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Durham Navy Veteran Celebrates His 100th Birthday

Members of the 1st Naval Constuction Battalion on Bora Bora during World War II.
U.S. Navy Seabee Museum

Durham resident and Navy veteran Jerry Smith turns 100 years old on Tuesday, and he’ll have what is likely to be his biggest birthday bash yet.  The North Carolina Executive Mansion is hosting a party for Mr. Smith to honor his service as a Navy Seabee during World War II. Attendees include Lt. Gov. Dan Forest, Senator Richard Burr, Rear Adm. Douglas Morton, as well as other Naval Commanders and Army Maj. Gen. Greg Lusk.

Jerry Smith was a “plank owner,” in the First Naval Construction Battalion, meaning that he was a crew member of a ship when it was placed in commission. He was 28 years old at the time, and served from January 1942 until September 1945.

The Navy Seabees, also known as the Naval Construction Force, were commissioned during World War II to build American bases on the Pacific Islands. Before the existence of the Seabees, the Navy contracted civilians to build its bases. When the U.S. officially entered the war 1941, the Navy had to stop using civilian contractors because of an international law that prohibits civilians from resisting enemy military attack. In 1942 a Naval Construction Regiment comprised of three battalions was formed. The name Seabee comes from the abbreviation “CB,” for Construction Battalion.

Laura moved from Chattanooga to Chapel Hill in 2013 to join WUNC as a web producer. She graduated from the Salt Institute for Documentary Studies in the spring of 2012 and has created radio and multimedia stories for a variety of outlets, including Marketplace, Prairie Public, and Maine Public Broadcasting. When she's not out hunting stories, you can usually find her playing the fiddle.
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