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During their enlistment in the Navy Seabees, Althouse and his fellow members of the Seventy-Fifth Naval Construction Battalion all came to love the dog known as "Brownie." He was smuggled aboard the USS Del Brasil and traveled with his master to nine different islands in the ...
During their enlistment in the Navy Seabees, Althouse and his fellow members of the Seventy-Fifth Naval Construction Battalion all came to love the dog known as "Brownie." He was smuggled aboard the USS Del Brasil and traveled with his master to nine different islands in the South Pacific.
Brownie became the official mascot of the Seventy-Fifth, and at each island Althouse kept a record of his stay in a small notebook. His letters home were often filled with the antics of his beloved Brownie while also providing a glimpse of what life was like for a Seabee during the war.
Against all odds, Brownie returned to the United States to live out his life with his best friend in a little town called Bucyrus. Their story is one of adventure, friendship, and love that spanned across oceans and time.
(Brownie tells his story)
When I awoke the sun was shining in the east window of the barrack sending its rays half way across the building. It was going to be a beautiful day. The sailors that had stumbled into the barrack late last night were gone already and so was Slim. They all had made my acquaintance at some time or another and would stop and scratch my ears and make a fuss over me. It had been four days since my accident and I had spent a good part of the days and nights sleeping and letting my body heal its wounds. Now, I was feeling much better and anxiously awaiting Slim's return with my breakfast. With some effort I stood up, being careful not to put much weight on my left hind leg. There was still water in my bowl from yesterday so I took a long drink. Slim had found some bowls and a mat at the commissary the day of the accident, and he brought me breakfast and dinner from the mess hall every day. He also carried me outside in the grass behind the barrack so that I could answer nature's calls. It was 6:30 a.m. and I was getting restless. I was used to wandering by myself around the camp exploring and living up to my reputation of a bum and beggar.
Now things were suddenly different. It had not taken me long to bond with the man that had taken care of me when I had the accident. Slim was different from the young bucks that were stationed here. For one thing, he was much older and had gray hair. He was a gentle man, but when he spoke, he spoke with authority. I felt that sticking with him would be a good thing. With him around I wouldn't have to go begging at the mess hall. As these thoughts were going round in my head, I heard footsteps outside. The screen door opened and Slim entered with a paper plate and my breakfast. When I was finished eating he carried me outside, and after my morning toilet I spread out in the grass. I tried to roll around but with the cast on my leg that didn't work too well. I had to be satisfied with hopping around on three legs. Slim had bought a halter and a long leash and told me that he was going to let me stay outside all day since the weather was so nice. He brought out my bowl of water and he told me he would be back later in the afternoon after drill. It was going to be a long day.
There would be a lot more long days ahead as I recuperated and healed. I watched Slim leave in the morning and waited as patiently as I could for his return later in the afternoon. Being tied up was not my nature but I did try to get used to it. Besides that, my leg was beginning to itch inside the cast and I started to tear at the wrap. It wasn't long until I had made a mess of it. When Slim returned there wasn't anything he could do but remove it the rest of the way. The next few days I was able to stand on three legs and put some weight on the other weak one. Then eventually I could walk on all four legs and I was able to make a couple of runs chasing a ball. I had made a remarkable recovery.
The fellows in our barrack had every other night out and they would dress up in their Navy Blues and visit Ventura and Los Angeles and liven up the towns. One night Slim went with them and they ended up at the Hollywood Canteen where movie stars moved from table to table asking about home and family. Some of the guys got to dance with the girls. When they got back Slim showed me a post card with autographs of Joan Fountaine, Fred McMurray, and June Lang, famous movie stars.
After three more weeks, suddenly things changed. The calendar said June 9th 1943. There seemed to be a flurry of activity going on around all the barracks. There was no marching around the field and the sailors were making trips to the commissary to get supplies. When they returned they started packing their duffle bags with all their gear including the toothpaste, shaving cream and cigarettes that they had just purchased. Slim was sitting on the edge of his bunk looking off into space, deep in thought. I went up to him, sat up on my behind side, and put my paws on his knees. "What am I going to do about you, Brownie? I don't have time to find you a home, and they don't allow dogs on the ship." Slim sat on the bunk for several more long minutes and then said, "The heck with the rules, Brownie. You are going with me."
There was a row of trucks in front of the Administration Building loading the fellows and their gear to make the journey to Port Hueneme. When they arrived they made their way up the gangplank. No one noticed the large bulge in the duffle bag that Slim had over his shoulder, but if they could have looked closer they would have seen my nose sticking out at the top. We were ushered to our quarters and Slim didn't waste any time pulling me out of the duffle bag. What a relief to know we made it on board. Now I would have to stay out of sight until we left the port and then I'd be free to roam. The S.S. Del Brasil was a huge former ocean liner that had been stripped of her glorious interior. She was now a naval troop ship and home for the 75th Naval Construction Battalion until they reached their destination.
The Seabees on board were construction workers, engineers, electricians, carpenters, surveyors, machinists, medical personal and heavy equipment operators. The Navy had found that these men were indispensable to the war effort. They had taken basic training at Camp Endicott, Rhode Island and learned to fight and defend themselves if necessary, with guns and ammunition, but their purpose would be mainly to do the construction of air fields and roads and keep the machinery working. Also on board were a barber shop, dining hall, first aid room, and laundry room and communication center. This ship was a floating city and I could hardly wait to investigate it. I'd been cooped up long enough. By this time the men of the 75th were getting to know each other and everybody got a nickname. Roy would now be recognized as "Slim" because of his height of 6 foot 2 inches, and a trim 155 pounds.
The first several days at sea were pretty rough and a number of the men were suffering from seasickness and were hanging over the rail. You didn't want to be downwind. After several days out, the ship took a zigzag course across the Pacific to avoid the Japanese submarines. We didn't see any, but we were escorted by whales and porpoises. There was a shuffleboard on the upper deck and I delighted in chasing the puck as the fellows played. I never bothered to catch it as they didn't seem to like me spoiling their game, but they didn't mind if I just chased it. There was always someone around that would play ball with me and I would run up and down the deck until I wore myself out. Each day the temperature rose as we approached the tropics, and Slim and I spent several nights sleeping on the deck. There was no air conditioning. My long-haired coat was beginning to be a detriment. When we reached the International Date Line and crossed it we "lost" a day which puzzled many of the sailors. Even though we were on a ship I stuck pretty close to my buddy, Slim. He delighted in watching me and my antics with the fellows. He started teaching me a few tricks. I already knew how to sit up and everybody was amazed at how long I could hold that position. He also taught me to hold an object on the top of my nose, usually a piece of meat, until he said it was ok to flip it in the air and catch it. Then I got the treat of eating it. Another lesson I learned was to "stay". That would later keep me alive on many occasions.
This morning, Slim and the rest of the men got a communiqué from the Command center which said they were to report to the swimming pool at 1:00 p.m. When we arrived there I saw a strange man with a crown on his head holding a three pronged pole that looked like it could cause some damage. He was sitting on a throne and someone said he was King Neptune. Then the fun began. One by one the sailors were tossed into the pool. I suddenly found myself being picked up and flying out over the water. I landed with a splash and went under. I came back up sputtering and paddling like mad. It was then that I discovered that I could swim. The water was cool and I was enjoying myself so much that Slim had a hard time getting me out of the pool. All of us that got dunked received a "Shellback" Certificate 8 x15 inches, suitable for framing. Printed on it was a nice border of sea creatures, and the top had King Neptune rising from the sea with four horses. The printing on my certificate said, TO ALL SAILORS WHEREVER YE MAY BE; and to all Mermaids, Whales, Sea Serpents, Porpoises, Sharks, Eels, Skates, Suckers, Crabs, Lobsters and all living things of the Sea, GREETINGS.Know Ye: that on this Sixteenth day of June, 1943 in latitude ooooo and Longitude 180 degrees there appeared within our Royal Domain the S.S. Del Brasil bound South for the Equator and for the South Pacific area. BE IT REMEMBERED: that the said vessel and Officers and Crew thereof have been inspected and passed on by ourselves and Our Royal Staff and be it known by all Sailors, Marines, Land lubbers and others who may be honored by his presence that "BROWNIE, CHIEF BONE POLISHER," Mascot of the 75th Navy Construction Battalion, has been duly initiated into the Solemn Mysteries of the Ancient Order of the Deep. Be it further understood that by Virtue of the Power Invested in me I do hereby command all my subjects to show due honor and respect to him wherever he may be. Disobey this order under Penalty of Our Royal Displeasure. Given under our hand and seal this June 16th, 1943.
Davey Jones, His Majesty's Scribe
Neptune Rex, Ruler of the Raging Main
(So I became the Mascot of the 75th Naval Construction Battalion.)
ETERNAL FATHER, STRONG TO SAVE
Eternal Father, strong to save,
Whose arm has bound the restless wave,
Who bade the mighty ocean deep
Its own appointed limits keep:
Oh, hear us when we cry to thee
For those in peril on the sea.
O Savior, whose almighty word
The winds and waves submissive heard,
Who walked upon the foaming deep,
And calm amid the storm didst sleep:
Oh, hear us when we cry to thee
For those in peril on the sea.
O Holy Spirit, who didst brood
Upon the chaos dark and rude,
And bid its angry tumult cease,
And give, for wild confusion, peace:
Oh hear us when we cry to thee
For those in peril on the sea.
O Trinity of love and pow'r,
All trave'lers guard in danger's hour
From rock and tempest, fire and foe,
Protect them where-so-e'er they go;
Thus evermore shall rise to thee
Glad hymns and praise from land and sea.
Text: William Whiting, 1825-1878
Tune: John B. Dykes, 1823-1876
(Sailing the High Seas.)
The farther South we sailed the hotter it became. We were definitely in the Tropics. Most of the fellows stripped to their pants and were getting some good suntans. They lamented the fact that they weren't on a beach somewhere showing off to some girls. But this was war and the girls would have to wait. Most of the guys occupied themselves with playing poker, doing calisthenics, and running from one end of the ship to the other to keep in shape. Many would stop and play ball with me. When I got tired I would find a shaded place and take a nap. The ship's officers were very lenient about my presence aboard, and Slim could take me just about every place on the ship. After all, I was the mascot. We could even go to the mess hall together. While Slim was eating, I would be under the table at his feet and would receive morsels of food slipped to me very discreetly. A lot of the time I'd also receive food from some of the others present at our table. I was still growing, and with the exercise I was getting on deck I needed the food.
This was our daily routine as the Del Brasil plowed through the waters of the Pacific. One day Slim received notification that his rank was raised to CMM (AACB). He was now a Chief Machinist Mate with pay of $126.00 a month plus 20% extra for overseas duty. On June 25th it was announced that we would be approaching New Caledonia and the harbor at the town of Noumea. There was a deep harbor there that could accommodate a ship the size of the Del Brasil. Our Battalion was to establish its own docking facilities which would be used for all ships coming here to refuel and take on supplies. But first we had to establish our living quarters which would be 20 miles by road from Noumea. The town soon came into view. The Del Brasil inched her way up to the empty dock area. A ramp was secured from the ship to the dock and the orders soon came to empty the ship of all heavy equipment she had on board. Slim was to drive one of the big dump trucks to our camp so I followed him down below to the hold and he tossed me up into one of the cabs. Our personal belongings would stay on board the ship for a few days until we set up our camp. We would overnight on the ship until we were situated in the tents. There were jeeps, big haulers, diggers and graders that were systematically lined up and as I looked around I wondered how the big ship stayed afloat with all that equipment on board. We were soon next in line to exit and I looked out the side window as we slowly went down the ramp and onto the road. On terra-firma at last. Slim drove, following the others on a very slow pace, twenty miles to the designated campsite. That day I was to find out how the Seabees were so ingenious when they would come to a big problem. When we arrived at the site, we discovered there was no flat land anywhere. A big hill was there instead. So they dug and leveled the side of that hill into terraces. It took several days to make room for all the tents. Slim found a good location for the machine shop and supervised six men on placement of the machinery. There were hoists in the hold of the ship that lifted each piece onto a hauler which brought all of them to the site. Another hauler with a hoist unloaded the machines and Slim and his crew were ready for business. One of the Jeeps never made it to the camp. It stalled along the road, with black smoke pouring out from under the hood. One of the fellows put a chain on it and towed it to the shop. That was Slim's first repair job. The next day work was to start on the new docking facility. The work progressed as planned and the fellows were given downtime to explore the town.
New Caledonia was a French island that once was a penal colony. There are also natives on the island living in the jungle. We were told that they were friendly. Slim had a free afternoon so he decided to look around the town. Everywhere Slim and I went I was an icebreaker. The small children there loved me to death. There weren't many dogs here so I was a novelty. I was even allowed into the stores. Slim bought some souvenirs to send home to Mildred. He also bought some fresh fruit to take back to our tent.
The next evening we explored one of the beaches. It had beautiful white sand that stretched for miles. Slim found some seashells along the shore and took them back to keep. We would come back another day to go for a swim. Slim had brought our things from the ship and he had set up his cot and made me a bed near by. He found an empty wooden box that he put at the head of his bed for a stand and he set several pictures on it of his wife and daughter. This would be home for at least 3 months. Several days later I looked out to sea and saw the Del Brasil headed north east. She was leaving us behind. She had emptied her cargo and was heading back to the States for her next assignment. The next few days I roamed around the camp watching the men set up the tents for the post office, barber shop, the first aid tent, the mess hall, the communication center, and the theater. I stayed off of the lanes and roads because I hadn't forgotten what a Jeep can do to a dog. Once all the facilities were up and running, Slim and I had time for a swim every evening. He took soap and towels along and we were soon joined by many of our friends and the ocean became a big bath tub. Even I got a bath!
Each night that week there was a lecture at the theater and Co. C. was registered to attend on Friday night, so Slim and I attended and we heard a Lieutenant talk about the war with the Japanese in the Solomon Islands and how the U.S. troops had changed the course of the war there. The Guadalcanal Campaign, also known as the Battle of Guadalcanal and codenamed Operation Watchtower by Allied forces, was a military campaign fought between August 7, 1942 and February 9, 1943 on and around the island of Guadalcanal. It was the first major offensive by Allied forces against the Empire of Japan. On August 7, 1942 Allied forces, predominantly 1st Marines, landed on the islands of Guadalcanal, Tulagi, and Florida in the southern Solomon Islands with the objective of denying their use by the Japanese to threaten the supply and communication routes between the U.S., Australia, and New Zealand. The Allies also intended to use Guadalcanal and Tulagi as bases to support a campaign to eventually capture or neutralize the major Japanese base at Rabaul on New Britain. They occupied the islands since May 1942, and captured Tulagi and Florida, as well as an airfield (later named Henderson Field) that was under construction by the Japanese on Guadalcanal. Powerful U.S. naval forces supported the landings. The Japanese tried several times to take back Henderson Field but each time were pushed back with a loss of many of their destroyers and supply ships. Most of Guadalcanal was now occupied by Allied forces, but there were still pockets of Japanese hiding in the jungle at the western end firmly holding on. The Lieutenant ended by saying, "Gentlemen, you are about to fight a war." So it was confirmed. As soon as our supply ships arrived we would be heading to Guadalcanal.
Excerpted from BROWNIE by Martha E. Keller. Copyright © 2013 Martha E. Keller. Excerpted by permission of Abbott Press.
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