Former Seabee pays tribute to fallen with custom motorcycle at California reunion

Story Number: NNS130924-20Release Date: 9/24/2013 3:43:00 PM
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By Andrea Howry, Naval Base Ventura County

PORT HUENEME, Calif. (NNS) -- Retired Equipment Operator 3rd Class Lynn "A.J." Poeppe spent three years in the Navy, the memories of which he poured into a rolling tribute displayed at a recent battalion reunion.

Retired Seabees who served with Naval Mobile Construction Battalion 3 during the battalion's long and storied history spent some time last month touring their old homeport at Naval Base Ventura County (NBVC) in Port Hueneme, Calif., and chatting about the days when they were younger and full of adventure.

Among the 145 people at the Sept. 19-22 reunion was retired Equipment Operator 3rd Class Lynn "A.J." Poeppe, who came from Iowa with a motorcycle he had restored as a tribute to the battalion.

Called the "NMCB 3 Vietnam Tribute Bike," the motorcycle has been featured in cycling shows and magazines.

Poeppe joined the Navy in 1966 and the battalion in 1967, retiring in 1969. Now 65, he spent some time in front of the Seabee Museum, recalling his time in Vietnam and explaining why he had the bike restored.

"I lost four really good friends over there while I was serving," he said. "I had to do something because of them. I just wanted to honor them - and everyone who served."

The bike and accompanying leather jacket pay tribute to the "Ghost Battalion." During the Vietnam War, the Seabees built an airfield at what was called Site X in Quang Tri. According to an article published by the U.S. Navy Seabee Museum, "One of the major issues the Seabees faced was moving 11,000 Vietnamese graves which were in the middle of the projected air facility. After two weeks, and in close cooperation with Vietnamese officials, the Seabees moved the graves in accordance with local customs and traditions. This earned the construction men the name 'Ghost Battalion.' That name stayed with the Seabees until the task at Site X was completed."

Describing the tribute bike as his "passion," Poeppe began arranging for the restoration in 2000. The motorcycle was completed about three years later. He's hauled it to several reunions, where it always draws a crowd.

This year, the cycle caught the eye of Lt. James Basile of Naval Mobile Construction Battalion 22. He'd arrived at NBVC Port Hueneme Wednesday, Sept. 18, and the next day decided to visit the Seabee Museum. It was already closed, but Poeppe was there with his bike and fellow retiree Lee Shotwell of Pharr, Texas.

It took seconds before the three were sharing stories about Seabee life - then and now.

Shotwell commented that he'd been at the Port Hueneme base 49 years ago and that he'd met the namesake of a neighboring building - Marvin Shields, the first and only Seabee to receive the Medal of Honor.

"That's fantastic!" Basile said, eager to hear more.
They chatted at length, and before leaving, Basile thanked the two veterans for their service.

"You paved the way for us," he told them. "Hopefully the next generation will appreciate it as well."

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