Howard “Pike” Seavey – Korea and Vietnam

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Howard "Pike" Seavey served in the Marines for 20 years as a communications specialist.

By Lura Jackson

 

What happens when you take an archetypal Maine woodsman and send him to the military? In the case of Howard “Pike” Seavey of Alexander, he would carry with him with characteristically hard-working values and master his assigned duties as a communications specialist, becoming in charge of unit after unit on bases located all over the world. 

 Seavey was born and raised in Crawford as one of sixteen children. At 12 years old, he started working in the woods as a lumberjack with his oldest brother. After six years, he began to reassess his situation, in part through reflecting on his brother. “As a young man, he was all used up. That told me I’d be the same way.” He decided to follow the example of his sister, who served during World War II, and join the military. The Marines were his chosen branch of service. The day after enlisting, he was on his way to boot camp at Paris Island, South Carolina. 

“At the time, 1949, most of us around here had never been anywhere or done anything,” Seavey recalls. While a novelty in its location, boot camp proved to be no challenge physically. “I’d been working in the woods, so boot camp was almost a picnic,” Seavey said. “It was simple and easy for me.” Having never been to secondary education, learning all of the new procedures was more difficult, but Seavey persevered and became adept under the disciplining force of the Marines. 

There was a need for communications people in the service, specifically ones that could master teletyping, and Seavey was summarily sent to Washington, D.C. to learn the skill. “I’d never had experience with it, but I said I’d give it a try,” Seavey said. For three years, Seavey worked in the communications office in D.C., learning how to send encoded messages to forces all over the world. The Korean War was in full swing during that time period, and teletypists were critical in relaying crucial messages that included troop movements and bombing locations.

The opportunity to go to Korea soon came up, and Seavey took it. “I thought that would be something different, and it was,” Seavey recalls. While there, he trained the South Korean forces in a kind of Westernized boot camp to prepare them to face their Communist adversaries.

From Korea, Seavey was transferred back to San Francisco to serve in the West Coast headquarters of the marines in the teletype office. “It was a pretty busy place,” Seavey recalls. “When you’re working in any of these communication offices, it’s an around-the-clock affair.” 

While in San Francisco, Seavey met and married his first wife, and together they started a family. After three years in the San Francisco office, he was sent to Camp Pendleton, California, where he was put in charge of communications for the 1st Marine Division. He was then drafted into the Naval Security Corps, a highly classified communications unit that required an additional six weeks of training.

After training and serving in California, Seavey was deployed to the coast of Morocco, where he would remain for two and a half years. Despite the exotic locale, Seavey remembers his term in North Africa as being “pretty much the same as it is anywhere – it was just on the other side of the Atlantic.” As a communications specialist, Seavey worked long hours in the office, including some stretches of 18-hour days, seven days a week. In his scant off-time, Seavey participated in sports on the marine base, including managing a few softball teams. “I had some fun with it,” he recalls.

From Morocco, Seavey returned to D.C. He was again put in charge of a small communications outfit sending encrypted messages, and he did additional work for the G-2 Intelligence office. As the only enlisted man in the office, he was “essentially a helper for the officers”. He worked directly with one officer that was a Major at the time; later, the same officer would become promoted to a four-star General. “He was one smart bird, no doubt about it,” Seavey said.

Three years later, Seavey transferred again, this time to Japan. “That was a real good tour of duty,” Seavey recalls. “There was a lot more to do there as a family.” Once again, however, he was working long hours and stayed mainly on the base playing sports. “My wife was more interested in sightseeing. It wasn’t my bag. I wasn’t interested in the time,” Seavey said. He explained how he was 18 miles away from Tokyo while in Japan for three years, but he never made it out to see it. “That’s something I’m awful sorry about now.”

The long hours in the office suited Seavey fine at the time. “About all the time I was in the Corps, I was a workaholic,” he said. “I got well-rewarded for that in my military career, however.” In Japan, he was once again at the top of the enlisted men in his outfit, with as many as 235 people in his command. 

Japan offered another new experience for the relatively young Seavey as well. He was stationed with the Navy while there, with only about 80 or so marines onsite with him. “That was completely different,” Seavey said. “It’s different in the way we operate, and expect things. Some of the sailors weren’t too happy working for me, but we got the job done.”

After three years in Japan, Seavey and his family moved to Hawaii, returning to a post with the Marines. “That was a great duty, I had a lot more time to myself and my family,” Seavey recalls. He was in charge of a small teletype office at the time, but he wound up taking on other responsibilities as well. The base had a big vault of highly classified materials that were not well organized, and Seavey agreed to reorganize it and improve the accountability of the base. 

Seavey’s unit, the 1st Radio Battalion, was soon deployed to Vietnam. To do so, every member of the unit had to pass a physical. Seavey wanted to serve in combat as he knew it would help him reach E-9, the highest rank of an enlisted man; unfortunately, he was unable to pass the physical due to issues with his ears. He requested a special waiver from D.C., which was granted, and he deployed with his unit.

In Vietnam, however, Seavey was not able to stay for very long. Within a week, he acquired a persistent fungus in his ears that hampered his health. He was treated initially at the military hospital without success, then sent to Guam to its hospital. While there, the infection cleared up, but Seavey was prohibited from rejoining his unit. He was sent back to the states, where he would spend six months in a Philadelphia hospital recovering. Afterwards, he resolved that it was time to retire. 

Seavey returned to Washington County to rejoin his wife and family in Woodland. He worked at the mill for three years before deciding it was time to move on to something new, and he became the owner of Main Street Shell/Exxon gas station. “That was a new challenge, too, but I always wanted to do mechanic work. I always liked to be busy doing something.” He put in a lot of hours at the garage, as was his custom. After three years, having been divorced, he again decided it was time for something new. 

Seavey began working for the Maine Department of Transportation, working mainly on the roads in Woodland. He remarried, this time to Maxine Yattaw, on January 1st, 1976. Maxine was a passionate advocate for children and brought foster children with her into the marriage, one of which they would officially adopt. Seavey and Maxine built a home for themselves in Alexander, and over the years of their time together they would welcome over a hundred foster children into their home. Maxine was named Maine Foster Parent of the Year in 1986. Seavey and Maxine adopted two more children, bringing the total number of children in the family to eight.

Three of Seavey’s sons went on to join the military, although rather than following in the footsteps of their father and becoming Marines, they opted to enlist in the Navy, specifically to serve on submarines. “They had pretty good goods in them, but obviously not enough to be Marines,” Seavey said with a laugh. “That’s always been a joke between them and me.” Seavey acknowledged that service people always stick up for their particular branch, and went on to advocate for the Marines as being the “most strict and well-trained branch”, outside of a few special units in the other branches. 

 

“If I had to do it all over again, I’d do it the same, other than a few little different things,” Seavey said. “I’d take the same route.” Seavey ardently believes that his service made him a better person, and he said that all men in the country should be made to serve for at least two years. “There’s an awful lot to be learned that people don’t know and don’t realize.”