely identified with the Devil Dogs that it was called Naval Construction Battalion, First MAC, almost invariably.  The only exception appears in official correspondence between the Battalion and the Bureau of Docks and Yards, where the designation became (Naval Construction Battalion, First MAC (Formerly 53rd NCB).

  Even before going overseas, the Battalion lived, worked and trained with Gyrenes. The 53rd Battalion had arrived at Camp Elliott, California on 2 March 1943, and nine days later boarded a ship bound for New Caledonia.  At the time the sailors boarded the ship they had not been told its destination, and the big question was, Where to?  This question was followed by the related chilling questions, for how long and what are we getting into?   The doubts were unknown quantities, but the regrets were well-known realities. John’s ship arrived at New Caledonia on 25 March 1943, and they were soon to know labor that made their previous efforts seem like child’s play.  To the great majority of the new Seabees, the island presented new sights, smells, and sounds, just as the solemn traditional mysteries of the deep had been.   The Seabees of the 53rd Battalion built a base with the materials their sister ship carried from the United States.  The men completed a base depot, engineer warehouse, Quonset huts, and numerous roads before they left the island on 7 October 1943. The next destination for the Seabees was Bougainville, landing with the Marines at Empress Augusta Bay on 1 November.
  The men of the 53rd Battalion earned their reputation as fighters, and were particularly proud of the excellent account of their first combat mission from none other than the commander of the First MAC, Marine Lt. Gen. Alexander A. Vandergrift. In his commendation dated 13 November 1943, the 53rd Seabees, as the Naval Construction Battalion, 1st. MAC was, ‘a source of great pride to your corps commander.’  They gave invaluable assistance by clearing trails in the jungles and building roads for the furtherance of the combat operations. John’s battalion took a heavy combat load, setting up and operating beach parties, unloading details, and working parties of all kinds.  Had it not been for the excellent job of handling the mountain of supplies needed by the combat forces, the Marines could never have accomplished so much so fast. The Seabees also assisted in evacuating the wounded, thereby taking another great weight off the Marines’ shoulders.  By 24 November a total of two miles of primary highway and 1.8 miles of pioneer road had been constructed by the Seabees who were ever on their toes to guard against die-hard Japanese who made it clear that they were going to die “with their boots on.”  The Seabees of the 53rd. Battalion also constructed three airfields in the dense jungle.  The work was extremely difficult around swamps and a considerable part of the needed roads were built by hand on corduroy brush mats. Also the Seabees built operational dugouts for the First Amphibious Corps, hauled ammunition and rations on trailers to the front lines, and started the development of a coral pit on Torokina Point.  After erecting an emergency operating tent and hospital ward, the Seabees assisted the Battalion’s two medical officers and several corpsmen to care for Raider casualties.  All of the Seabee’s accomplishments on the island were performed under continual harassment from Japanese sniper fire. With its assigned missions successfully and commendably completed, the 53rd Seabees left Bougainville on 19 January 1944 and returned to the Guadalcanal, where they erected a sawmill and performed logging operations.  Also, the Battalion completed a section of road, cleared mines, and performed many other building operations. In early June 1944, the 53rd Seabees were attached to the Marines once again to support the assault operation on Guam.  Excitement ran high among both the Seabees and Marines since they were about to snatch from the Japanese what was rightfully theirs, but which they had been unable to claim for two-and-a-half- years.

 On 6 June 1944, John along with the 53rd. Seabee’s embarked on two ships en route to the island of Guam.  The carefully laid plans for the Battalion’s land operations and unloading of supplies were thoroughly reviewed almost daily.  The remainder of the Battalion would move ashore to set up their camp. Once on the island, the Seabees were continuously occupied with the task of clearing debris from existing roads, clearing jungle, and constructing new roads to facilitate movement of supplies to the Marine fighters.  Under heavy fire the ‘Bees assisted in unloading a Marine Battery of Sherman Tanks from LCM’s and LCT’s at the edge of the reef.

  John stayed on Guam until 10 June 1945, helping with laying asphalt, and erecting peacetime facilities for a permanent Naval Base after the war.  After the Guam invasion, the Seabees were again detached from the Marines. John D. McCurdy received his discharge on 10 November 1945 after serving three years in the United States Navy; he was awarded several medals and received two battle stars. After the military John continued working with construction.  He was a member of Local 106, and he advanced to superintendent in construction.  He is also a member of local VFW and the American Legion, John said that he has no regrets and has lived a full and healthy life.

 John D. McCurdy from Des Moines, Iowa, Seabee and builder of beautiful clocks and tables.