Veteran shares story of construction service in the Navy Seabees

Charley Goodin served in a naval construction group called the “Seabees” during the Vietnam War, and in later years has remained active with the American Legion.

Charley Goodin served in a naval construction group called the “Seabees” during the Vietnam War, and in later years has remained active with the American Legion.

During World War II, the need for individuals with experience in the construction trades became paramount as U.S. forces began to build bases, airstrips and other military necessities throughout Europe and the Pacific.

This led to the establishment of the Navy “Seabees” (derived from the initials “CB,” which denotes construction battalion) — a group of sailors possessing both construction knowledge and fighting ability.

Charley Goodin, a 1966 graduate of Jefferson City High, began his own journey toward Seabee experience when deciding he was not fully prepared for the collegiate lifestyle while attending classes at Lincoln University.

“It was the summer of 1967” said Goodin, 65, Jefferson City, “and a lot of us were just waiting to be drafted … so I decided I was just going to join.”

As Goodin recalls, his initial intent was to join the Marine Corps, until convinced by a friend they should join the Navy together.

“Neither of us wanted to be on a ship and we had heard about the Seabees,” Goodin said. “We were supposedly guaranteed a slot with (the Seabees).”

He and his friend traveled to Great Lakes, Ill., where they completed their boot camp in early 1968, but Goodin soon discovered that he would be sent to Port Hueneme, Calif., to complete construction training and his friend to a different location.

For the next 12 weeks, Goodin was taught skills involving steel work (welding, cutting and fitting), and learned to contruct and assemble objects such as pontoon bridges, watch towers and water tanks.

Upon finishing the training, he returned to Jefferson City on leave, and on May 25, 1968, married his fiancée, Claudia. The couple then traveled to California and rented a small beach house in Oxnard, Calif.

Goodin was assigned to a training command at Port Hueneme, but a few weeks later received orders for Vietnam. While his wife returned to Jefferson City to stay with family, Goodin was bound for Vietnam, and in mid-1968 was assigned to a headquarters company at Camp Evans near Phong Dien.

The next few months Goodin spent living in a bunker as part of a security platoon cleaning weapons and assisting with perimeter security measures.

“We had Claymores (mines) we set up every night, and part of our duties were to check the generators,” he said.

In October 1968, his brief deployment ended and he returned to Calif. Goodin and his wife rented an apartment in Oxnard while he remained at Port Hueneme assigned to a mobile construction battalion (MCB).

However, he soon received orders for a second deployment to Vietnam and in March 1969, was assigned to MCB-4 located on Camp Adnair in Da Nang.

“We really didn’t start off doing much, but in April the ammunition dump in Da Nang went up because of a grass fire,” he said. “Pretty much all of the ammunition in the theater (of operations) was destroyed and we spent a lot of time cleaning up after that.”

Goodin also notes that during his remaining service in Vietnam, his battalion constructed modular buildings, recreational facilities , and traveled to other bases where they built water towers, protective revetments, observation towers and other military support projects.

When his deployment ended in December 1969, he returned to California and finished out his enlistment with the Construction Regiment Drill Team, conducting funerals and peforming in parades as a guidon carrier and petty officer in charge of the firing squad until his discharge in March 1971.

“I knew it was time to go,” Goodin said. “My daughter had been born while I was in the service and I never intended on making it a career.”

He went on to serve several years with the Missouri National Guard and, in 1976, was hired by Union Pacific Railroad, remaining with the company until his retirement as a locomotive engineer in 2008.

A 43-year member of the American Legion Post 5, Goodin has been active within the organization and has served on several local and national committees, including a term as post commander in 1983, and later as state department commander — all of which he says has built upon the voluntary spirit cultivated during his Seabee service.

“When you are in the military, you learn the importance of teamwork,” he said. “But more importantly, one of the things you don’t realize when you join is that when you are serving others, you are actually helping yourself.”

In summary, he added: “You are becoming a better person.”

Jeremy P. Amick writes on behalf of the Silver Star Families of America.

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