Story by Jerry (Buff) Buffington.
I served in MCB 40 in ‘68-’70. In Phu Bai I worked in the heavy equipment shop helping to keep the equipment running through the deployment. It was not an
easy job. but we had a good crew.
After we came back to the states, I served the rest of my time training and working in Seabee Team 4003, detached from the main Battalion of MCB 40. In February of ‘70 we were deployed to Truk district, Moen Island, in the Eastern Carolina Islands to do some civic action work.
When we got there, there was no usable water and the people were drinking polluted water from a rain water catchment that had moss and scum floating on the top. Also they drank coconut milk to survive. There was a lot of dysentery. We survived on soda pop, beer and coconut milk. Coconut milk is a mild laxative so we had the trots a lot.
They had a civilian well driller on the island, so Gary Halpain and I went to visit him to see how he was doing. He showed us a pile of wornout drill bits and said he hadn’t had any luck yet. He said he had been drilling through solid rock so far. At some time later he did hit water.
One late evening Chief Bowling was soaking wet with sweat and said “WE ARE GOING TO FIND SOME WATER HERE!” So he went out back of the Quonset hut where we lived, cut a Y-shaped branch from a bush and was searching around for the right place to find water. I was with him while he was doing this, we had had a few too many beers and I thought it was a joke, I thought to myself this is crazy it will never work! Then the Chief said the stick went down and that’s where we are going to dig tomorrow. So we marked the spot, and called it a night. The next morning the Chief said the first job is the dig down in that spot to find water. So Howard Mayle and Stephen Motsinger got the back hoe and started to dig down as far as the back hoe would go, and just as it got far as it would go, water started to come in the hole! If I hadn’t seen it with my own eyes I wouldn’t have believed it! So we took three fifty-five gallon drums, knocked the ends out and James Halfkenny welded them together for a casing. We set it in place, filled in around it and shoveled in some crushed rock. We had a pump so we pumped the water out until it was clean, Tom Kerfonta made sure everything was set in its proper place, all under the directions of the Chief.
Lt. Bellefronto sent a sample of the water to either Guam or Saipan, I can‘t remember. When the report came back it said “We don‘t know how you did it. but with lite chlorination it will be drinkable!” So they sent us a filter system and Lester Hofacker set it up and got it up and running. The builders Duane Baier and Jim May built a concrete reservoir. Fresh water was to be had!!
I might not have all the names and details exactly correct. but it is a good example of Seabee ingenuity. We worked as a team and everyone took part. No matter how tough things got, spirits were usually high. Doc Pike and Ted Caron could always get everyone laughing. Special thanks to Doc Pike, who took good care of us!
The Team drained and cleaned up the existing water catchments and got them ready for when the rains came. Also Duane Baier went to one of the other islands in the district and made water catchments for a mission.
More later— Jerry (Buff) Buffington