By Lt. Cmdr. Jen Cragg, Navy Expeditionary Combat Command, Public Affairs Officer
Did you know March 5th marks the 75th anniversary of the Seabees?? Celebrate with us! Seabees young and old are celebrating the birthday of this unique organization; here are 10 facts you probably didn’t know about Navy’s builders, who can fight!
Since March 5, 1942, the U.S. Navy has employed an elite cadre of construction battalion Sailors, better known as Seabees. Guided by the motto, “We Build, We Fight,” over the past 75 years the Seabees have served in all major American conflicts, supported humanitarian efforts, and helped to build communities and nations around the globe. Even when not engaged in war, the Seabees construct and maintain American military bases around the globe. In addition, they provide engineering and construction support to other U.S. government agencies and friendly nations.
1 Rear Admiral Ben Moreell is the proclamined father of the Seabees.
After the attack on Pearl Harbor on Dec. 7, 1941, the need for a militarized Naval Construction Force to build advance bases in the war zone was self-evident. Rear Admiral Ben Moreell determined to activate, organize, and man Navy construction units. On Dec. 28 1941, he requested specific authority to carry out this decision, and Jan. 5, 1942, he gained authority from the Bureau of Navigation to recruit men from the construction trades for assignment to a Naval Construction Regiment composed of three Naval Construction Battalions.
2 On March 5, 1942, Construction Battalions (CBs) get a name!
75 years ago, “CBs” were given official permission to assume the name of Seabees. March 5th would become the approved date to celebrate the annual anniversary of their establishment.
3 The official motto of the Seabees is Construimus, Batuimus.
Which is latin for,”We Build, We Fight.” Created by Adm. Moreell, it’s at the essence of why the Seabees were created AND what they do. A fighting force of men and women, the Seabees have been deployed globally in every theater, constructing bases, building airfields, conducting underwater construction, and building roads, bridges and other support facilities.
4 Seabees helped build the Boulder Dam!
The first recruits into the Seabees 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.
5 The first Seabee unit was known as the Bobcats.
Shortly after Admiral Ernest King requested the War Plans Division recommend a base to establish a fueling station in the South Pacific, BuDocks developed the 1st Naval Construction Detachment, the first Seabee unit, known as the Bobcats for the island’s codename. Want to know more about their establishment? Check out the two-part blog series about Code Name BOBCAT.
6 During World War II, Seabees made their mark on both sides of the globe!
The WWII Seabees performed now legendary deeds in both the Atlantic and Pacific theaters of operation. At a cost of nearly $11 billion and many casualties, they constructed over 400 advanced bases along five figurative roads to victory which all had their beginnings in the continental United States.
7 During D-Day of the Normandy invasion, on June 6, 1944, the Seabees were among the first to go ashore.
Although Seabee accomplishments on the North Atlantic road eventually culminated in the Normandy invasion, operations in that area had begun as early as March of 1942. During D-Day of the Normandy invasion, on June 6, 1944, the Seabees were among the first to go ashore as members of naval combat demolition units. Working with U.S. Army engineers, their crucial task was to destroy the steel and concrete barriers that the Germans had built in the water and on the beaches to forestall any amphibious landings.
8 The Seabees are Hollywood stars!
Well, “star” may be a stretch, but they were the focus of a major motion picture! Another milestone in Seabee history was in the making in 1943 — but the location was Hollywood rather than the South Pacific. Made in 1943 and released in early 1944, the motion picture The Fighting Seabees, starring John Wayne and Susan Hayward, made “Seabee” a household word during the latter part of the war.
9 Seabees and penguins are friends!
Beginning in 1955, Seabees began deploying yearly to the continent of Antarctica. As participants in Operation “Deep Freeze,” their mission was to build and expand scientific bases located on the frozen continent. The first “wintering over” party included 200 Seabees who distinguished themselves by constructing a 6,000-foot ice runway on McMurdo Sound. Despite a blizzard which once destroyed the entire project, the airstrip was completed in time for the advance party of Deep Freeze II to become the first men to arrive at the South Pole by plane.
10 Marvin Shields was the first Seabee to receive the nation’s highest award.
Construction Mechanic 3rd Class Marvin G. Shields was posthumously awarded the Medal of Honor during the Vietnam War. Not only was Marvin Shields the first Seabee to receive the nation’s highest award, but he was also the first Navy man to be so decorated for action in Vietnam. USS Marvin Shields (DE 1066) was named in his honor.
Not only are Seabees improving local communities and increasing partner nation capacity with their construction efforts, but they are also playing a larger role in building and sustaining relationships between and among nations, non-government organizations and international organizations as they provide a persistent and meaningful, forward presence on these continents. Seabees’ efforts and engagement with the local populace open doors for future collaboration and access as we look to gain trust and establish mutual respect among partner nations.
The Naval Construction Force has an illustrious history and engineering expertise that has played a historically significant role in the construction of the naval shore establishment, supported expeditionary warfare and provided disaster recovery and humanitarian assistance within the context of larger American foreign policy.
Thank you to the past and present Seabees for your service. Happy 75th anniversary!
Want more Seabee history? Check out www.history.navy.mil/seabee75 for images, historical references, posters and more!