June 22 – Happy Birthday Norbert Petricca

By the late 1930’s World War II was already raging in Europe and the Japanese were already engaged in hostilities in Asia. Though America had not yet entered the fighting, the US Government saw the need for preparation so Congress authorized the expansion of Naval Shore Activities including construction of military bases in both War theaters. According to the Federal Government’s protocol at the time, private US firms were hired to oversee these projects. The civilian employees of those firms were urged not to resist military actions by the enemy because if they did and were captured while doing so, they could be executed as guerrillas under existing international wartime conventions. When the US entered WWII, the need to militarize these construction crews became apparent and that’s how the Seabees were born.

The “Sea” portion of the name came from the fact that the the Seabees were a branch of the US Navy and the “Bee” from the insects of the same name, who are always busy working, bothering no one unless they themselves are bothered first at which point they retaliate with a sharp sting. The official logo was a flying bee wearing a seaman’s cap and carrying tools and a machine gun with its six legs.. The Seabee motto translated from Latin was “We build, we fight.”

To staff these new construction battalions, the Navy sought experienced highly skilled craftsman in all areas of the construction trade. Young Norbert Petricca, a 1935 graduate of Lynch High School who was born on June 22, 1916, had learned the plumbing trade from his dad Joe. The elder Petricca had moved to Amsterdam’s South Side from Schenectady in 1924 and started his own plumbing and heating business. Norbert had gotten married to an Amsterdam girl named Geraldine Loucks in 1939 and he and his Dad were in the process of growing their client list when Japan attacked Pearl Harbor. One month later, Petricca enlisted in the newly formed Seabees.

In late January of 1943, he boarded a ship with the rest of his unit and headed off to Europe. The ship never made it to its destination. It was attacked by a German U-Boat somewhere in the North Atlantic on February 2 and Norbert Petricca was officially declared as killed in action that April. Besides his Wife and Dad, the young hero left behind his Mom Anna and a sister Clara.

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