Culver’s Lindvall reflects on role in Navy Seabees history, veterans’ contributions
When Culver's Bryce Lindvall joined the Navy in 1981, he didn't expect to find himself in some of the unusual positions he did: a member of the Navy "Seabees" (immortalized in the 1944 John Wayne movie, "The Fighting Seabees"); at work at Camp David with the highest level of security clearance possible (to work in the same room as the U.S. President and Vice President); and pictured in the Los Angeles Times and other newspapers and on television, the first Navy Seabee in a press conference since the Vietnam War.
Lindvall, Culver born, raised, and educated, has a long family history here which includes his grandfather, Charles McClane, who ran one of the earliest livery stables in Culver. His father, Robert Lindvall, was a mainstay at the State Exchange Bank for years, and his mother Phyllis a familiar face in a number of local organizations and clubs.
After half a year at Purdue, Lindvall says he wanted to go a different direction. Recalling his father's service in World War II, he decided he wanted to serve as well, and chose the Navy, though in retrospect he's not sure why. He'd not heard of the Seabees up to then, and he "definitely didn't want to be a sailor, but I went and talked to the Navy recruiter and said, 'I want to be an electrician.' The next thing I know, I'm enlisted and on a nine-month wait to go to Boot Camp."
Lindvall trained at Gulf Port, Mississippi, and went from there to Hawaii. Three years later, and with a newborn baby to consider, he transferred to Southern California, the start of five years with a battalion which was deployed to Alaska, Panama (where he recalls being shaken down by Manuel Noriega's men for a bribe), Camp David, Guantanamo Bay, and eventually Saudi Arabia to participate in Operation Desert Shield.
Asked if he'd be interested in wiring buildings, telephones, generators, and the like, Lindvall agreed (though he says he wasn't crazy about climbing utility poles).
"So," he says, "they put me in the Seabees."
LIFE AS A 'SEABEE'
Technically, the Seabees name is derived from the initials "C.B.," or the United States Navy Construction Battalion. The battalion began in 1942, three months after the attack on Pearl Harbor, and handled a wide array of construction projects during World War II and later conflicts.
"The battalion carries everything it needs -- cooks, doctors, a dentist, a chaplain -- we're a complete unit, same as if we were on a ship," Lindvall notes.
"Knowing we're the ones serving now and we need to live up to that heritage we created... there's a lot of pride in the Seabees," he adds.
He cites a more recent example of the camaraderie in the battalion, referencing a young man from Culver currently serving in Lindvall's old battalion, Jesse Good.
"A couple of years ago when they were leaving for the war in Iraq and heading to California, I informed an old Navy buddy they (the battalion) were heading home. He wanted me to tell (Jesse) to call his cell, and he would take him and a couple of his pals out for dinner...Jesse was just blown away by his generosity and kindness. That's the best part of the Seabees: we're a close-knit group."
Lindvall recalls the extensive background check necessary for him to attain the "Yankee White" level of security clearance which allowed him to share a room, if need be, with the President of the United States. After he qualified, Lindvall was part of a small team of around a dozen other Seabees deployed to Camp David, where they stayed up to the day before the President's arrival ("He doesn't a need bunch of saws and jackhammers going while he's trying to get peace and quiet," Lindvall notes).
He also recalls the unexpected honor of being part of the first Seabees press conference since Vietnam, back on Sept. 1, 1990, when newspapers around California carried his photo, a KNBC microphone among a slew of other mics in front of him.
And by the way, the Seabees were and are expected to carry on their work regardless of conditions.
"I've always said my worst day in construction is when we poured a concrete pad for a new gas station," he explains. "There were gale force winds and it was snowing and sleeting the entire time. The only heat we had was in the little trailer shed where there was a Mr. Coffee pot. We worked all day with no lunch because we were too filthy to go anywhere to have it. We were just whipped at the end of the day!"
OPERATION DESERT SHIELD
Near the end of his nine-year Navy tenure, Lindvall had reached "non-deployable" status. That changed, however, when President George Bush said troops would be sent in support of Operation Desert Shield, and Lindvall was once again "deployable."
"I was okay with that," he says. "I was the shotgun rider for three busloads of my buddies on an advance party to head over there. I said, 'Take care of yourself `til I get there and I will see you over there.' Then, after they were gone, I became non-deployable again. That didn't sit well with me. I wanted to go, so (the Navy) allowed me to. I wanted to see that we were all going to be okay."
Lindvall recalls arriving in the desert in the middle of the night and being initially struck at how much the sand hills looked like snow drifts.
"But that heat hits you in the face and you know its way too warm for snow drifts!"
He stayed in the desert about six weeks, until just days before the end of his service date with the Navy, though at the time battalion members "all figured we were doing nothing but having a big field exercise and nothing would ever happen."
"Part of me wanted to extend my time and stay, but my buddies were like, 'You have a contractor wanting to hire you; go back to California and get that job.' So, reluctantly, I did."
FAMILY AND COMMUNITY
Further, Lindvall had recently been served divorce papers. It seemed like the right time for a change of life.
That was Nov. 30, and on Dec. 12, he heard on his truck radio the news that the war had started.
"I just sat there stunned," he recalls. "I felt pretty guilty for the next few months. My buddies' wives would get a hold of me and ask what it was like where they were at. I painted the best picture for the wives that I could."
He told his fellow battalion members that when they returned to the U.S. he'd be there when the jet landed, "waving a big American flag, which I did."
And things have a strange way of working out. It was during his celebration, out with fellow battalion members upon their return home, that Lindvall met his future wife, Alicia.
"She came up (from her home country of Mexico) with a friend visiting family. I tell people she came up from Mexico to see Mickey Mouse but she found Goofy instead!"
Bryce and Alicia Lindvall have three children together, and he says Alicia is "like a mother" to his first daughter, born in Hawaii and herself now the mother of two.
Musing on his time in the Navy, Lindvall points out he spent the entirety of his 20s serving, and along the way he formed lifelong bonds with fellow battalion members he's still in contact with after more than 25 years.
He describes a recent reunion in Las Vegas as "such a neat experience" not only for him and others from his battalion, but their wives as well.
Four years after leaving the Navy, Lindvall and his young family returned to Indiana to help his mother care for his ailing father.
"I always dreamt of living where I could see mountains in the horizon and there were no cold winters," he says with a smile. "It's kind of a full circle thing being back -- but it was the right thing to do."
Almost 11 years ago, he quit his job at Culver Academies and started Lindvall Electric ("I couldn't fathom having another boss," he says, noting he was the sole electrician on most of his Naval deployments, and thus became accustomed to working alone).
Seven years ago, Lindvall became a member of Culver's volunteer fire department.
"Part of that is missing that sense of serving my country. I wanted to serve my community. I am grateful that I'm healthy enough that I can still serve, to some extent, my community."
Besides coaching Little League for some time, he also became quite active for several years with Culver's VFW Post 6919, serving as Post Commander for two years.
During that time, Lindvall says he "made a personal goal of reaching out and finding out who from Culver is serving and where they are, and letting them know it's more than just their friends and family who appreciate their sacrifices and being in harm's way. The rest of us here appreciate you. For me it was very gratifying making people realize that back home."
One specific manifestation of that goal took place when Culver Community High School senior Jeremiah Harvey won the state wrestling championship in 2011. While informing Culverite John Neidlinger, who was serving overseas at the time, of Harvey's accomplishment, Lindvall recalls Neidlinger asking him to "let Jeremiah know he brought a lot of sunshine to a dark corner of the world."
"My thought was, 'No, you need to tell him,'" says Lindvall. "So I arranged to get Jeremiah into the high school office at a certain time and within a couple minutes the phone rang and it was John Neidlinger calling from Iraq to congratulate a fellow Culver High School wrestler!"
Lindvall says he hopes those without anyone serving in their own families now know there are a number of young people from the Culver area serving today. He encourages interested people to speak to the Culver VFW Ladies Auxiliary about care packages being sent to area service men and women overseas.
"Stay strong with your patriotism," adds Lindvall. "Veterans, as well as people serving today, do appreciate seeing the flags out and showing respect to the flag. You can show your support by going to the Veterans Day ceremony. The high school always does a fine program and you don't need to have a child in the school to go into the auditorium to watch it."
Lindvall says he grew up not hearing much from his own father about the latter's service in World War II. In fact, Bryce only learned at his dad's funeral that the elder Lindvall had served in the Battle of the Bulge.
"Nothing I experienced comes close to anything at all of World War II," he says, "but I'll tell my kids stories. Even though 99.9 percent of my time was during peace time, still there's the sacrifices of being away from home nine months at a time, and the hardships of working in arduous duty stations...(I'm) more appreciative of my fellow veterans and having more of a desire to help other veterans."