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WWII Navy Seabee celebrates 100th birthday

In 1942, Maurice “Bud” Prottengeier, an 18-year-old college student, decided to enlist in the Navy along with his friends before they were drafted into World War II. Although that was 82 years ago, the Flint native has no problem recalling the details.

“At the time, I was in my second year of junior college at Northport College in Chicago,” Prottengier says. “We all knew that we were probably going to have to go somewhere. We went down and joined the Navy that day.”

On Jan. 13, 2024, Pottinger celebrates his 100th birthday — one of only about 5,000 surviving WWII veterans in Michigan.

Prottengeier, a widower and father of three, is living proof that age is just a number. He still swims and does yoga, volunteers at a school in the Flint area and can recite the names of his fellow sailors and tell you how much he made in the Navy more than eight decades ago.

Prottengeier was born in Flint on Jan. 13, 1924, and attended Mt. Morris High School. His father, Ted, served in World War I as an electrician’s mate in the US Navy.

In September of 1940, the United States instituted the Selective Training and Service Act, which required all men ages 18 to 45 to register for the draft. In 1942, Prottengeier says they started drafting 18-year-olds. Knowing his time would likely come soon, he and his friends decided to enlist. Prottengeier would serve in the U.S. Naval Construction Battalion, better known as the Seabees.

Because Prottengeier was in college, he was eligible to join the Navy College Training Program (V-12), where participants were placed on active duty as apprentice seamen. Candidates were not subject to the draft if they retained their enlisted ranking and kept up with their schoolwork.

“They sent me to Northwestern University in Chicago, and I was an apprentice seaman making 21 bucks a month,” Prottengeier says. “They waived bootcamp for us, but if we flunked out of school that’s where they would’ve sent us.”

After 16 months at Northwestern, Prottengeier had earned enough credits for a degree in civil engineering. He was then called for Midshipmen School in Camp Endicott, Rhode Island for the Civil Engineer Corps.

Though it was more than 80 years ago, Prottengeier still vividly recalls the names of his friends and instructors while at Camp Endicott.

“Yeah, Ensign DeSenzel, Ensign Fell and Ensign Konowski,” he says. “I guess I have a good memory. This guy named Dick Fell became a really good buddy of mine, he went to high school at Detroit Southwestern.”

After he completed training, Prottengeier was selected to be a platoon officer for the next class of midshipmen. In summer of 1945, he received orders to be sent to the Pacific.

"It was about August of 1945, just before we dropped the bomb,” said Prottengeier. “They had prepared my midshipman class of 400 officers to do whatever we were supposed to do. Seabees followed the invasion force. I lucked out, I never had to face bullets."

“We first went to Oakland, California, to pick up transportation to Pearl Harbor in Hawaii,” Prottengeier continued. “Then to Kwajalein in the Marshall Islands, to Guam, then to Okinawa, Japan.”

Prottengeier was stationed at Nakagusuku Bay in Okinawa, nicknamed “Buckner Bay” in memory of Lt. Gen. Simon Buckner Jr., commander of the U.S. land forces who was killed in June of 1945.

Prottengeier spent 11 months in Okinawa as an ensign with a construction and maintenance battalion. The unit built and maintained barracks and facilities such as power plants and water treatment plants.

In June 1946, Prottengeier took a ship from Okinawa to San Francisco, before being sent to Chicago to be discharged. He then returned home to Flint to work in construction. Six months later, he met his wife Marian at a holiday party.

“I knew her brother,” he says. “We graduated from the same high school. I was at a party, and I saw this beautiful girl. I asked my buddy who she was, and he said it was Wesley Cowell’s sister.”

The couple was married for 73 years and had three children and two grandchildren before Marian passed in 2020 at 93 years old.

Today, Prottengeier lives in Burton, just east of Flint, and stays active by volunteering at Bendle Schools in Burton, swimming and doing yoga three times a week at U of M Flint and walking a mile around his neighborhood when the weather permits.

Prottengeier’s family is planning a private celebration for his 100th birthday but encourages those who know him to reach out to him via Facebook, give him a call or send him a card to wish him a happy birthday.