MCB 53 Alumni Association

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History of Mobile Construction Battalion 53
December 1942 - December 1969

The Fifty-Third Naval Construction Battalion was commissioned on 22 December 1942 at Camp Allen in Norfolk, Virginia. The outfit was divided into two sections on 16 January 1943. The second section was ordered on 2 February to join a section of the 17th Naval Construction Battalion to form the 120th Naval Construction Battalion. They arrived in Noumea, New Caledonia on 25 March 1943. Regrouped in Guadalcanal in January of 1944. Redesignated the 53rd Naval Construction Battalion on 12 May 1944. The unit went to Guam in six echelons, participated in the invasion there at war's end.
After World War II the 53rd participated in Operation Crossroads Research Project at Bikini Atoll. Unit was deactivated in Bikini in August, 1946. Mobile Construction Battalion 53 was recommissioned at Davisville, Rhode Island 30 June 1967. Battalion was deployed to Danang, Vietnam from January, 1968 through September, 1968 and again from March, 1969 through November, 1969. MCB 53 was decommissioned at Davisville, Rhode Island on 10 December 1969. The 53rd had five (5) CO's from 1942 through 1946. The First CO was Roy M. Harris, followed by Edward M. Denbo, Charles A. Thompson, and J. P. Mac Bean. The last skipper was John D. Burky. On the 1968 tour the CO was Richard A. Bowers and the XO was R. H. Knauf. On the 1969 tour the CO was Robert K. Miller and the XO's were William A. Simmons and David L. Forney.

53rd Battalion, Where they worked and fought in World War II and Vietnam December 1942 - August 1946
 After activation at Norfolk December 22, 1942, the 53rd NCB moved to Davisville, RI, December 28, and was divided into two sections January 16, 1943. The Second Section left Davisville February 7 with orders to join a section of the 17th NCB to form the 120th NCB. Exact movements of the Second Section are unreported following departure from Davisville. On February 12, one company and one fourth of Headquarters Company of the First Section moved to Hadnot Point, New River, NC for duty with the Fleet Marine Force. Another company, with Headquarters group, went to San Diego for duty with FMF. The Hadnot Point department was transferred into Naval Construction Replacement Group, Camp Lejeune, New River, NC, February 15. The 53rd was assigned 13 officers and 541 men from the replacement group at Lejeune, and seven groups and 268 men from replacement groups at Camps Elliott and Pendleton, San Diego. The contingents joined at San Diego February 26, and sailed for Noumea, New Caledonia, March 11, arriving May 25. The 53rd was designated as Naval Construction Battalion, First Marine Amphibious Corps, April 14. The Battalion switched operations to Guadalcanal October 12, 1943, and from there sent one detachment to Vella Lavella, and several groups to Bougainville in November and December. The Battalion regrouped at Guadalcanal in January 1944, and on May 12 was redesignated the 53rd NCB. In six echelons, the unit moved to Guam, participating in the invasion, and was on duty there when the war ended. Because of their exceptional war record, the 53rd was assigned to participate in Operation Crossroads at Bikini Atoll in the Marshall Islands. The "Bees" unloaded a mountain of supplies arriving on LST's, constructed several towers, and protected the huts and recreational facilities for the 35,000 men engaged in the atomic testing program. With the tests completed, the 53rd Battalion was finally deactivated on Bikini Atoll on August 3, 1946, after 38 months of continuous overseas duty.
 Reprinted in part from "SEABEE" Issue of October 10, 1945

January 1968 - August 1968
On June 30, 1967, with action boiling up in the Republic of Vietnam, the Marines again called on the "Action Battalion" for support. Recommissioned and trained at CBC, Davisville, Rhode Island, and at Marine Corps Base, Camp LeJeune, North Carolina, the Battalion deployed on January 18, 1968, under CDR. R.A. Bowers, CEC USN, to Camp Adenir, Da Nang, for duty in support of the Third Marine Amphibious Force. The first test came when Viet Cong mortars smashed into the Seabee area on January 30, wounding eighteen men. During this attack and subsequent rocket attacks on the Da Nang East area, the Seabees of 53 never wavered in the performance of their duties. They built by day and stood watch all night when necessary. Professionally, the "Action Battalion" was immediately charged with several major construction projects and detachments in the Da Nang area. A detachment to Hoi An also aided greatly in the defense of that area during the TET Offensive and completed a renovation project on the MACV hospital compound. Several buildings, an officers club, officers mess and even an exchange facility were built for the NSA hospital complex near Camp Adenir. A Command Operations Center and several other buildings were constructed at III MAF headquarters in Camp Horn. 86 prefabricated metal structures were erected for NSA Covered Storage, Da Nang East. At NSA Camp Tien Sha, an enlisted men's club was constructed. MCB-53 was called upon to build an Ammi Pontoon bridge on Route 1C, south of Da Nang. This bridge was the first of its type to be constructed in Vietnam, and was assigned to MCB-53 because of its experience with the prototype back in homeport. The bridge was so successful that Detail Delta 1 built another and larger Ammi bridge over the Perfume River west of Hue. After proving itself with eight months of continuous construction work, FIFTY-THREE returned to Davisville, Rhode Island, for six months of training.

March 1969 - October 1969
The Battalion redeployed to Camp Haskins North, Da Nang, Republic of Vietnam in March 1969 under CDR. R.K. Miller, CEC USN. To aid in controlling military logistics in the I Corps area, MCB-53 constructed a two-story building which included a large pedestal supported raised deck in the computer room, the first such deck ever installed by Seabees. The MCB-53 crew assisted in placing the last spans of Liberty Bridge, 23 miles south of Da Nang. Then they drove sheet pilings, poured concrete for the approach ways, laid an asphalt deck, installed curbs, rails and a bridge lighting system. At the 58th Transportation Company in Red Beach, builders put up three facilities, and at First Force Service Regiment crews constructed sewer lines and several buildings. When a brush fire set off an ammo dump explosion at Ammo Supply Point One near Da Nang, MCB-53 joined other battalions in reconstructing the area. At Camp Monahan the "Action Battalion" leveled the Marine cantonment, and in twenty-three days completed nearly one hundred new buildings. From there, a crew went to the Freedom Hill Recreation Complex and completely rebuilt two Red Cross buildings and a 20 lane bowling alley. Other crews built SEA huts, a water distribution system, shower and head facilities for the 1st AMTRAC at Red Beach, and a 500 man galley, SEA huts and showers for the Marines in the Northern Artillery Cantonment. At Vinh Dai, a 200 man detachment with 150 pieces of equipment supported the critical road upgrading program in northern I Corps Tactical Zone throughout the entire deployment. Located six miles from the DMZ, they built an asphalt plant and then paved nearly 20 miles from Dong Ha to Vandergrift (a huge Marine installation). Two, three mile stretches were also paved in and around the Dong Ha area. Seabee Team 5301 was sent to Soc Trang to teach their construction skills to the Vietnamese in that area, as well as increase their standard of living. Several times a week hospital corpsmen made MEDCAP visits to four hamlets in the village of Hoa Kanh. Two trips were also made to the Montagnard village of Mai Loc, located just west of Vinh Dai. Another detachment had a six man detail travel to the Ha Thanh Special Forces Camp to level and lengthen the airfield. Early in September, MCB-53 suddenly received several top priority jobs. Facilities for Landing Zone Baldy and Fire Support Base were needed 25 miles south to Da Nang. At the same time, two crews of builders worked around the clock at Camp Haskins pre-cutting timbers for bunkers to be shipped to the Army's Americal Division in Southern I Corps and 1st Marine Division encampment near LZ Baldy. When an ARVN ammo dump near NSA Covered Storage was hit by enemy rockets, MCB-53 Seabees were given the job of repairing the same they erected on their previous deployment. 53's Detail Whiskey finished up the high priority job of rebuilding the Lang Co bridge over the Lap An Lagoon about 10 miles north of Da Nang. In October, the Secretary of the Navy announced that MCB-53 was to be part of the troop withdrawal in Vietnam and that the Battalion would be decommissioned upon return to homeport. And so on December 10, 1969, a little over a month after returning to the U.S. from its second Vietnam deployment, MCB-53 lowered its colors for the last time.
Reference Document, MCB Fifty-Three 1969 Cruise Book.
History collated by Ralph Storti
Closing Comments
MCB 53 gained the respect of those they supported, and were nicknamed "The Action Battalion" for their work in New Caledonia, Gudalcanal, Bougainvillea, Vella Lavella, Guam, Bikini Atoll, Da Nang East RVN, Red Beach RVN and Vinh Dai RVN to name a few. Like their World War II predecessors, the Bees of the 60's left behind an impressive series of construction projects. And as each man again went his way, he carried with him the feeling that he had been a part of something significant.