Seabee’s seashells bring joy 70 years after war

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Noticing in The Advocate recently that the Louisiana Malacological Society was holding its annual show over the weekend, I remembered the small, olive-drab metal box under my workbench.

For the uninformed, like me, “malacological” means seashells.

When my parents died in 1963, among the things we kept was a collection of seashells my father had picked up on the beaches of Guadalcanal in 1942 and ’43. That was one of the South Pacific islands U.S. forces invaded, driving the Japanese back into the mountains so the Navy Seabees could build a landing strip for our Marine pilots.

Dad, J.O. Cannon, was a chief petty officer in the 47th Naval Construction Battalion, the Seabees. He didn’t need to be on that island. He was 48 years old at that time. He had been in World War I, and when Pearl Harbor was bombed, I remember sitting in our kitchen when he told the family he was returning to active duty.

Dad had been a member of the Naval Reserve for all those years between his discharge in 1918 to 1941. Because of his age, the only military service that allowed him active duty was the Seabees, the construction battalions of the Navy, which complete hundreds of construction projects all over the world each year. The Seabees stood among the most capable construction workers on Earth.

On Guadalcanal, his unit had to survive daily bombings and assaults from air and ground to keep the air base, Henderson Field, open for retaliation raids, mostly by Marine pilots.

Back to the seashells.

I have no idea when Dad had time to walk the beach and pick up the shells. There are about 100 of them crammed into a brown, metal ammunition box. On top is stenciled his name in faded white paint.

On the Saturday morning of the two-day shell show, I looked for and found the box under my workbench, dusted it off and took it to the Independence Park Garden Center. A very gracious lady met me. I explained I wasn’t a member of the society and showed her what I had.

She made a place for me to exhibit the box and collection near the front door. I spent a couple of hours there both Saturday and Sunday. The reception given my “exhibit” was very gratifying. I know nothing about shells. Those examining dad’s collection “oohed and aahed,” calling many of the shells by proper names I had never heard before.

I gave a little spiel, including the fact that my brother Laurence was on the USS Enterprise (CV-6) and USS Boise (CL-47) during the famous naval battle with the Japanese in the nearby gulf. He and dad were within 40 miles of each other, but, of course, didn’t realize it.

I served in the Atlantic during my stint in the Navy. Mom was home with Rex, our dog.

It was very gratifying to me to have my father’s collection admired — 72 years after he had walked the beaches of Guadalcanal. The very kind words from those who viewed them over the weekend and their comment — “Thanks for your service” — made my eyes teary.

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