In early December of last year, we received an email query from a gentleman named Todd Eskew asking for information about his great uncle’s unit he served with as a Seabee during the Second World War. According to Eskew, all that he knew of him was that he served in the Navy during wartime and was once a Judu instructor while in.
For many families of deceased veterans, it is a common question to ask historical institutions what they did and where they did it. So often we find that service members of the World War II-era do not share their stories with their family members. Whether you believe the saying that these men and women were of the “Greatest Generation,” their stories are crucial to our collective understanding of one of the United States’ most trying periods in its short history.
The only thing he had of his great uncle were pictures. This is the usual route most queries go: pictures are disseminated and analyzed, and we provide the historical background of that image and the sailors/ships/conflict/etc. tied to it. No problem. Even a name and a few pictures will lead to some sort of discovery. With the Navy Department Library close by and a team of dedicated naval historians literally within my reach, I knew I would be able to find out something involving Lindley or his Seabee Battalion during World War II.
This one was different.
NHF historian Dr. Dave Winkler forwarded me a few images from Eskew of his great uncle. When I first saw the images of him and his group of instructors, I literally did not believe was real.
If you are like me, you shudder when people misuse the word “literally.” Here is the definitive proof that I LITERALLY did not think the photo was authentic.
Could this be some Hollywood production or propaganda stunt put on by the Office of War Information? It looked like something out of the Alpha caste in Huxley’s Brave New World. As it turned out, the photos were official U.S. Navy photos taken in Rhode Island during WWII. I was immediately interested in finding out more information.
Eventually, Eskew put us in touch with his cousin and Lindley, Jr.’s son, also named Cary Lindley. He followed up briefly with me, providing a number of candid photos of Lindley and his unit training during the war. His son seemed generally interested in what his father did during his time in the Navy.
“I hope you can pull his military record and trace down where he was actually stationed. None of the pictures are of combat, and it’s possible he never fought while he was assigned to the 35th Special U.S. Naval Construction Battalion.”
Thanks to the Navy Department Library and the Naval History and Heritage Command, a few snippets of information surfaced. Unfortunately, not all ships or units are created equal. There is no “Raiders of the Lost Ark” vault where detailed information on every unit or man served or fought during the war. That being said, the custodians of history like NHHC do an excellent job preserving the information available for the preservation of future generations. Alongside the information provided by his son (discharge papers, etc.), we were able to construct a simple narrative on Lindley and his service.
Cary Lindley, Jr. and the 35th Special Naval Construction Battalion
Cary Lindley, Jr. was born 30 April 1918 in Houston, Texas. Like many serviceman at the time, he held a civilian job prior to the outbreak of hostilities. At the time of his enlistment, Lindley was listed as a salesman for the Port Houston Iron Works, a small shipbuilder started in the 1930s on the west side of the basin at the Houston Ship Channel. He lived on N. Main Street in Houston, now incorporated into the 13-mile Red Line that runs like a spine through the center of the bustling Texas city.
Lindley enlisted on the 8 August and was entered in service on 29 September 1942. According to his son, the new recruit trained as a Seabee at Camp Endicott in Davisville, Rhode Island. Camp Endicott served as the main home and training center for U.S. Navy Seabees. Beginning in 1942, Endicott trained. According to records of the Davisville Naval Construction Battalion Center, the “vast training camp” provided “more than 100,000 men of the U.S. Navy’s Construction Battalions, better known as “Seabee,’ with construction training during World War II.” The Seabees were also given extensive training in machine gun, anti-aircraft, and automatic weapons. Others, like Lindley, trained in hand-to-hand combat and Judo.
While training at Endicott, a number of photos highlighting Lindley and his fellow Judo instructors were taken. “These photos are the one’s the sailors took during their off time,” his son said. “They give a nice insight to the enjoyable time the men had together, when not training, working, or faced with fighting the enemy.” At one point, the Judo instructors provided a demonstration for the Duke and Duchess of Windsor (formerly the short lived King of England, Edward VIII). On particular photo taken of the Judo instructors was particularly interesting to Lindley’s family. The image provides insight into the impressive stamina and training performed by servicemen at the time:
“One particular picture that I have sent you is of [Sp (A) 2/c] J.K. Wrenshall. It stated on the back of the picture that he completed 3,000 sit-ups in 2hrs. 36 min. It also stated Mr. Wrenshall had a pulse rate of 112 bpm, and 5 min. later his pulse rate was listed as 88 bpm. Shortly after his pulse rate had dropped to 78.. Those notes were so fascinating, to find that they were concerned about his heart rate after doing so many sit- ups.”
Lindley eventually completed training and reported to the 35th Special Naval Construction Battalion [35th CB (sp)], formed in August 1944 at Endicott. Two months later, 35th CB CO LCDR Boyd was ordered to transfer the men across the country to Port Hueneme, California, on 25 October 1944. One month later in December, they arrived at their final destination, Pearl Harbor, Hawaii, where they stayed until the end of the war. For the majority of their time there, they were attached to the 20th Marine Regiment on Oahu near the picturesque area known as Iroquois Point. Other seabees attached to the 35th CB (sp) worked at an encampment near the Red Hill Underground Fuel storage facility. To the credit of the men in the company, the Red Hill site was named a historic ciil engineering landmark by the American Society of Civil Engineers in 1995.
One company of the 35th (sp) comprised of three officers and approximately 180 men was detached on 30 July 1945 for operations on the island of Kaui. They quickly finished the job and were back in Hawaii by 1 August. There is no indication from the records that Lindley was one of the men that took part in the brief excursion.
At its height in November 1944, the 35th Special Naval Construction Battalion had 1,059 officers and men. By the time the war ended, most of the men in the Battalion like Lindley were honorably discharged. By October 1945, only 930 men remained. Cary left the Navy as a Boatswain’s Mate, First Class when he was honorably discharged on 18 October 1945 at Camp Wallace, TX. The 35th CB (sp) remained active until March 1946 when it was inactivated with only 17 officers and 565 sailors attached to it.
Cary would later marry JoAnn Robinson after the war on Christmas Eve 1948. According to his son, Cary Lindley traded a Seabee shovel for the nuclear family:
“He led a quiet life, surrounded by his family and friends. He was a salesman for Schuman Auto Supplies, and traveled throughout the state of Texas. He loved the great outdoors and went fishing, hunting, and horseback riding every chance he could. I was so lucky to have him take me along.”
Unfortunately, he passed away prematurely from a heart attack on the same day fifteen years later while he and his son were hunting. “I just find it strange that these important events are all on Dec. 24th,” his son said in an email.
In our own small way, this brief discussion on Lindley and his time with the 35th Special Naval Construction Battalion will provide a historical document and testimony to the wartime life of a quiet man who greatly contributed to the war effort.
Thank you for your father, Cary. He exemplified honor, courage, and commitment with a “Can Do” attitude worthy of the Seabee name.
Cary Samuel Lindley, Jr.
April 30, 1918 – December 24, 1963
Boatswain’s Mate 1/c
United States Navy
A special thanks to Cary Lindley, Todd Eskew, and the Navy Department Library/NHHC for providing information for this post.