Heroes continue to inspire others long after their deeds are done. Even their name can mobilize and motivate men, units or even camps to produce, achieve and succeed in order to honor the hero they were named after. Such is the case with Camp DeShurley, a rock production facility pioneered, developed and operated by Naval Mobile Construction Battalion 9 Detail Echo. Camp DeShurley became a vital part road construction during the Vietnam Conflict and stood as a working testament to the Seabee hero and his fellow Seabees that gave their lives for their country.
The year of 1968 was an important year during Vietnam and a peak period of Seabee deployment. One of the most important actions that occurred that year was the Tet Offensive. This required more Seabee units to deploy to Vietnam in order to build buildings, power supplies, and roads to expand the infrastructure and keep the war effort going.
Naval Mobile Construction Battalion 9 Detail Echo moved in to a quarry and camp near Phu Loc in early 1968. By March the Tet Offensive had degenerated from bad to desperate. On March 1st the Viet Cong began strikes against the Seabees in Phu Loc. The strikes continued throughout March wounding several men, the heaviest blow on March 31st.
On that day the Viet Cong opened with 82mm mortar fire on various locations in the Seabee camp. The Seabees, along with their Marine brothers, fired back almost immediately. Unfortunately the enemy mortar rounds scored direct hits, immediately killing several Seabees including BUL3 George DeShurley, BULCN Mark E. Hodel, CMHCN James Galati, BUL3 Allan Mair, BUL3 John Peek and BUHCN James Rezloff, Jr. But before this catastrophe, the crew, including DeShurley, scored several direct hits on the enemy mortar position, killing at least nine members of the Viet Cong, preventing further attacks and potentially saving additional lives.
The heroic actions of DeShurley, and his fellow Seabees, insured that the Viet Cong did not take the camp and stopped them from killing even more American men. Because of those actions the quarry and camp were officially named Camp DeShurley in his honor.
Camp DeShurley itself took after its namesake in heroism by becoming instrumental in rebuilding and reconstructing the critically important Route 1 in the Republic of Vietnam. The high-quality rock that came from Camp DeShurley was so important that Rear Admiral James V. Bartlett, then Commander of the Third Naval Construction Brigade said that the rock and camp “Represents one of the most significant achievements of the entire Seabee effort in Vietnam.” This was due to the outstanding engineering and construction skills that were used to produce the rock in order to create various roads including the much needed and used Route 1.
The actions of BUL3 George DeShurley and Detail Echo inspired and motivated Seabees that deployed after them. They in turn honored his sacrifice by making it one of the most significant Seabee camps during Vietnam.
Heroes influence and galvanize us long after their heroic actions are done. Inspiring us to find the best in ourselves and giving us the courage to go after what we believe in. Sometimes the best way to honor those we admire most is to inspire others and become a hero ourselves!
Ingi House is originally from Kansas where she got her B.A. in history from the University of Kansas and M.L.S. from Emporia State University. After working for the Dole Institute of Politics she moved to the East Coast. In Washington D.C. she worked at the National Archives and Records Administration and then at the Defense Acquisition University where she became a Certified Archivist. Her continued enjoyment of military history led her to switching coasts and coming to work for the Seabee Museum where she is collection manager for the archives and records manager liaison.
“We Build, We Fight, We Dive”. This is the motto of Seabee Divers from the Underwater Construction Teams (UCT’s) of the Naval Construction Force (NCF). UCT’s provide support for construction, inspection, repair, and maintenance of ocean facilities supporting Naval and Marine Corps operations worldwide.
In the mid-1960s, increased interest in exploitation of the ocean for defense spotlighted a need to establish an underwater construction capability within the Navy. On November 1, 1973 the Chief of Naval Operations established UCT-1 and UCT-2 under the 21st and 31st Naval Construction Regiments respectively. The two teams are currently located on both coasts; UCT-1 is stationed in Virginia Beach, VA and UCT-2 in Port Hueneme, CA. Each team is comprised of 70 personnel consisting of Civil Engineer Corps (CEC) officers and enlisted Seabees. The teams are divided into three detachments of 12-15 Seabees that are deployed worldwide to support both peacetime and wartime missions. They are prepared to execute underwater construction tasking in both permissive and non-permissive environments and in climates ranging from the tropics to extreme cold weather.
These elite Seabees begin their careers in battalions, learning their rate and earning Seabee Combat Warfare (SCW) qualifications. Divers are expected not only to know their job as a steelworker, construction mechanic, builder, construction electrician, engineering aide, utilities man or equipment operator, they also need to know their job as an underwater construction diver. This is gained through rigorous training and exacting qualifications.
The U.S. Navy Seabee Museum has recently acquired a historical USN Lightweight Diving Dress, also known as a “Bunny Suit” from a retired Captain of the Civil Engineer Corps (CEC) who spent most of his career in the Navy’s Ocean Facilities Program and commanded the Seabee Underwater Construction Team TWO (UCT-2) in the late 1980s.
This Lightweight Diving Dress was worn by Seabee Divers in the 1970s. It was commonly referred to as a “bunny suit” because of the folded bun “tail” which creates the watertight seal with the folded white waterproof canvas fabric. It was the lightweight version of the deep sea dress, the Mark V, which was used with the MK V hardhat rig.
The donor described that a diver would don the suit from the back and wore a weight belt and lead-soled boots with canvas uppers and bronze toe caps to control buoyancy. As it was a “dry” suit, you could wear long underwear and wool socks to keep warm.
A “Jack Browne” diving mask was normally worn with the bunny suit and it provided similar protection like the MK V deep sea mask, except it was used for lighter work in shallower depths. Air to the mask was controlled with a simple valve operated by the diver with a hand wheel. Unlike the MK V helmet, the Jack Browne diving mask had no voice communications built in, so they communicated on the surface via line pull signals.
Drop by the Seabee Museum to see the bunny suit in person Tuesday May 3rd at the Curator’s Corner event 2-4pm and visit the museum’s Underwater Construction exhibit to learn more about Seabee divers!
Meet the Curator: Robyn King “Meet the Curator: Robyn King is pursuing her master’s degree in Museum Studies and Nonprofit Management through Johns Hopkins University. She earned her Bachelors in History and Anthropology from the State University of New York at Oneonta. She has experience working at state museums, historic sites, the National Park Service, and most recently the Navy. She is an expert in collection management, and has worked closely with both natural and cultural collections. Robyn loves all museums and sharing her love of history. When she is not working, she is volunteering her time with the National Peace Corps Association, as a Returned Peace Corps Volunteer from West Africa.”