By Dale Eng, Naval History and Heritage Command Communication and Outreach Division
Imagine trying to justly tell the entire 75-year history of an organization in 500-600 words, or perhaps of just a few objects. Now imagine that organization is the Seabees, whose official establishment dates back to World War II, and whose operations have taken them to the far reaches of the globe for all major warfighting campaigns and exercises between WWII and now.
On paper (or a screen, as the case may be these days), the task sounds difficult, maybe even “impossible.”
Fortunately, when it comes to the Seabees and the work they have done and continue to do, the word “impossible” is not part of their vocabulary. So with that in mind, when the U.S. Navy Seabee Museum in Port Hueneme, California, began developing an exhibit to tell the 75-year story of the Seabees through 75 carefully selected artifacts, they knew the task would be challenging, but certainly not impossible … it might just take a little longer, that’s all.
Earlier this year, the Seabee Museum’s efforts to tell the U.S. Navy Construction Force’s history through objects came to fruition when they unveiled a new exhibit spanning from the Seabee’s very beginnings to the present day. The Seabee Museum’s exhibit team, consisting of five staff members, along with dedicated volunteers faced the seemingly “impossible” task of choosing and pulling 75 objects from the museum’s collection of more than 13,000 artifacts and arranging them into an exhibit.
“Inspired by the 1944 Bouganville Navy Yard camp sign ’The Difficult We Do Now; The Impossible Takes a Little Longer,’ we decided to title the exhibit The Impossible Takes a little Longer,” said Jennifer Johnson, a curator at the museum and part of the exhibit team. “We organized the exhibit chronologically, and in this way not only showcased each artifact in the era that it was made and used in, but also reflected the layout of the rest of the Seabee Museum and its galleries. Then we further continued the theme of “The Impossible” with archival material and text, highlighting the near impossible projects from construction to humanitarian efforts that the Seabees have accomplished over the past 75 years since WWII,” said Johnson.
The Seabee Museum staff and their volunteers spent nearly two years planning, overcoming obstacles, and curating the exhibit. In other words, they take a note from the Seabees whose story they are dedicated to telling, by getting the job done with ingenuity and a “can do” attitude.
Some of the museum staff’s favorite items in the exhibit are the archival images that were enlarged and placed behind artifacts in the mannequin cases. Other favorites include the Seabee Logo made completely out of butterfly wings; the uniform of Camella Jones, the first female to wear Seabee greens, and the South Pole Dome Crown from Amundsen-Scott South Pole Station and now hanging from the ceiling in the Antarctica gallery at the museum.
“While walking the museum floor, a few veterans stopped and spoke with me about the new exhibit. They expressed remembering being at that place and time constructing a bridge where that photograph was taken during the Cold War, or walking several times under the sign from the Reindeer Inn on Diego Garcia,” recalled Johnson.
The U.S. Navy Seabee Museum’s “The Impossible Takes a Little Longer” exhibit runs through August 16, 2019.