Baby Boomers like myself grew up on WWII movies. One of the movies that I remembered from those heady days after the war was “The Fighting Seabees” with John Wayne. Of course, looking back on it now, it was really melodramatic and full of the bravado of victory. But what I remembered the most was the Seabees themselves. They really captured my imagination.
I did not know until recently that there is a United States Navy Seabee Museum dedicated to selecting, preserving and displaying a marvelous collection of historic materials related to the history of the Naval Construction Force. It is located in Port Hueneme, California. I have driven through Port Hueneme on a few occasions, but never stopped. Next time, I will have to stop just to see this museum.
The Seabees or Naval Construction Battalions were the idea of Rear Admiral Ben Moreel, who at the beginning of WWII was the Chief of the Bureau of Yards and Docks for the United States Navy. He saw the need for skilled construction workers of all trades to give the U.S. Navy a capability to build advance bases, airfields, roads and bridges and other support facilities to be able to support the fleet and combat commands (Marines) while carrying out the Navy’s maritime strategy. His insight proved to be valuable beyond measure.
The first authorization for the Seabees was made on 5 January 1942. The authorization of the name Seabees and their insignia was made on 5 March 1942. 175,000 Seabees served during WWII. Most served in the Pacific Theater. The movie, “The Fighting Seabees” was a fictional account of one of the island-hopping battles in that theater of the war.
The Seabees were conceived as a kind of hybrid force; it was to be a Navy unit, but its major commitments would be land based. They had to be experts in more than one of the construction trades, and they had to be able to fight like hell, precisely because their work during wartime would always be at the front. They are known by two mottos: “Can Do!” and “We Build, We Fight!” And their history has shown that they are everything they were meant to be and more.
The Seabees have also developed into an incredibly valuable unit for the Navy and for American diplomacy around the world. They play an important role in developing and sustaining global relationships. At present the Seabee Battalions are forward deployed all over the world providing engineering and construction support and improving lives and sustainability in many countries by providing engineering expertise and undertaking many actions to support and improve civic projects.
The United States Navy Mobile Construction Battalions, Seabees, are one of the most agile, interesting and multi-faceted units in our military. If you get a chance, visit the U.S. Navy Seabee Museum in Port Hueneme, CA. I am going to for sure.
Watch more of the Seabees here too. Can Do!