ONCE A SEABEE ALWAYS A SEABEE
Naval Mobile Construction Battalion 121
U. S. NAVAL MOBILE CONSTRUCTION BATTALION 121
World War II
The original Naval Construction Battalion 121, commissioned during World War II, served closely with the U. S. Marine Corps. It even received a designation as the Third Battalion, 20th Marines, Fourth Marine Division.
While waiting for the Fourth Marine Division to be formed, these Seabees constructed facilities at Camp Pendleton, California. When deployed to the South Pacific in early 1944, the battalion served in the Marshall Islands in support of the Marines, and then island-hopped, eventually arriving at Saipan and its neighbor, Tinian. At Saipan, captured enemy airfields were repaired, while heavy fighting was still underway. After landing in Tinian, the battalion installed landing ramps, helped build 8500-foot runways for B-29 bombers, built control towers, taxiways, hard stands, fuel pipelines, and a tank farm. The Presidential Unit Citation was awarded for its part in the assaults on the two islands. At the end of World War II the battalion was decommissioned
Vietnam 1967 - 1968
On February 4, 1967 the Vietnam era Mobile Construction Battalion 121 was recommissioned at Gulfport, Mississippi. The principal speaker, General Wallace Greene, Jr., Commandant, U.S. Marine Corps, challenged the officers and men of MCB 121 as he said, "You of the reactivated 121st Mobile Construction Battalion have a tremendous heritage in the making. Your record could, in every respect, equal or surpass that of the former 121st Seabees. Should combat come, should you be called for a tough job, you and I know what the response will be......Can Do!". Thus, Mobile Construction Battalion 121 was activated as the battalion colors were passed to the new commanding officer, Commander Bobby E. Stultz.
To assure operational readiness as an Atlantic Fleet Mobile Construction Battalion, the next months were spent organizing, outfitting training, and undergoing inspections, both locally and at Camp Lejeune, NC. Deployed from Gulfport aboard C-130 aircraft in July and August, 1967, the battalion relieved MCB 62 at Phu Bai, South Vietnam.
Seabee forces in the country were under the control of the Third Naval Construction Brigade (3rd NCB). The 3rd NCB had two regiments. MCB 121 reported to the Thirty Second Naval Construction Regiment (32nd NCR).
Camp Campbell, the new home for the battalion, was situated within the Phu Bai Combat Base, an enclave of Marine, Army and Air Force units, about 50 miles northwest of Da Nang and 8 miles southeast of Hue, the Old Imperial Capital.
The most immediate task was to complete the construction of projects that were started by MCB 62 but not completed. Quickly acclimating themselves to the hot, dusty environment (which changed very soon thereafter to a monsoon season), the Seabees were soon in full stride. In addition to the leftover projects, new projects were assigned daily by the 32nd NCR. The Seabees of MCB 121 (average onboard at deployment site - 24 officers, 747 enlisted) applied their unlimited construction knowledge and determination as they tackled projects including: aircraft hangars and parking aprons, radar huts, fuel pipelines and storage facilities, revetments, hard stands and hardened bunkers, gun pads, water supply systems, cantonments, roads, culverts and bridges, open and cold storage facilities, drainage facilities, waterfront and vehicle loading ramps, staging areas, dispensary, guard house, warehouses, hospital facilities, bakery, ice plant, concrete mixing plant and pre-cast yard, latrines, electrical transformers, asphalt plant.
While all of the foregoing was taking place, Seabees were engaged in the Civic Action Program, giving medical and dental checkups and treatment to local Vietnamese. These actions, at considerable risk, were particularly beneficial to schools and orphanages, and continued unchecked---- interrupted only by the TET Offensive.
MCB 121 experienced the loss of four Seabees during this deployment....Lt. Joseph Rhodes, Steelworker Chief Dibble, PO3 Morvay, and EONCN Binder.
Military action during the deployment included mortar and rocket fire on Camp Campbell, small arms and mortars on bridge and road crews, land mine explosions beneath trucks and construction equipment. Seabee Teams, in more remote areas, were subjected to even heavier action. The opening of Route 1 between Da Nang and Phu Bai (known as Claymore Pass and the Bowling Alley) following the TET Offensive, in particular, exposed Seabees to the ever present dangers of mortar fire and land mines. .
In April, 1968 the Seabees of MCB 121 completed their eight-month tour in Vietnam. Relieved by MCB 133, a Gulfport based battalion, the battalion returned home to Gulfport. In welcoming the unit home COMCBLANT stated, "Your work and sacrifices in Vietnam have added another illustrious chapter to the history of MCB One Twenty One. Well-Done!."
Vietnam 1968 - 1969
At Gulfport, the battalion underwent restaffing, received additional military training and otherwise prepared for its second deployment to Vietnam.
The second journey halfway around the world ended at Camp Wilkinson, Gia Le, Vietnam. This was about three miles from the first deployment site at Camp Campbell. MCB 121 relieved MCB 3 as the Advance Party (8 officers, 92 enlisted) arrived in September, 1968, followed by the Main Body (14 officers, 545 enlisted) in October. There were many new faces in the battalion - but there were more who were veterans of the previous tour.
With the same "Can Do" determination and vigor shown in the first deployment, the Seabees once again began completing unfinished projects and taking on new assignments. Projects included: aircraft parking areas, aircraft fuel farm, antennae and radar reflectors, electrical distribution systems, showers, sea huts and strong backs, repair and upgrade of roads, open storage areas, rock unloading and LCU offloading facilities, bridges and culverts, construction and repair of fuel lines, barracks, bunkers, galleys, latrines, installation of surface matting, reefer pads, control tower, chapel, sewer lines, water supply and distribution system, and public works shops. MCB 121 held the distinction of constructing the largest wooden hangars in Vietnam.
While most work was in the general vicinity of the Phu Bai/Gia Le area, Seabee Teams were dispatched to several locations in Vietnam. These small teams could be found throughout Vietnam.
Command of MCB 121 changed hands 23 January 1969 as Commander Stultz completed his tour of duty. He was relieved by Commander Jack Moger. As he departed, Commander Stultz noted his deep pride in the Seabees of MCB 121 as the battalion formed, trained, and deployed two times---- a fully operational and effective Mobile Construction Battalion. The construction talent, individually and collectively, was truly amazing -- with every construction challenge met in the true "Can Do" spirit.
(This is where I got off the boat, halfway through the second deployment, and lost track of the battalion's later accomplishments. Maybe someone else can continue this narrative up to August, 1970, when the battalion was decommissioned after its third deployment to Vietnam, along with MCB’s 62, 71, and 74.)
Bobby E. Stultz, 1/29/00
A deployment is many things. MCB 121's third RVN deployment is now a matter of record, of history. The work has been charted and analyzed; formed in to neat statistics. The results have been properly recorded and all filed quietly away. For us a deployment is not statistics, but memories.....
But First we had to contend with Camille...
Weeks At Pass Christian
Training at Lejune
Inspections At Home
The Captain Cdr Jack Moger at the helm.
More to come