The role played by the Seabees has never been properly recognized! Here's one Story! -------------------------------------------------------------------------------- Vella Lavella - 58th Naval Construction Battalion On August 11, 1943, the 58th prepared to embark from Guadalcanal for the landing on Vella Lavella. An advance party went ahead to survey the site for the air strip and mark the beach for the landing. This party was composed of the Skipper, CDR. Lewis, Lt. Reynolds, Lt. Currie, W.O. Smith, W. Moss, and F.J. Dowling. CCM. The scouting party boarded PT Boats at Guadalcanal on the afternoon of August 11 for the overnight run up to Vella Lavella. It was a rough trip and not only did the party suffer PT sickness but were spotted by Jap planes who bombed and strafed them for nearly two hours. Lt. Reynolds said afterwards, there was nothing else for us to do but lie under the torpedo tubes and pray. After awhile of praying that the bombs would not hit us, we thought better of it and decided that the bombs were not as bad as the sea sickness. The party sneaked ashore just before daylight on August 12. The island was alive with Japanese patrols but they evaded them and began surveying the landing and air-strip sites. However, they did encounter some Japanese, who were wiped out to the man. The men were looking forward to the 15th, when the first detachment of the battalion was due to land, because the Japanese patrols were becoming larger. Well, if the advance party were having trouble with the Japanese patrols, so was the main landing party. The first detachment to embark boarded two LCI's and two LST's at Koli Point on August 13th. On the night of the 13th, the craft were lying off Lunga Point when Japanese planes attacked them. The attack lasted three hours and during it, The John Penn was sunk, the ship we had come to Guadalcanal from the Fiji's. On the morning of the 14th, the convoy shoved off and, at dawn of the 15th, it approached the beach at Vella Lavella. We began to unload the cargo from the ships at Barakoma Village. The boys with the "BAR's" were acting as guards, and the unloading proceeded very swiftly as we had practiced it many times back on the "Canal". As the ramps of the LST's came down, men and vehicles rolled out, as most of our equipment was on six wheelers, and bumped into the jungles. Bulldozers were sent ashore and soon coconut and palm trees came crashing down and pushed over with yards of coral to form ramps to the ships. Meanwhile, long lines of men waistdeep in water passed boxes of supplies and equipment, for on LCI's all cargo must be man-handled. We all worked feverishly because we knew it was only a matter of a shorter space of time before the Japanese planes would be on us as the whole landing operation could be observed from enemy lookouts on Kolombangara only thirteen miles across the water. Quite suddenly, the alarm was sounded and all hell broke loose. Every one took off for the boomddocks or the ships. High in the sky, planese zoomed and droaned, their machine guns spitting leaden death. The first attack lasted five minutes and seemed hours, then it began again, through some miracle, none of the gan were hurt. When the attack was over, we completed the unloading and moved up a hill to dig in for the night as best we could in foxholes. There were so many attacks during all of the day and the night that it was a continual "Condition Red". The second echelon landed on august 17 at 1800 and this landing was a mistake, since their was no air coverage from Munda at this late hour in the day. The only defense we had was the few anti-aircraft guns that had been set up. Attempts were made to unload the ships but the constant air attacks made this impossible. The LST's pulled off the beach and one of them was hit and had to be sunk. We lost considerable equipment on this ship. The next day, the remaining two were beached and were unloaded. The third wave landed on August 22nd. This bunch really got the business for, by now, the Japanese really had us spotted and knew what we were about to do. In the early morning about 1000, they came over and bombed us at about 800 feet. At top speed, screaming eerily over the jungle, the Jap bombers flew to the attack. The ships gunners returned their fire, but still the planes came in and released their loads of destruction. In a formation of six, one suddenly wavers and to the cheers of the gang, it bursts into a bright pyre of flames as the gunners found their mark. The other five however, broke through and plastered us. They didn't miss the target at this range and of the fifteen bombs that fell, not one was less than a hundred yards from the ships. It was a literal rain of death, when the bombers pulled out of their shrieking plunge, not a man on the ships deck was left standing. The guns were either blasted to scrap or choked with coral dust. While the smoke and dust of the explosions still blanketed the ships, the gang on the beach and below the decks swarmed aboard to clean up. They found the decks littered with coral boulders, wounded and dead shipmates. Many men of the battalion had manned guns during this raid and Roger Poulin, Sam Barker and Steve Pavlick of Company "D" were badly wounded. On the beach lay Bob Neumann, CM3C, our first fatal casualty of the enemy. The fourth wave arrived on August 26th and the fifth on Agust 31st and by this time raids were lessened due to the Marine Defense Battalion being set up in action. During the first few days of the landings over 34 Japanese planes were shot down with only a loss of two of hours. After the landings, we set about to build a campsite and establish an airfield previously surveyed by the advance party. Slow progress was made because we were constantly under "Condition Red" because of the lack of air protection in the first few days. Vella Lavella was captured by by-passing other islands fortified by the Japanese, such as Kolombangara,Ganongga,Gizo and several other smaller islands north of Munda in the New Georgia group. The Munda airfield was still subject to night attacks which were quite frequent and, of course, Vella being North of Munda, they had us coming or going. Major General, Twining, Commander of aircraft in the Solomons at that time said, it was the toughest, densest jungle in all the South Pacific, and the 58th Seabees have constructed a modern field set up for bomber fighter transport craft, whipped the field in shape in record time making it the best in the Solomons although the "hardest to construct".