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From the Navy to the White House

From the Navy to the White House

By William L. Ball, III
67th Secretary of the Navy, 1988-1989
Seabee Diamond Anniversary Ambassador

Serving in the U.S. Navy was a great privilege, with my acceptance into the Navy ROTC program at Georgia Tech some 50 years ago, and continuing with my years of active duty as a surface warfare officer on the USS Sellers, DDG-11, and later at the Pentagon. That experience, combined with ten years on the U.S. Senate staff and two years as a senior assistant to President Ronald Reagan at the White House, led to my appointment by the President as his third Navy Secretary in 1988.

From my earliest years in school, I had always planned on joining the Navy. My father was commissioned as a Navy chaplain, serving in the Pacific War from 1942 to 1946. He was assigned to the 93rd Naval Construction Battalion, serving alongside the Seabees. A highlight of his service was when the men of the 93rd found a way to build a chapel for their compound in the recently liberated Philippine Islands. According to Dad the chapel served its purpose well.

Chaplain Ball

Chaplain William L. Ball Junior during WWII

Chaplain Ball conducting a funeral service in the Pacific Islands

The chapel built by the men of the 93rd Naval Construction Battalion

The interior of the chapel built by Seabees in the Philippine Islands

Our present generation of Seabees upholds this tradition, deploying around the world to carry out critical missions in areas of conflict and lending a hand in remote locations where our presence and expertise makes a difference. That’s why I’m a strong supporter of the Seabees. And it’s why I’ve joined the campaign to raise money for the U. S. Navy Seabee Museum in Port Hueneme, CA.

It’s no secret that President Reagan also had great admiration for the Seabees. As a former California governor he was familiar with their activities and “Can Do” spirit. The President and actor John Wayne were good friends from their days in Hollywood, and I imagine that John Wayne’s image was on the screen in the White House theater when the first family enjoyed an occasional movie with friends.

The Reagans became even more closely tied with the Seabees at Camp David. This presidential retreat is operated as a Navy installation and the sailors who maintain it are primarily Seabees. The Reagans spent as many weekends as they could manage at Camp David and the Seabees took great care of them. The President and First Lady particularly enjoyed escaping to Camp David just before Christmas. They would pose for photos by the holiday tree with every Seabee who was stationed there. It was the Reagans’ way of showing thanks for all the Seabees did.

Sadly, Nancy Reagan passed away in March. I attended her funeral along with retired CDR Jim Broaddus, who serves on the Board of Trustees of the CEC/Seabee Historical Foundation and his wife Kay. Jim was the OIC at Camp David for three years during the Reagan presidency. It’s fitting that a distinguished Seabee leader was at the Reagan Library to pay his respects to this First Lady who, with her husband, was so mindful of all the Seabees’ service to the presidency and to our country.

Will Ball, III with President Reagan and Vice President Bush in the Oval Office reviewing the results of a key vote in Congress in 1986.

A photo of then Secretary of the Navy, Will Ball, III, when he was visiting the Seahawks of VP-23 in 1988.

To commemorate the Seabees’ 75th Anniversary, the CEC/Seabee Historical Foundation has launched a Diamond Anniversary Campaign focused on securing funds to install major new exhibits in the U.S. Navy Seabee Museum that will educate Americans about the Seabees’ many accomplishments. Please consider contributing to this campaign and supporting the Seabees’ “Can Do” legacy.

I support this project because I believe it’s vitally important to promote naval history for young people and for generations to come. We have all been touched by the extraordinary accomplishments of the Seabees. A contribution to this campaign will help keep their history alive.

Click here to make a contribution.

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