“A Camping Trip with Automatic Weapons”
By: John Cuddy
“A camping trip with automatic weapons”, is how Hyde Park native and Boston Police Officer James LaCroix described his service in Bosnia with the US Navy Seabees as an Equipment Operator 3rd Class. James is not the only family member who served in the US Navy, his wife Dawn, also served. Dawn LaCroix was originally from Michigan and served as at Storekeeper 3rd Class.
They met and got married while both Sailors were stationed at Naval Air Station Jacksonville, Florida. So, I started my interview with asking James “Jimbo” LaCroix what his most interesting experience was while serving.
In 1995 the conflict in Bosnia was winding down, and the UN peacekeepers required Seabee support.
James at the time, was on deployment to the Mediterranean with Naval Mobile Construction Battalion 133’s Detachment Sigonella, Sicily, in Italy. James was re-deployed to Bosnia as part of a peacekeeping operation. The Seabees were being asked to construct basic shelter and cooking facilities for the United Nations troops, that were tasked to patrol a two and a half mile, “zone of separation”.
This created a buffer zone between the opposing Bosnian militias, that signed the November 1995 Bosnian Peace Treaty.
The detachment of Seabees was commanded by US Navy Lt. Commander Doug Morton, CEC, (who later retired as a Rear Admiral after serving our nation for thirty-three years) The Seabees landed at Taszar, in southern Hungary, and traveled overland to the Sava River. There, US Army engineers built a 1,000-foot floating bridge that served as the first land link to Bosnia for the main body of U.S. Troops.
James served with two Equipment Operator Second Class’s Mark Thomas and Mike Neumann in Bosnia. On an earlier deployment, I had the pleasure of serving with both men on a re-deployment from Guam to El Salvador. Both Neumann and Thomas later retired as US Navy Master Chiefs, the highest enlisted rank in the Navy. The four of us became lifelong friends and reunited for Master Chief Thomas’s retirement. Tragically, Master Chief Neumann, a Cross Fit instructor, died shortly after retiring from the Navy.
When I asked, James’s wife, Dawn LaCroix, what the most interesting memory of her US Naval service was, she immediately answered; “clearing ordnance from the US Navy’s bombing range at Detachment Astor”.
Dawn was assigned (with her future husband) to the Navy’s Pinecastle Impact (Bombing) Range, which is in the Ocala National Forest near Orlando, Florida. The Pinecastle Bombing Range is an un-fenced 5,760-acre area, with the eastern edge of the range located about two miles west of State Road 19 and the Camp Ocala campgrounds, and one-half mile west of the Farles Lake campground. F-18 jet fighters and other aircraft take off from nearby Jacksonville Naval Air Station, fly low over the Forest, and drop their bombs in the middle 450 acres of the range.
There are nine targets within the Pinecastle complex: in no specific order, the Live Ordnance Impact Area, Main Bull (Special Weapons Bombing Target), Day/Night Conventional Dive Bomb/Rocket Target, Surface-to-Air Missile (SAM) Site Target, Strafing Target, Inert Ordnance Runway, Red Box Target, Mini-Convoy, and the Laser Target. The Navy’s Pinecastle Impact Range in the Ocala National Forest is the only place on the East Coast where the Navy can do live impact training. The Navy drops nearly 20,000 bombs a year at the site, a few hundred of which are live. The Navy has used nearly 6,000 acres of the 382,000-acre forest for target practice for fifty years under a special use permit from the US Forest Service.
James “Jimbo” Lacroix left the US Navy Seabees after serving eight years as an Equipment Operator 3rd Class. He worked as an equipment operator in Local 4 of the Operating Engineers Union, then became a Police Office in the City of Boston. Dawn LaCroix, completed her enlistment as a Storekeeper 3rd Class, and moved to Boston with her husband after they both left the Navy. She initially went to work for Verizon, then later joined the US Post Office.
James LaCroix is a “triple hero”, a Veteran, a Police Officer, and a dad. His wife is a Veteran and a mom. The couple have an adult daughter, and two sons in junior high. Their daughter and both sons love all sports, and play soccer, football, hockey, baseball, softball. When I asked the couple, what sports their children play, Dawn said immediately, “easier to tell you which ones they do not play”.
Recently, I attended a Seabee Memorial Scholarship Fundraiser with James, the Seabees refusing to cancel the Rhode Island event, even with the current COVID-19 restrictions. This event not being canceled is a testament to the lifelong bond between the men and women who served in the US Navy’s Seabee units, and the Seabees general disregard for following direction from our elected officials.
A “Red Stripe” Master Chief once told me, “there is a reason you get a medal in the Seabees for behaving yourself”. Most US Navy Master Chiefs wear “Gold Stripes”, awarded for twelve years of good conduct. This Master Chief, who oversaw my detachment in Subic Bay, Philippines. He was referring to the Good Conduct Medal, awarded to US Navy personnel who manage to serve four years without getting into trouble. This Seabee Master Chief was the greatest leader I ever served under, but off duty, did not have twelve minutes, let alone twelve years of good conduct. There was a reason the Navy stationed him in the Philippines.
Happy New Year to all!
The Dracut American Legion asks all World War II, Korean War, and Vietnam War Veterans, to call (603) 518-5368 and sign up for an Honor Flight to the Memorials in Washington DC! Veterans of all eras are asked to go the American Legion’s Web site www.legion.org, and join the American Legion, preserving our Veteran’s Benefits for future generations.
John Cuddy served in the US Navy’s Construction Battalions (also known as the Seabees) after retiring from the Navy; he earned a bachelor’s in history and a master’s in economics from the University of Massachusetts on the Lowell Campus. He has been employed in Logistics at FedEx for the last 24 years. If you know a World War II veteran who would like their story told, please email him at John.Cuddy@Yahoo.com. ◊