When the privateer plane landed on Tinian Island, it carried an extra passenger.

The crew found him in the Philippines, when he was just a little fellow.

A monkey.

At first they thought it was funny, how he pushed the plane's buttons and got into everything. But soon the monkey grew, and the crew had work to get done. His monkey antics weren't as funny anymore.

So they left him on Tinian with Raymond Zimmerschied and his friends.

They named him Pat.

Zimmerschied's time as a Seabee was near done when he "inherited" Pat, as he likes to say. Seabees comprised three construction battalions and were marked by the emblem of a cartoon bee carrying tools and a machine gun. The idea was that they were worker bees, hurriedly building, stopping to attack only when provoked. But Zimmerschied remembers times they had to fight.

Zimmerschied wanted to join the Air Force, but his eyesight was considered too poor. When he was drafted in 1943, he had three options: Army, Navy, Seabees.

What's that last one? He had to ask.

As soon as war began, the military needed a naval construction regiment to build airstrips, roads and bases. Seabees became known for the phrase, "Can do," and their motto, "Construimus, Batuimus," meant "We Build, We Fight."

Zimmerschied worked construction in Sheridan, helping survey the land around Fort Phil Kearny. After high school, he and his dad went to Seattle to work at the Port of Embarkation, assisting the construction of a floating machine shop barge.

He picked the Seabees.

Skill and experience were stressed more than physical ability, so the average Seabee's age was 38, much older than other military outfits. Zimmerschied remembers a guy close to 60 years old serving in the battalion. A boy who turned 18 one month after Zimmerschied beat him out for status as youngest Seabee.

Seabees received training from the Marines, Zimmerschied at Camp Peary in Virginia. He traveled to his first assignment, Eniwetok in the Marshall Islands, by a liberty ship that moved so slowly at four knots, it spent most of the time trying to catch up with the rest of the convoy.

On Eniwetok, the Seabees were tasked with building an airstrip for bombers. It was the first time Zimmerschied saw a destroyer escort bombard an atoll. The ships backed up and fired, over and over.

He remembers so many Japanese dead on the ground. To clear the way, they rolled bodies into the trenches.

The atoll was blanketed in coconut trees, all of which needed to be cleared for construction to begin. They used bulldozers to shove the trees aside.

Seabees mined coral as a building material, constantly wetting the rock to keep it smooth.

After construction was complete, the strip served as a carrier re-planing base. Zimmerschied served with the fire crew.

One day, a B-24 took off and lost both engines on its left side.

The plane swerved, cutting into a row of parked fighters. It blew up. The fighters had belly tanks, and when fire exploded one tank, gasoline leaked, leading a trail for fire to meet the next plane.

"That's why it got so many planes," Zimmerschied said. "It just burned from one to the other."

Zimmerschied fought until bulldozers came in, shoveling the burning planes into the ocean. He and the fire chief had to stay and spray water on bombs that didn't go off during the fire. He later received a citation for his efforts that day, but he held his breath the whole time.

While other men fought with guns in heavily fortified war zones, Zimmerschied fought with a hose.

The fire chief died on Eniwetok when an ammunition ship caught fire and blew up. He instructed Zimmerschied and the fire crew to stay where they were when he went to investigate.

"He got a whole stomach full of shrapnel," Zimmerschied said. "… I should have been there, but I wasn't."

In the same explosion, Zimmerschied saw a Marine begin to run from camp up on a hill and then fall, his right leg cut off by shrapnel. It happened so fast he didn't realize his leg was missing.

Zimmerschied and his battalion were sent to Tinian in the Marianas to build two strips. Dynamite was kept nearby to blast large chunks of coral when needed. During a changing of the guard, a Jeep carrying seven men arrived to relieve the others. A Japanese man fired into the pile of dynamite.

"The only thing they found was the motor out of the Jeep. It was sitting on the ground where the Jeep had been," Zimmerschied said.

"The guys were all gone. Nothing."

Behind their tent, Zimmerschied and the Seabees dug a foxhole. They found boiler plating in the ground, once part of a sugar factory on the island, and used it for a roof. They left a small opening, big enough for one person to fit through during an attack.

"You know, five guys can go through that pretty fast," he said. "And we did."

The Seabees built a power plant on Tinian almost entirely out of scrap Japanese metal. Zimmerschied worked in the tire department at the time and learned from another man how to move the heavy tires with ease, tossing them onto his knees first and then thrusting forward. The weather didn't make the job any easier –- most of the Seabees had to cut their sleeves off in the heat –- and they considered a day that dipped down to 100 degrees to be a cool one.

Pat the monkey didn't like the heat much, either.

During the day, Zimmerschied stuck Pat in a hole to keep cool. The Seabees gave him baths when he needed them, although washing a monkey is a three-man job, Zimmerschied said. With plenty of Band-Aids.  

At night, the Seabees took Pat drinking.

Each Seabee was allowed two Schlitzes from the beer garden. Pat liked beer. He'd take a drink, go swing in the trees, come back for another sip.

One night, he missed a tree branch and fell. Zimmerschied says that's the time Pat was ready to go home.

"The next week, you couldn't get him to the beer garden," he said. "But every other week, he was ready to go."

Zimmerschied was in the control tower on Tinian's west strip when the island got word Japan had surrendered. The Seabees celebrated, and soon Zimmerschied was on his way back to Treasure Island, to Port Hueneme, Calif., to San Diego, Cheyenne and then Sheridan.

Zimmerschied couldn't bring the foreign animal back to the U.S. with him. He knows they turned the monkey over to an aid agency, but as for what happened to Pat after, he just doesn't know.


Age: 85

Unit: Seabee Naval Construction, 110th Battalion, A Company

War fronts: Served 1943-1946 in the Pacific, specifically Eniwetok in the Marshall Islands and Tinian in the Marianas.

Family: Married 64 years to wife, Alice; 6 children, 1 deceased

On the Web: Watch more of Zimmerschied's story and see profiles of other veterans at www.trib.com/honor.


Load comments