Seabee William J. Anderson
I have listed all the veterans in my family as I find them. Please pay tribute to them here. (You will also find the names of the people in the family picture below by clicking on that link.) However, I must admit, I have many more veterans to add that I have discovered the in the past year. Those include Charles Morgan, son of my great-great grandfather and his first wife, who fought in the Civil War for the North.
Now I would like to focus on one particular World War II veteran, now deceased, my uncle William J. Anderson.
Uncle Bill served in the United States Navy as a “SeaBee”–C.B., Construction Battalion, in the islands of the South Pacific roughly between 1943 and 1946. In 1942 or 1943 he and other relatives gathered at the home of my Grandmother and Grandfather Vera and Guy Anderson in Killbuck, Ohio. He was probably at the end of his initial training period and would be shipped out to the Pacific in December 1943.
William J. Anderson Change of Address Card
Not only does this give me some interesting information about Uncle Bill, but it also highlights when my own family moved from Ames Iowa to Chicago Illinois during the war.
As for William J. Anderson, we learn that in December 1943, he is with the 12th Specialists Battalion, Company B-2. He holds the rank of EM 3/C, and his ship is in the Pacific–fleet post office San Francisco. What does all that mean?
For one thing, it means that the nagging question I had as a five- and six-year-old was finally going to be answered. We never knew where my uncles and cousin were in the Pacific. Once one of them sent us a souvenir book with pictures and maps showing Pacific islands, and I was convinced (having read too many Bobsey Twins mysteries) that they were sending us a secret code through the book to tell us where they were. I puzzled over it throughout the war, but never learned their locations.
Part way through the war, the Navy created Special Construction Battalions (also called Seabee Specials) for stevedores and longshoremen who unloaded ships in battle zones. According to a history of the Seabees, the 12th Specialists were trained initially at Camp Peary in Virginia for three weeks and then in Port Hueme in California for six weeks before being shipped out in 1943, arriving in January 1944 at the Russell Islands in the Pacific. After unloading ships in the Russels for sixteen months, the 12th Spec. Battalion left its base and arrived in Okinawa on May 21, 1945.
William J. Anderson Dog Tag
I recently found Uncle Bill’s dog tags, and then saw this picture of him wearing the dog tag as he stood on a tropical island.
I have not been able to find what the meaning is of the serial number. If you know how to decode Navy serial numbers, please let me know. If you are looking to decode an army serial number, Amy Johnson Crow comes to the rescue here. However, I did learn that the “O” is for blood type, and the T 6/43 means he got a tetanus shot in June, 1943. I am not sure why he is USNR (Navy Reserve), but that may explain the earlier date of 1942 on the pictures of the family gathering. He would have a sailor uniform if he was in the reserve.
History of the 12th Special Battalion
Uncle Bill’s cheerful demeanor hints that this was probably the first post in the Russels, because the next post was not a piece of cake. Okinawa saw the most ferocious fighting in the Pacific, and the 12th was still there when the Japanese surrendered in August 1945.
From Wikipedia: “Between the American landing on 1 April and 25 May, seven major kamikaze attacks were attempted, involving more than 1,500 planes.”
The Seabees arrived at a most unwelcoming time of year, as Wikipedia graphically describes.
“By the end of May, monsoon rains which turned contested hills and roads into a morass exacerbated both the tactical and medical situations. The ground advance began to resemble a World War I battlefield as troops became mired in mud and flooded roads greatly inhibited evacuation of wounded to the rear. Troops lived on a field sodden by rain, part garbage dump and part graveyard. Unburied Japanese and American bodies decayed, sank in the mud, and became part of a noxious stew. Anyone sliding down the greasy slopes could easily find their pockets full of maggots at the end of the journey”
You can see a film of the battle of Okinawa at the History website.
It is probably just as well that we did not know he was on Okinawa. Weh worried enough just listening to the radio news of the war, and seeing the newsreels that followed the features at the movie theater and reading screaming headlines. Had we known he was on Okinawa during that horrible battle, I don’t know how we would have coped. For that matter, I don’t know how HE coped, but he seemed to come through just fine.
William J. Anderson Life Details
The Rank on the change of Address card is EM 3/C, which means Electrician’s Mate, third Class. While I know that Uncle Bill was proficient at fixing electrical things after the war, he was also handy at a great many chores. His stories of the war, on a par with the tales in Catch 22, indicated that he spent more time making deals with incoming ships to get good whiskey and special food for his commanding officer than working on wiring. But the Navy does not have a ranking for Finagling Deal Maker.
This information from the history of the Seabees makes me doubt the dating of the picture of our family and other pictures of Bill in his uniform as 1942, because the change of address specifies December 1943. That would indicate that the pictures with the family would have been taken in 1943 near the end of his training, rather than 1942.
William J. Anderson would have been thirty-eight years old when he shipped off to a Pacific Island. That seems old for a warrior, but I read in a history of the Seabees that the average enlisted age of those construction battalion workers was thirty-seven. They were paid $140 a month, which made them one of the highest paid groups in the military.
Military life was not entirely foreign to Uncle Bill, as I described in this story about him in post-WWI civilian camp.
My other uncle, Herbert Anderson, was also a Seabee, as was my cousin, Robert Anderson.
They all came home safe after World War II, although Robert Anderson stayed in the Navy as a career.
I thank them all for their enormous contribution to our Nation during World War II.
How I am Related
Vera Marie Kaser Badertscher is the daughter of
Harriette Anderson Kaser, who is the sister of
William J. Anderson