Henry Shannon, born in 1921, began to hear whispers of a war in Europe in 1938 and in 1940 when congress passed the draft, he, like other young men knew it was just a matter of time before he would be called.
Born in Columbus Ohio, Shannon’s family was not rich, but his father, a carpenter and stationary engineer was able to take the family with him to different parts of the country to visit and to learn.
When Henry was old enough, he landed a good job that would help to protect him from the draft since the job was considered vital to national defense. Henry also had a girl friend.
“The love of his life, Ms. Helen.” Life was sweet, Henry escorted Ms. Helen to the movies one Sunday afternoon and when they walked out of the theater Henry heard the words “Pearl Harbor has been attacked! He had no idea where Pearl Harbor was and even less of an inkling how those words would accelerate his life into a blur of change and ultimately, that this news would take him into a brand new kind of military unit, to fight a war in places with names he couldn’t even pronounce.
“By Sunday night (of Dec.7) the government called up every person who was a military reservist and actually put them in route to military camps” said Shannon, who now lives at Mars Hill Retirement Community. “By Monday morning, all of the reservist where I worked were gone. Just gone!”
Shannon saw that he wouldn’t be deferred forever so he enlisted. But Shannon’s new outfit had more to do with bulldozers and ships. Desperate for the work that only bulldozers and trained crews could provide the US Navy had formed the Naval Construction Battalion in 1942 calling it the “CBs” for short.
That abbreviation soon gave way to the more colorful term “Seabees” and thus was born a new bread of American military man: They would build airstrips, the depots, and a dozen other construction projects crucial to waging modern warfare.
Shannon began his Seabee career in Fort Milney, New Guinea, building a depot for the invasion force slated to head from Australia. He was later sent to Subic Bay in the Philippines to build a railway station.
The Seabees were – and remain –a very distinctive legacy of that “day of infamy” that shattered a quiet Sunday morning. But Shannon stressed that lack of uniformity didn’t limit the effectiveness of this unruly group. Mr. Henry Shannon is the last living survivor of the 115th Battalion. “General MacArthur once said that ‘the Seabees were the most unmilitary outfit in the world, and there weren’t enough of you.’” said Henry.
Of Ms. Helen, she waited for him and Henry made her his bride after the war. They
had three girls, one of which settled in this area. Henry and Ms Helen planned to move here. But Henry took a detour after his wife of 51 years died and he traveled all over the world.
The vest you see him wearing has a pin to represent a destination in each of his travels.
Shannon retired to Mars Hill Retirement Community in January of 2005. Of Mars Hill he said,” Mars Hill Retirement Community is as good as they come and I’ve met a good friend here.”