Let’s jump right in! There are so many amazing stories to the SeaBees’ history I’m going to have to work hard to pare it down to manageable size. That’s difficult, because I’ve always admired those who take on “impossible” tasks and with grit, determination, hard work, and imagination, turn them into accomplished facts. “Can do, GI” was not just an Asian attitude. To some extent, all our warriors share this temperament, but it is the SeaBees’ job description!I encourage everyone to visit the links. There’s so much more than I have room to tell, so many astounding feats of determination and engineering!
First, it’s a very interesting story of how the SeaBees got their famous icon.
SeaBees built their own museum (LOL! Of course!)
John Wayne and Susan Hayward starred in the 1944 motion picture “The Fighting Seabees”. How about that! Silver screen for the SeaBees! Here’s a link to the complete movie on Youtube:
Most of the following material was taken from or adapted from USN History
and SeaBees Museum
“With a primary mission of providing continuing construction in a war zone, the Seabees are ready to deploy on short notice to any point on the globe. Upon arrival, they work night and day … Seabees also conduct humanitarian missions worldwide, including earthquake and hurricane recovery efforts in the United States.”
“In the beginning…”
“Convinced that war was coming, the U.S. Navy realized that fighting in theaters halfway around the world would present new challenges in logistics and would require a vast infrastructure. Beginning in 1940 they began a program of building bases on far-flung Pacific islands using civilian contractors. When the United States officially entered the war, the use of civilian labor had to stop. Under international law civilians were not permitted to resist enemy military attack. If they did they could be executed as guerrillas …
… On December 28, 1941, Rear Admiral Ben Moreell, Chief of the Bureau of Yards and Docks (BUDOCKS), requested specific authority to activate, organize, and man a unique, very special organization that would support the Navy and Marines in remote locations and defend themselves if attacked — the Naval Construction Battalions. On January 5, 1942, he was given that authority and the original Battalions were formed at a new Naval base in Davisville, Rhode Island … The first naval construction unit to actually deploy from the United States left Davisville, Rhode Island, less than two weeks later on January 17, 1942.”
Folks, even with a war on, even with a surprise attack, I don’t think things would have happened this fast – nine days! – except for the fact that the Navy was already aware that war with Japan was highly likely, and had been preparing for it. The superstructure of what would become the SeaBees was already in place and functioning. For once, we weren’t behind the eightball.
This is the America that was, the America that makes me proud to be an American. These are the kind of men our parents and grandparents were:
“The Navy built their Battalions with experienced, highly skilled craftsmen … electricians, carpenters, plumbers, equipment operators — virtually any construction or building trade was welcome in the Seabees … From the construction and defense of Henderson Field on Guadalcanal to the Normandy Invasion, Seabees participated in every major amphibious assault in World War II. They quickly earned a reputation for exceptional creativity. If materials weren’t available, the Seabees used whatever they could to get the job done. More than 325,000 men served with the Seabees in World War II, fighting and building in more than 400 locations before the war’s end. They knew more than 60 skilled trades. In addition, nearly 8,000 Civil Engineer Corps officers served with the Seabees …
…With the general demobilization following World War II, the “Bees” were all but disbanded. The Advanced Base Depot and naval Construction Training Center were closed in December of 1945. There were only 3,300 men on active duty by June 1950. Renamed Mobile Construction Battalions (MCB’s), they had support duty in Cuba and throughout the Pacific.”
Remember the Navy history? “The ‘Continental Navy’ was disbanded at the end of [the War for Independence], ‘because there was no further need for a navy’?
Although I have to say, it was good for America that the SeaBees were disbanded, because they went back to civilian life and gave this great nation a double Red Bull burst of energy, confidence, and ingenuity. They had taken risks that most civilians have nightmares about, and come through it victors. They were ready for anything. These were the men who embodied the Spirit that built America:
“The first recruits were the men who had helped to build Boulder Dam, the national highways, and New York’s skyscrapers; who had worked in the mines and quarries and dug the subway tunnels; who had worked in shipyards and built docks and wharfs and even ocean liners and aircraft carriers. By the end of the war, 325,000 such men had enlisted in the Seabees. They knew more than 60 skilled trades, not to mention the unofficial ones of souvenir making and ‘moonlight procurement.’ ”
(I had to laugh at “moonlight procurement”! Bandits under the skin, but in a good cause.)
SeaBees in Korea:
“Landing at Inchon, Seabees provided pontoon causeways within hours of the initial assault. Seabees served side by side with the Marine Corps and the Army, building and defending what they built … Seabees could be found throughout the war zone constructing, repairing, and servicing the K-fields of the various Marine Air Groups … At one small airstrip on the 36th Parallel, chuck holes were opening up in the failing concrete faster than they could be repaired … the undaunted Seabees graded, poured, and patched one side of the runway while bomb-laden aircraft continued to fly off the other side.”
And after Korea:
“During the Korean War the Navy realized they needed a naval air station in this region. Cubi Point in the Philippines was selected and civilian contractors were initially selected for the project. After seeing the forbidding Zambales Mountains and the maze of jungle they claimed it could not be done … The Navy then turned to the Seabees … Over the next five years … Seabees cut a mountain in half to make way for a nearly two-mile long runway! Cubi Point turned out to be one of the largest earthmoving projects in the world, equivalent to the construction of the Panama Canal … (it is) an air station and an adjacent pier … capable of docking the Navy’s largest carriers …
SeaBees in the Mideast:
“In 1971 the Seabees began their largest peacetime construction project, on Diego Garcia, an atoll in the Indian Ocean. The project lasted 11 years and cost $200 million. The base accommodates the Navy’s largest ships and biggest military cargo jets, and proved invaluable during Operation Desert Shield/Operation Desert Storm. During the Gulf War, more than 5,000 Seabees (4,000 active and 1,000 reservists) served in the Middle East. They built advanced bases, constructed air fields with hardstands for Marine aircraft, provided petroleum and water facilities, and accompanied the Marines into Kuwait …
… In support of Operation Enduring Freedom, Seabees repaired runway facilities at Camp Rhino and Kandahar in Afghanistan. Twenty-six Seabee units deployed to Kuwait and Iraq in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom and 16 Seabees were killed. The construction of multiple 20-acre aircraft-parking aprons, munitions storage areas, a 48,000-square-foot concrete pad, bridges, a 1,200-person camp and repaired various roads have been proven invaluable to coalition forces.”
And anywhere. SeaBees seem to be the ideal candidate for colonizing Mars:
“One of the most notable [of the SeaBees’] achievements took place in 1962 when the Navy’s builders constructed Antarctica’s first nuclear power plant at McMurdo Station.”
WHAT?! A nuclear power plant built on ice?! Be proud, America, of your incredible engineers, the SeaBees!
There’s nothing like self-confidence: listen to this fascinating 1:33 minute recruiting video of SeaBee careers: from their recruiting website:
“The Navy Construction Battalion [SeaBees] embodies efficiency, teamwork and reliability, mixed with an ability to build almost anything permanent or portable.”
The actual origin of the SeaBees stretches clear back to 1917, and you can read about their “spiritual ancestors” here.
From that link:
“In 1917 the Twelfth Regiment (Public Works) was organized at the Naval Training Station, Great Lakes, Illinois. The development of the regiment was an evolutionary process under the direction of three successive Public Works Officers … On one occasion, a team of men [from the 12th Regiment] from this group went into Paris and converted the Eiffel Tower into an antenna for a “Marconi wireless transmitting station … When the First World War ended on 11 November 1918, training and construction operations at Great Lakes ceased. The regiment gradually faded away by the end of 1918. The war was over but not the memories… Although the Twelfth Regiment (Public Works) was dissolved in the general demobilization that followed the end of the First World War, the germ of the pioneering idea remained in the minds of many Navy Civil Engineers. Sometime during the early 1930s, for example, the planners of the Bureau of Yards and Docks began providing for ‘Navy Construction Battalions’ in the bureau’s contingency war plans.’ ”
Builders of everything. Daredevils. Bulldogs for determination, natural geniuses in the realm of creativity. SeaBees, we stand in awe of your achievements! Thank you for your service!