Giving WWII Seabees their due
It was the other D-day and they were that other battalion. So when the Seabees landed on Iwo Jima on Feb. 19, 1945, alongside the Marines for what would become the Corps' bloodiest campaign ever, they went mostly unnoticed to war correspondents and to history. But one Seabee veteran's daughter from Newton is out to tell their story.
Tonight, Diane Kuebler presents a talk titled "The Seabees of Iwo Jima" in Weston and she's likely to have a full house. That's because the somewhat stuffy-sounding Military History Lecture Series held at the Weston Public Library by the equally dry-sounding Weston Military History Group has become one hot ticket.
The free monthly lecture series serves as Weston's own live History Channel, with military history buffs as well as veterans such as Joe Poshefko of Natick, one of the original Flying Tigers, turning up to talk about "The military history you won't find in the text books," said group founder Dr. Peter Lou of Weston.
"Coming to a lecture versus watching a TV show on the same subject is like the difference between seeing a live concert and listening to a recording. There's simply no comparison," said Lou. "At a live talk, you get to meet the speaker and ask them your own questions. It's so much more interesting."
So much so that the 10-year-old series - held on weeknights, no less - consistently fills all 80 of its available seats. As a result, the group has held repeat lectures for popular events, and it also now records most lectures onto DVDs available via library loan.
Tonight, if you go early, you can settle in for Kuebler's talk, which, in a way, she's been working on since she was 6 years old.
"I was so fascinated with World War II as a child, partly because my father, like many vets, wouldn't talk about where he'd been or what he'd done," she said.
But Kuebler did have one intriguing clue that her mother gave her: a 2-inch aluminum bracelet crafted from Japanese airplanes shot down over Iwo Jima. Inscribed on this piece of "trench art" were the names of the islands where her father served: Bermuda, Hawaii, Saipan, Tinian, Eniwetok, and Iwo Jima, as well as her mother's name, Evelyn.
"So, somewhere in my little 6-year-old mind, I decided, some day, I'm going to go everywhere Dad went," said Kuebler.
She did, and along the way Kuebler became a Seabees expert and champion, interviewing many veterans and digging out information from deep within the Naval archives.
"It's not that the Seabees get forgotten," said Kuebler, 52, of Newton. "I think as a group overall that they are not interested in publicity. They just want to get the job done."
During World War II, that job was to serve as the Navy's construction battalions, or NCBs, which came to be known as Seabees due to their busy bee work habits. Though they didn't grab headlines, these construction workers and engineers built the infrastructure critical to winning the war, and it wasn't exactly quiet work.
They offloaded supplies during assaults, built airstrips under sniper fire, constructed military roads during air raids, and took up arms as needed.
"But in the midst of a battle you can't announce that you've built an airstrip or an advance base because you don't want to let your enemy know that. So no one heard about it," said Kuebler.
And like Kuebler's father, Arthur Kuebler, few talked about it later. "They'd start in full combat conditions and keep working amid the remnants of war, like land mines, booby traps, and enemy hidden in caves. That's why these guys don't talk. They saw some awful stuff," said Kuebler.
But as the child of a veteran, Kuebler won the sympathy of many Seabees who eventually opened up and gave her enough information to fill the book she's writing.
"One day I'll finish it. But there's a Seabee saying: 'The impossible takes a little longer.' " said Kuebler, a specimen analyst at Mass. General.
For now, Kuebler just wants people to recognize the contribution the Seabees made, and are still making in places like Iraq. In particular, she'd like former Seabee Peter Marra to finally be heard.
"Although the 133d NCB was fully landed [at Iwo Jima] on D-Day and they had the highest casualty rate and killed in action rate of any Seabee unit in history, they were not included in the Presidential Unit Citation given to the Fourth Marine Division, she said.
"They were forgotten, and to this day, Marra, a veteran from that battalion, has been petitioning to get the Seabees included with no success. He's just one guy in his 80s typing these letters with one finger, and I don't know how much longer he can keep it up. It really breaks my heart."
Diane Kuebler presents "The Seabees of Iwo Jima" 7:30 tonight, Weston Public Library, 87 School St., Weston. Coming up: 7:30 p.m. Oct. 18, "1775: We Stood Our Ground," with Alexander Cain; 7:30 p.m. Nov. 15, "Flying Tigers in China, 1941-42," with Joe Poshefko. Free. Call 781-893-3312 or visit westonmilitary.org.
OPERA GOES HIGH-TECH: If every digital link works, Sunday's live simulcast of Washington National Opera's edgy new production of "La Bohème" will be the largest simultaneous viewing of an opera in history. Some 45,000 viewers are expected to turn up at satellite locations nationwide to watch this famous tale of ambition, love, jealousy, and sorrow, and locals are invited to a free screening at Wellesley College. "This is very exciting," said Gurminder Bhogal, assistant professor of music at the college. "How often do you get a chance to see world class performers singing one of Puccini's best and most-loved operas in Wellesley? And this production is really supposed to be quite something." La Bohème simulcast Sunday, 2-4:30 p.m., at Wellesley College. Free. Tickets available at the Wang Campus Center info desk 12:30-6:30 p.m. Monday-Saturday and day of show until 1:30 p.m. Call 781-283-2028 or 781-283-2063. Directions at http://www.wellesley.edu.
AN UNDERSTUDY NO MORE: Before the late Jonathan Larson penned his ground-breaking Broadway hit "Rent," he wrote an autobiographical rock musical about a 30-year-old waiter struggling to write the next great American musical. With clever lyrics, inspirational themes, and a good dose of humor, Larson's "tick, tick . . . BOOM!" is all about reaching for your dreams. So we find it all the more fitting that this Black Box Theater production by New Repertory Theater in Watertown stars Aimee Doherty, the understudy who so artfully stepped into the lead role of New Rep's "The Wild Party" at the last minute this spring. "tick, tick . . . BOOM!" Saturday through Oct. 21 at New Rep's Black Box Theater, 321 Arsenal St., Watertown. Tickets: $10-$30. Call 617-923-8487 or visit www.newrep.org.
FAIR GAME: Fifty acres of rolling fields, all-day entertainment, countless animals, and loads of country fun await at the annual Bolton Fair. What more could you want, except perhaps a juried craft fair with 100 exhibitors, a farmer's market, fireworks, and a few wholesome pie-baking contests, which, of course, you'll find there, too. This year's entertainment includes cloggers, alternative country music with Duncan Walters, and Bolton's own "dad band" Tan Odyssey (on Friday). Or just stop by the agriculture exhibits to hear the sweet sound of the livestock. The Bolton Fair: Saturday, 9 a.m.-11 p.m.; Sunday, 9 a.m.-6 p.m., at the Bolton Fairgrounds on Route 117. Rides tonight and Friday from 4:45 to 9 p.m. Fair admission: $8; seniors $6; children 7-12 $5; under 6 free. Call 978-779-6253 or visit www.boltonfair.org for information and directions.
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