Canfield veteran’s skills welcomed in Navy

Canfield veteran’s skills welcomed in Navy
SEP 23, 2019.

CANFIELD — During World War II, it was vital that soldiers who faced countless perils during daily combat needed to be properly equipped, prepared and protected.

It also was of supreme importance that they were able to effectively maneuver and get from one place to another as efficiently as possible.

That’s where those with specialized skills such as Daryl G. Duffett came in.

“I went in the (Navy) Seabees as a fireman second class, the construction unit,” remembered Duffett, 97, who served three years as a Seabee from January 1943 to January 1946.

When the U.S. officially entered the war, the use of civilian contractors stopped, largely so they wouldn’t be in harm’s way, noted Duffett, who graduated in 1940 from the former Townsend High School in Vickery. So in 1942, the first unit of Seabees — construction battalions — was formed that consisted of electricians, plumbers, craftsmen, carpenters, equipment operators and other highly skilled tradesmen for construction and combat purposes.

Duffett spoke recently from his daughter’s Canfield residence about his time as a Seabee.

The World War II veteran learned at an early age to operate a crane in an area steel mill. He originally wanted to be a pilot, but didn’t pass a required test, Duffett remembered.

After undergoing his training at Camp Bradford, R.I., Duffett sailed from Hoboken, N.J., to Algiers, North Africa in April 1943, a trip that took about 30 days, he recalled. While in the Africa Theater for about eight months, he was assigned to a landing ship, tank (LST), a flat-bottom hull that typically carried tanks and mobile equipment.

He helped build pontoon causeways, bridges and runways to get men and supplies ashore in advance of the planned invasion of Sicily, Italy, before returning to New York City on leave Dec. 25, 1943.

“It was the best Christmas present I could have,” he said.

Additional skills Duffett acquired included learning to operate a highly sophisticated bucket crane and, in diving school, how to weld underwater with a specialized piece of equipment that blew water away from the work area.

After spending a short time at a camp near San Francisco, Duffett was sent in October 1944 to Pearl Harbor, where his duties for nearly two months consisted mainly of building 1,800-square-foot pontoon barges for the planned invasion of Iwo Jima, Japan. Soon after, he was assigned to LST 929 to help load Marine units, he continued.

Duffett recalled that one of the biggest honors of being aboard LST 929 was meeting Marine Gunnery Sgt. John Basilone, who was killed Feb. 19, 1945, in Iwo Jima. Basilone was the first Marine to be awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor, Duffett noted.

“I spent 14 days in Iwo Jima. Three Marine divisions were there, one with heavy casualties. About 7,000 Marines were killed and 13,000 wounded,” he said about the bloody 36-day battle there.

Between that time and when atomic bombs were dropped Aug. 6 and 9, 1945, on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, respectively, Duffett spent 15 days in Okinawa to help carry supplies in advance of a planned invasion there. For about a month afterward, he was in Ie Shima, where on April 18, 1945, a Japanese sniper killed 44-year-old Ernest T. Pyle, a Pulitzer Prize-winning American war correspondent and journalist.

In addition, Duffett helped pick up Army troops in the Philippines before a planned invasion of Japan, then returned to Guam in May 1945 to build pontoon barges, he remembered.

After being discharged Jan. 14, 1946, and returning home, the WWII veteran spent many years as an operating engineer and crane operator. He helped construct several well-known area landmarks such as the General Motors Complex in Lordstown and the William F. Maag Jr. Library on the Youngstown State University campus.

In recent years, Duffett’s service certainly has been remembered and appreciated throughout the Mahoning Valley.

In 2016, he spoke during a special program at the Youngstown Air Reserve Station in Vienna to honor Marines. The next year, he was the first Navy Seabee to speak at a D-Day service in Conneaut, and in 2018, he was grand marshal of the annual Ellsworth Memorial Day Parade.

He’s also shared his military experiences with students at a number of area elementary and high schools and continues to do so.

In addition, his son-in-law, Paul Boucherle of Canfield, served six years in the Marines and Reserves that included combat in the Vietnam War.

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