Hank Pruitt joined Seabees during WW II because of an old girlfriend

Hank Pruitt of Port Charlotte joined the Seabees during the closing days of World War II because of an old flame.

“She wrote me every day and then she stopped writing,” he said more than 75 years later. “If I joined the Seabees they would give me 17 day sign-up leave. That gave me enough time to go home to Washington, D.C. and find out what was going on with my girl. I signed.

“When I reached my girl I found out she stopped writing because she found someone else. I never saw her again,” Pruitt said.

He also had three older brothers already fighting in the war. They fought in the Atlantic and Pacific Theatres of Operation.

“When I returned to the Seabees my ship was ready to sail. Honolulu was the next stop and then Okinawa, in the war zone. Just before we sailed we learned the war was over.

“When our ship docked in Honolulu a week or 10 days later I found out it was a wild town for a 17-year-old away from home for the first time. It was going all the time 24 hours a day because thousands of service men got liberty day and night.

“A day or two later we sailed for Okinawa. It must have take us about 10 days to get there. We arrived sometime in September, right after they dropped two atomic bombs on Japan.

“The ship dropped anchor off shore. They brought us in in landing crafts,” Pruitt said. “The island was devastated by war. Little still remained standing.

A uniformed Hank Pruitt of Port Charlotte holds his niece about the time he got out of the Seabees in 1946. Photo provided.

“The Seabees job on Okinawa was to build Quonset huts, roads and piers while we lived in tents. The first few months I worked in the motor pool and drove officers around the island in a Jeep. Eventually I became a mailman.”

He was a member of the 509th Seabee Maintenance Unit.

“It was during this period a dozen or so Japanese soldiers with their firearms walked out of the jungle and surrendered because they were starving.”

Japanese soldiers from World War II, who hid out on the 60-mile-long island, were still surrendering into the 1950s.

“Because I was a mailman, everybody went home but me. I worked in the post office part of the time and the rest of the time I delivered mail. Sometimes we played poker while working in the post office. If there was nothing to do I went to the beach. The beach on Okinawa was beautiful and mostly there was nobody there.”

Pruitt said during one of his poker games, with a buddy who had too much to drink, the buddy pulled his .45 pistol and pointed right at him across the poker table. He happened to have a can of peanuts he was eating and threw at him. That ended the confrontation.

“We had just finished building a Quonset hut when Typhoon Louise hit the island on Oct. 9, 1945. At the time we were still living in tents. It blew all our tents down and wrecked some of the Quonset huts. At the time I was working in the post office. I remember there was a flagpole out front that was twisted in the storm at a 90 degree angle to the ground. The storm was very destructive.

“Toward the end of my time on Okinawa there was nothing to do, so I as vey lonely,” Pruitt said. The last three months I was on the island I worked as a clerk in the post office. I was the youngest guy working there.

“When we got word we were going home I couldn’t believe it. We boarded a ship off shore and sailed directly to San Francisco. The first fews days ashore in California we stayed in barracks on Treasure Island. From there we took a slow train across the country to Bainbridge, Md. This was where I enlisted and was discharged in 1946.

“I took the G. I. Bill and enrolled at George Mason College in Virginia. I only stayed until the first semester of my second year in college. I was making too much money as a door-to-door salesman selling silverware. My first job lasted about 90 days and then I got another job selling office equipment. My last 10 years in business I worked as a wholesale office supply company salesman and retired in 1994.

My wife, Elizabeth, and I moved to Venice in 2005. We have six children: Anser, Billy, Theresa, John, Rebeca and Kirk.

Name: Hank Pruitt:
Hometown: West Palm Beach, Fla.
Currently: Port Charlotte, Fla.
Entered Service: 1945
Discharged: 1946
Unit: 61st Matenance Unit
Commendations: Good Conduct Medal, World War II Victory Medal
Battles/Campaigns: Okinawa Island

This story was first published in the Charlotte Sun newspaper, Port Charlotte, Fla. on Monday, June 25, 2018 and is republished with permission.

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