Seabee Book: Southeast Asia: Building the Bases by Richard Tregaskis

Richard Tregaskis is best known as the pioneering war correspondent who wrote the famed book, Guadalcanal Diary, a blend of memoir and war reporting based on his time as an on-the-ground correspondent in the long, pivotal, bloody, 1942-43 World War II battle in the South Pacific. Tregaskis, who died in 1973, went on to cover other World War II action, as well as the American wars in Korea and Vietnam. In Vietnam Diary (1963), Tregaskis emulated his earlier work with his take on the early years of the Vietnam War, again featuring hard-hitting, first-person, in-the-trenches war reporting.

Both of Tregaskis’s “diary” books may be classified as patriotic accounts that emphasize positive aspects of the U.S. war efforts. That also is the case of his other, very different, Vietnam War book, the awkwardly titled Seabee Book: Southeast Asia: Building the Bases: The History of Construction in Southeast Asia, which was published in 1975 by the U.S. Government Printing Office, and now is available in a new paperback edition from CreateSpace (484 pp., $24.95).

In it, Tregaskis presents a detailed account of what Edward J. Sheridan, the former Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense, calls in the book’s introduction, “the largest single effort in military construction history.” That would be the building by the famed U.S. Navy Seabees of a massive number of ports, airfields, bridges, hospitals, storage facilities, and other projects in Vietnam from 1962-72 during the American war. It’s all here, complete with plenty of photos, maps and charts. 

Here’s one example of Tregaskis’s writing style and his slant on the Seabees: “For an expression of the ‘Can Do’ spirit of Seabees in the most primitive circumstances and against enemy opposition, the construction of Quang Tri airfield in this period [late 1966] was outstanding. This ‘landlord’ or ‘Public Works’ job which included transportation, maintenance and utilities, was handled by the Navy’s Headquarters Support Activity (HEDSUPPACT). The HSA Public Works Department was comprised of Seabees and Vietnamese civilians with a small U.S. civilian group.”

—Marc Leepson

Richard Tregaskis in Vietnam