Navy Seabee Foundation

One of the Great Things of My Life


by Bob Wolff

Longest-running Radio and TV Broadcaster/Sportscaster in History
Seabee Diamond Anniversary Ambassador

Editor’s Note: Bob Wolff passed away at his home in South Nyack, NY, on July 15th, 2017, less than two months after this article was published. He was 96 years old and is survived by Jane, his wife of 72 years, and their three children, nine grandchildren and 11 great-grandchildren. We extend our sympathy to Bob’s family, and to the many people everywhere who will miss him. He has the enduring respect and thanks of the Seabees and the U.S. Navy. We salute his service.  

Memorial Day 2017 is an important moment in a milestone year for the U.S. Navy Seabees, as we salute this proud group of American heroes marking 75 years of service.  But I have a few years on the Seabees!  At the age of 96, I can look back at decades of amazing experiences, and my connection with the Seabees is one of the great things of my life.  While this Diamond Anniversary is a wonderful time to reflect, it’s also a chance to look at the Seabees of today — and tomorrow — and strengthen their future by supporting the CEC/Seabee Historical Foundation.

The Seabees came into my life in a most unusual way. World War II and my senior year at Duke University coincided, and a young guy like me was going to be a part of the war one way or another. As fate had it, I was already an entertainer and sportscaster, doing what I loved.  I’d worked my way through school as a radio announcer, and became a part of variety shows that were selling out the campus theatre.  I sang with the campus jazz band, and before long I was in demand to make public appearances and go on tour.

Through a series of chances and choices, I wound up commissioned by the Navy to be an officer in the Supply Corps. When I graduated, the Supply Corps said, “This is the guy we want.”  But what did they want me for?  I had two choices at the time:  take care of the books and the money, or be an entertainer.  You can guess which one I went for!  Thanks to that opportunity to be an entertainer with the Navy, I got to work with Charles Laughton, one of the great stars of the day, and with plenty of beautiful women from Hollywood, who brought a little glamour to our show.

Bob in the Solomon Islands in 1944

Then, fate stepped in again, and my wartime path turned toward the Seabees. I knew nothing about the Seabees when I started out, but soon learned these servicemen were remarkable at what they did. They could take a remote island and transform it all by themselves, doing everything needed to make it livable.

That didn’t mean it was easy.  The Navy sent me to Harvard for a brief Supply School course where I learned how to operate on and support a ship.  My first assignment after that though was to go out with the Seabees to the Solomon Islands, and build a jungle base from scratch.  But that training course I’d taken was not about what to do on land, but at sea!  That Seabees ‘Can Do’ attitude was contagious, and soon we were figuring out how to secure food, water, shelter and other basics of life in this desolate space.  There was no instruction manual.  And that’s where the contribution I’m proudest of comes in.

Out there in the jungle, I thought, “You know, I’d better take notes every day because there’s nothing in the Navy manual that said to do it this way.”  So I started every day with my notes of what to do.  At the same time, I had a photographer with me, and I said, “I want you to take a picture of every single thing I do every single day.”  And at the end of every day I looked at his pictures and started writing chapters.  I persevered, eventually convincing the right people that I had the answers to the questions What do you do on an advance base and how do you do it?  My book was printed, the ideas and information became standard operating procedure, and the manual became part of Navy history.

1944, with the 11th Special Battalion on the Island of Banika, in the Solomon Islands

Along the way, I became close friends with many members of the Seabees.  They were all skilled craftsmen of the highest order.  And they were nice guys.  But that didn’t mean I wasn’t terribly lonely and, for me, being lonely and far from home, doing your job for your country somewhere in the middle of the Pacific, remains an indelible memory of war.

Back home, before deploying, I’d met a lovely Navy nurse by the name of Jane Hoy.  All I could think about was getting back to see her.  Day after day, she wrote to me, helping keep my spirits high and my hope alive.  When I look back on all the good things that have happened in my life, there’s no question that my experience with the Seabees ranks among the greatest, and it certainly charted my course. I’m proud to have left the Navy having attained the rank of Lieutenant (Senior Grade).

Bob and Jane Wolff, Married in 1945 at the Naval Chapel in Bethesda, MD

The Wolffs with their children and grandchildren

That Navy nurse was waiting for me when I got back home, and I’m delighted to say Jane and I have been married for 72 years — the proud parents of three wonderful children, grandparents of nine and great-grandparents of 11.  I simply would not have the family, career and life that I love had it not been for the Navy and the Seabees.

I’ve traveled the world, been fortunate to meet fascinating people, been honored by more than one Hall of Fame, and am still active in broadcasting.  In fact, I’ve now been a sportscaster for 78 years, going back to 1939! But that time with the Seabees will always be one of my most treasured chapters, and to this day I have great affection for them.

Bob with Major League Baseball Hall of Famers Ted Williams, Willie Mays, Mickey Mantle,  and Yogi Berra

I’m sure many of you share that great affection, and I know that if you’ve been associated with the Seabees, you’ve been associated with the very best of America.  They are still going strong at home and abroad, in times of war, peace and natural disaster.  I hope on this Diamond Anniversary you’ll help to support the CEC/Seabee Historical Foundation.  They have always done a great job.  Now we can all do something for them. Together we can ensure that these Seabee stories are never forgotten and continue to inspire the next generation of ‘Can Do’ leaders!

  1. Vietnam Era Seabee, made two deployments, one to ChuLai, one to PhuBai. My story not as impressive as yours but I wouldn’t change it for the world. Assigned to NMCB40 , we still have yearly reunions around the country. You would make a great speaker at one of our reunions. Thanks for your broadcasting and for being a Seabee. “Can Do”.

  2. Thank you. My special Seabee husband was a proud one and would have enjoy your story!

  3. I am so proud of being a seabee in Vietnam ( MCB 9 )

  4. I was also in the Seabees in MCB4.I spent two tours in Viet Nam with the Seabees.I can echo the same sintaments you have for the Seabees.You are a inspiration for all Seabees.
    Larry Turner

  5. I spent 3years with MCB10 out of Port Hueneme as equipment operator some of the best years. A Seabee for life

  6. Nice story, I am also glad to have served in the Navy Seabees. Diego Garcia 1981.
    We build we fight, we party at night.

    • Nice story, I am also glad to have served in the Navy Seabees. Diego Garcia 1981.
      We build we fight, we party at night.

  7. Excellent story of a Seabee Officer.

  8. Thank You Bob Wolff for your service to our country.You were part of the great generation that saved this Country from a fate that a lot of the young people of today have no idea.I too was a Seabee from 1970-72 with NMCB62.I did not save the World, but in my own way I hope that I contributed to the good of the Country.Thanks again.

  9. Great story, very inspirational. I, too, look back at a Navy career and especially my time in Seabee commands. Ops officer, NMCB 9, deployed to Okinawa. 31st NCR as Equipment officer, two trips to Vietnam reviewing battalion equipment maintenance and readiness; XO NMCB3 deployed to Danang, 9 months; CO ACB 1 Coronado, California; Chief Staff Officer 31st NCR, Port Hueneme. Of all my Navy tours of duty, those with the Seabees were the finest. As Public Works Officer, NAS Sigonella, Sicily, the best part of the job was working with my Seabee detachment who were so talented and did so much of the work we had to do–no job too big or too complex.

  10. Great story, so inspirational. Vietnam era Seabee, MCB 9, MCB 3, 31st NCR, ACB 1.

  11. Great story from a great Seabee! I too, was a Seabee, 1965-1967, serving two tours in Chu Lai, Vietnam, one with MCB 4 and one with MCB 8, as a CEP3. So proud to be a part of a great group known as the U.S. Navy Seabees! Can Do!