Park Forest resident served almost four years in Seabees at close of WWII

Russ Kyper of the Park Forest subdivision in Englewood, Fla. joined the U.S. Navy on Aug. 13, 1945, the day before V-J (Victory over Japan) Day that ended World War II. He eventually transferred to the Seabees.

The 81-year-old former utility technician 1st class in the Seabees spent the next 44 months in the service, 32 of them overseas. Most of the time he worked as a water purification expert in Guam and later at Kwajalein in the Marshall Islands in the South Pacific.

After graduating from water purification school in California, he was assigned to the 20th Naval Construction Regiment at Red Hill, about six miles outside Honolulu.

“My job was to help convert Quonset huts into housing for servicemen and their dependents. Weekends were spent in Honolulu, where I found many interesting things to do.  Beretania Street had lots of honkytonks and photo shops where you could pose with an Oriental girl in a bikini,” Kyper said.

A while later, he joined the 103rd Construction Battalion when he relocated to Guam from Pearl Harbor. Guam is the largest and southernmost of the Marianas Islands. It’s roughly 32 miles long and 4 to 8 miles wide.

“We docked at Apra Harbor (at Agana) and were trucked to a Seabee camp that was overgrown and run down. The island was struck by a typhoon on Sept. 27, 1946. It had winds of more than 125 mph that blew for three days. We could see curved sections of the Quonset huts flying in the air like gulls,” he said. “During the height of the storm, most of the aircraft at Agana were destroyed, along with every tent in the 103rd Battalion.

“We were awakened at 2 a.m. by the master at arms and told to go to the chow hall. Minutes later, a section of the mess hall roof blew off, so we went to the officers’ quarters, a sturdier wooden structure.

Most of Kyper’s time in Guam was spent chlorinating a reservoir during the nine months he was stationed there.

“Frank Conception was a native who lived with his wife in Agate, a village about a 45-minute trek through the jungle from our camp. I found out he was producing a vodka-like beverage for the locals. We took two 60-pound bags of sugar over to Frank’s camp one night. Our yield was a gallon of homemade vodka we mixed with Coca-Cola or juice,” he said.

“The only time we had real whiskey, we bought it from a civilian employee. We paid the astronomical amount of five bucks for a bottle of Three Feathers. We bought it the night of the first dance with the native girls from the village,” Kyper recalled. “We set up an ironing board in our tent as a bar to celebrate the dance, but we had too many drinks and couldn’t make it up the hill to the dance.

“It was a sad day when I boarded a C-54 aircraft at Agana bound for Hickam Field in Hawaii. From there, I was relocated to Coronado, Calif., at San Diego Bay.”

His next overseas assignment was Kwajalein in the Marshall Islands in the South Pacific. Kyper was assigned to run a boiler that converted sea water to potable water through a steam evaporation process. For the next 17 months, he kept the water flowing on Kwajalein.

“During this period of atomic bomb tests shortly after the war, our airstrip was used to launch the planes with the bombs. A friend of mine, Donald Orr, was asked to take part in these tests. He sat on a ship about 12 miles away wearing dark glasses, but he was never allowed to discuss the results,” Kyper said.

Four months short of four years in the service, he was discharged from the Seabees on March 25, 1949, in San Francisco, Calif.

Kyper today (2009 interview) at his Englewood home checking information he has kept all these years from the time he served in the Seabees just after World War II. Sun photo by Don Moore

Kyper today (2009 interview) at his Englewood home checking information he has kept all these years from the time he served in the Seabees just after World War II. Sun photo by Don Moore

“I took the long train ride to Florida, where my parents were living at the time. For months I had been sending an allotment home to save for a car. My dad found a 1939 Lincoln Zephyr — 12-cylinder, midnight blue with whitewall tires.

“With my car waiting and $300 mustering-out pay in my pocket, I was eager for civilian life,” Kyper said. “On March 16, 1951, I met Joy De May in Largo, Fla. A year later, she became my wife and ultimately she gifted me with three children and a great life.”

This story was first published in the Charlotte Sun newspaper, Port Charlotte, Fla. on Monday, June 8, 2009 and is republished with permission.

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