ELM GROVE, W.Va. (WTRF) – Do you know what a Seabee is? Neither did Wally McMasters until he joined the Navy. 

Where there’s a war you’ll find Seabees.

We came into existence in World War II because they needed construction people and they were using civilians. Civilians were forbidden to fight in a war and they said ‘hey we gotta make somebody that will defend themselves’. That’s where the Seabees were born.

Wally McMasters, Veteran

During the Vietnam War, McMasters was one of them. After graduating from high school he knew the draft was in place. Instead of waiting for his number to come up, he enlisted in 1968.

We’d have dinnertime and you could see the American people watching their sons and daughters die during dinner and it was a very frightening thing. So, I was faced with the draft and I talked to the Navy recruiter and he said ‘oh yes’. He said ‘we’ll put you on a ship, send you around the world and you’ll probably never get to see Vietnam’.

Wally McMasters, Veteran

McMasters signed for four years and was sent to boot camp at Great Lakes, Illinois. Afterwards, he was assigned to a Seabee unit and realized his role in the Navy would be a bit different.

Here I was issued new clothes and everything was green. I thought ‘I think there’s a mistake here. I joined the Navy. I need blue clothes’. And they said ‘no, you joined the Seabees. You get green clothes’.

Wally McMasters, Veteran

The Seabees are a Navy construction battalion and did most of the construction for the Marine Corps, which explained the green clothing.

McMasters went to electrician school and AIT training before he was deployed to Vietnam in the Spring of 1969, a time he said was part of the deadliest year of the Vietnam War.

On Easter Sunday we had a working party and we had to help with casualties, sending them home. That’s when I realized, it really set in, people could get hurt over here. People could get killed.

Wally McMasters, Veteran

McMasters spent most of his deployment stationed on a forward combat base with the Marines taking care of the base power systems, communications and generators.

I worked on the line crew. The only problem with that in Vietnam is you’re up on a telephone pole and it’s a pretty easy target. You’re kind of nervous up on the telephone pole with snipers around.

Wally McMasters, Veteran

He also had to stand watch.

I’ve never found an atheist in a bunker. I’ve never heard anyone deny the presence of a deity. I heard “Lord have mercy”, “Get me out of this and I swear I won’t do it again”. That’s why I think I came back to my roots.

I was on bunker watch one night. There was all woods and everything. All of the sudden the entire sky lit up. I’d like to die. I thought ‘this is it big boy’. The Marine said ‘don’t worry about that, that’s the B52s’. When they dropped a load of bombs it just lit the entire horizon up. I just couldn’t imagine the devastation.

Wally McMasters, Veteran

McMasters recalls he lived through rocket attacks and ground attacks while deployed.

Some of our day employees, like the Vietnamese employees who would clean, would be VC (Viet Cong) at night. We would find them in the wire the next day. That was kinda interesting, frightening if you will.

Wally McMasters, Veteran

After his initial deployment, McMasters extended his service in the country. He went home for 30-days and returned to the country to be part of a Naval Civil Action Beam doing Vietnamization, helping establish housing for the Vietnamese people. 

I was no longer an electrician. That’s when you become a carpenter. You become a mud mixer and a brick layer and whatever had to be done.

Wally McMasters, Veteran

He finally came home for good at the end of 1970. McMasters said despite the lingering impact of his time in the military, he’s proud to have served. 

I just did what my country needed me to do, which in my day, that’s what you did.

I don’t know if I would of had such a wonderful life if I hadn’t gone to Vietnam and grown up because that teaches you.

Wally McMasters, Veteran

After leaving the Navy, McMasters worked in the coal mines. He became a special investigations supervisor for much of his career, and was on the investigation team when the Upper Big Branch mine disaster occurred.

Now, McMasters said he has the best job in the world, helping out with his two granddaughters. 

He’s also an active member and one of the leaders of the VFW Post 4442 in Elm Grove.