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The Marker

by Nov 30, 2019

Former Battleship Missouri Memorial tour guide, Marian Kuzma, a senior Hawaiian Airlines pilot, drove out to Lagoon Drive with the UMMA Curator one morning in 1999, to preserve a bit of history, in an area undergoing rapid changes as part of the DOT/Airports Division Lagoon Drive Improvement Project.

There, secured along the edge of a concrete slab being used for parking, and slated for destruction, a small brass marker read: “133 N.C.B. July – 8 – 1944”

The 133rd Naval Construction Battalion (NCB) was commissioned on September 17, 1943 at Camp Peary in Williamsburg, Virginia. After initial training, the men of the battalion were relocated to Camp Endicott in Davisville, Rhode Island for advanced training. By mid-October they were granted leave, all but the West Coast men, before departing for Gulfport, Mississippi, to a place called Camp Holliday, of all things, for still more training. They headed out again, on February 25, 1944, this time bound for the West Coast, traveling by train, arriving just before midnight on April 30 at Hueneme, California. A day or two later, they boarded another train, a shorter haul this time, to NAS San Pedro, where they shouldered their sea bags again and boarded the USS Leonard Wood (APA 12) an Attack Transport. The next morning, they were on their way to the Hawaiian Islands, arriving nine days later, where the early risers among them were first to see Koko Head on the horizon, and soon after the old hands were pointing out Diamond Head and the landmarks along Waikiki Beach.

It was mid-afternoon when they finally entered the channel into Pearl Harbor, seeing ships six abreast against every foot of dock space, their decks swarming with men, some recalled.

They were assigned to Naval Air Station Honolulu, already one of the largest and busiest airports in the Pacific with plans for additional and rapid expansion. There they would do their part, under good working conditions, hours not too long, plus one day off a week to see the sights around Oahu and take a break.

Projects included grading taxiways and runways and roads, laying precast culvert storm drains, and two seaplane ramps were built along the water front. A 50,000-gallon capacity aviation fuel tank was nearly completed for refueling seaplanes at the eight finger piers along the waterfront. Huge warehouses were constructed, as was a machine shop, and a fire station complete with towers, a “filling station” (remember those?) with a grease rack, along with several 250-man barracks, an officer’s mess, WAVES quarters and many large double-deck Quonset barracks. They also installed water, electrical and plumbing lines, constructed a large 10-plane nose hangar and a large outfall sewer system extending well out to sea. There was pile-driving, and a casting yard was in full operation fabricating pre-cast concrete forms, all of it completed, or well on its way, in a little more than 5 months. Somewhere during this period, on July 8th, 1944 the men of the 133rd installed a small etched brass plaque to a concrete slab to mark their time here and the work they had accomplished

Amphibious tractors approaching Iwo Jima, February 1945. Naval History and Heritage Command photograph.

On October 15, 1944, the men of the 133rd received word. They would be landing with the 4th Marines at Iwo Jima. Then, they took a last look at the work they’d accomplished at NAS Honolulu and departed for Maui to join the Marines for pre-invasion training. There, they changed from Navy uniforms to USMC, were subject to Marine regulations, and were active participants of the 4th Marine Division assault team - and were not identified in the after-action records as part of a support group.

D-Day for the initial assault was 19 February 1945. H-Hour was set at 0900.

As the Marines scrambled down the ramps and began struggling up the beach through the black volcanic ash of Iwo Jima, all was quiet until they tried to cross the rise just beyond the landing beaches.

Then, gun fire rained down from high on Suribachi. The entire beach was covered by mortar, artillery and machine-gun fire.

The “Sea Bees” were tasked to secure that shore after the first assault troops went inland, and to maintain supply lines to the forward battle lines.

Under intense fire, the Sea Bees did their job, laying steel mats, preparing the beach for equipment landings, cutting roadways inland and maintaining the supply lines to the forward troops. Once the beach area was prepared, the Sea Bees moved inland and began repair on the island’s bombed-out airstrips, always under threat of sniper fire and mortar attack. When the island was declared secure on March 15, the surviving men of the 133rd NCB continued working.

During the 26-day battle, 42 men of the 133rd were killed and 203 others were wounded; the highest casualty rate of any unit in Seabee history.

4th Marine Division Cemetery at Iwo Jima, 1945.

Naval History and Heritage Command photograph.

Sources include the following:

1. 1943-45 133rd Naval Construction Battalion cruise book