News: Original Navy Seabee: World War II veteran turns 100
Story by Sgt. Leticia Samuels
RALEIGH, N.C. - Navy Seabee World War II Veteran Jerry Smith celebrated his 100th birthday with his daughter, Beverly, and representatives from the armed forces and North Carolina's government leaders at the N.C. Executive Mansion in Raleigh, N.C., Aug. 27, 2013.
Smith was one of the original members of the first construction battalion of the Navy, more famously known as the "Seabees," a militarized Naval Construction Force that built vast and advance bases, hospitals, highways, and airports in combat zones throughout the South Pacific Islands in the 1940s.
"I've never had so much honor in all my life" said Smith.
The 1st Naval Construction unit or detachment was established Jan. 5, 1942, and deployed two weeks after Rear Adm. Ben Moreell, chief of the Bureau of Yards and Docks (BUDOCKS) and "Father of the Seabees" realized the absence of military infrastructures in the Pacific islands.
With war on the way, Moreell fought to establish what is now known as the Seabees construction battalion.
The 296-man crew, including Smith, served in the South Pacific on the Efati Islands and throughout the island-hopping campaign in the Pacific during World War II.
The Army needed an airfield for their bombers that would give them the ability to launch attacks on Guadalcanal. Smith's battalion was given 30-days to construct the strips and with lots of effort and fortitude, the project was indeed completed in 30 days.
The Seabees also built a 600-bed hospital on the islands, as well as spent time on the New Hebrides islands, constructing a landing strip for fighter planes that would escort the bombers along with other projects.
Moreell furnished the CB with the motto "Construmus Batumius," Latin for "We Build, We Fight," which is still used today.
"We had people that could do everything but make money," Smith replied as the crowd laughed.
"That 'can do' attitude is still their today all day, every day," said Master Chief Petty Officer Joshua Schlegel when asked about the mentality of the Seabees today. "They really set the standard."
As the ceremony progressed, Smith was presented with numerous flags and coins in honor of his accomplishments from U.S. Sen. Richard Burr, N.C. Lt. Gov. Dan Forest, Army Maj. Gen. Greg Lusk, adjutant general of N.C., Rear Adm. Douglas Morton, commander of the Naval Facilities Engineering Command (NAVFAC) Atlantic, Cmdr. Ron Ross, commanding officer of the Navy Recruiting District of Raleigh, and other guests as well.
Coming into this world, Smith was one of seven children and only weighed 1 pound 8 ounces, but was nurtured to 6 pounds in the following six months.
This early adversity forged the person that Smith is today. Retiring at the age of 95 after completing 832-hours of volunteer work with the Department of Veterans Affairs Hospital, 30 years in the supply business and also completing a second career in mortuary service.
"Jerry has the mindset and is the definition of work ethic," said U.S. Sen. Richard Burr.
When Smith spoke to the crowd, he radiated his light-hearted attitude and humor to the crowd by keeping everyone laughing and wanting to hold a conversation with him.
"It was a job and we had the 'can do' attitude to get the job done," said Smith humbly, when asked what his favorite project was. "I have been blessed so much in my life and had such a wonderful life."