Connolly recalls service as Navy Seabee during WWII
Editor’s note: This article is part of The Inter-Mountain’s Unsung Heroes series for 2018, which features veterans in our area sharing first-hand accounts of their military service.
ELKINS — A 97-year-old Elkins man recalled his time as a Navy Seabee during World War II.
Lee Connolly enlisted in the United States Navy on Nov. 2, 1942, after the attack on Pearl Harbor, and was a member of the 6th Special Naval Construction Battalion, Section 2.
He said he enlisted in the Navy after leaving a movie theater and noticing a mobile enlistment bus.
“I went to a movie one night — I lived in northern Virginia — I went to a movie and when the movie was over and I went out, there was a mobile Navy recruiting station on wheels,” Connolly said. “I went aboard of that to enlist, and they found some things they could use to my advantage to get me to enlist in the Navy so I said ‘Well, sure, let’s do that.’ I was enlisted as a second-class storekeeper.
Following basic training at Camp Peary, Virginia, Connolly received additional training in Hueneme, California, prior to being sent to the South Pacific during World War II on Jan. 4, 1943.
“I didn’t go in until after the war started, and the war ended while I was there,” he said. “I enlisted in the Navy Seabees and I was assigned to the 6th Special Construction Battalion, Section 2. That’s where I served, and I went wherever they sent me. They sent me overseas for training, and they sent me to the Solomon Islands, to Guadalcanal, and we were attached to the 1st Marine Amphibious Corps. That was a series of island hopping, and the last island I was on was the island of Mbanika.”
Initially, his duties included payroll, but he then took on additional duties including unloading ships using a land craft vehicle — everything from barrels of fuel to other war materials.
Connolly said his biggest memory from his time in the service was getting a call that his best friend from home had been killed while also serving. He added he didn’t know how the caller knew where he was or how to reach him.
“I had a good friend that was killed in the Army. My childhood friend, my best friend in life, enlisted in the Army, and he was in Europe somewhere fighting the Germans, and he was shot and killed so, some period of time later, I got a call from someone I didn’t know and didn’t know me, telling me Nick had been killed,” Connolly recalled. “He got shot advancing on the Germans when he climbed over a fence. What the caller was telling me is if Nick had gone under the fence, he would have undoubtedly lived to tell about it.
“How he got my name — I was in the service — and all that, I don’t know, but he did, and he told me that Nick died that way,” he continued. “That was really my single-most memory in all of the war.”
Connolly said it was his duty to serve in the military.
“It was just my duty to myself and my duty to my country,” Connolly said.
Connolly explained that his last rank in the Navy was lower than his previous rank, which he voluntarily accepted, as he was given the opportunity to go to the V-12 Navy College Training Program at the University of North Carolina in Chapel Hill, North Carolina.
“My last rank was an apprentice seamen. That’s as low as you can get because I was in training,” Connolly said. “I voluntarily accepted that lowest rank so I could participate in that training program because it consisted of civilians right off the street as well as some they had chosen from the service already.”
After discharging from the Navy, Connolly returned to the University of North Carolina where he earned a degree in accounting.
“When I became able to discharge, I took it. I returned to the University of North Carolina as a civilian. I wasn’t taking anymore Naval Science courses, but I was taking my general college courses that I needed,” Connolly said.
Connolly was born in Roanoke, Virginia, and later lived in Charleston, before settling down in Elkins in 1959.
After graduating from the University of North Carolina, Connolly took a job with American Tobacco Co. in Reidsville, North Carolina.
Connolly then served as a special agent with the Federal Bureau of Investigations for 26 years before retiring and becoming self-employed as an examiner for the Judicial Investigative Commission for the Supreme Court of Appeals.
Connolly has two daughters — Joan Connolly Traynelis and Karen Connolly.