By Lara Godbille, Ph.D., Director, US Navy Seabee Museum, Naval History and Heritage Command
Since March 5, 1942, the U.S. Navy has employed an elite cadre of construction battalions better known as Seabees. Guided by the motto, “We Build, We Fight,” over the past 72 years the Seabees have served in all major American conflicts, supported humanitarian efforts, and helped to build communities and nations around the globe. Today, Seabees young and old are celebrating the birthday of this unique organization; however, March 5th has not always been its birthday.
From its inception during World War until 1954, the anniversary of the Seabee was observed on December 28th. This was the date on which Adm. Ben Moreell requested authority from the Chief of the Bureau of Navigation to recruit enlisted personnel to serve in a naval construction force. Rear Adm. John R. Perry, CEC, USN, the Chief of Bureau of Yards and Docks (the predecessor to NAVFAC), made the decision to change the Seabee birthday. When serving as the Commanding Officer of the Naval Construction Battalion Center in Port Hueneme, Calif., in the early 1950s, Perry recognized the Seabee birthday occurred at a hectic time of the year. Many the Seabees were on holiday leave during the week between Christmas and New Year’s Day. Family commitments coupled with the financial strain of the holidays made it difficult for all to participate in what Perry considered a suitable celebration for the Seabee birthday.
Several historically significant dates in Seabee history were considered for the new birthdate. For example, October 31st was a contender as it was the day in 1941 that the Chief of the Bureau of Navigation directed Adm. Moreell to form of a Headquarters Construction Company of ninety-nine men for duty in Iceland. These men, combined with four other companies formed the core of what would be the Bobcats and the First Naval Construction Battalion. March 19 was also contemplated as it was the day in 1942 that the Secretary of the Navy authorized Civil Engineer Corps Officers to serve as Commanding Officers of the newly formed Construction Battalions.
After deliberations by leadership in the Bureau of Yards and Dock’s Seabee Division, March 5th was determined to be the most appropriate day to celebrate the Seabee birthday as it had dual significance. Not only was March 5th the date in 1942 that the Construction Battalions were given official permission to assume the name of Seabees, but it was also the anniversary date of the Civil Engineer Corps which had been established in 1867.
Even though some aspects of the Seabee organization have changed throughout the years – including its birthday – there is a distinctive ethos that defines and binds the Seabee community whether they served in Guadalcanal or in Afghanistan. This attitude is hard to define, but you know it if you’ve ever known a Seabee no matter their era; I like to describe it is “Can do!” coated in compassion. This sense of Seabee pride and connectedness to a larger Seabee community that spans both geography and time is what is make days like this one as special as it is.
Godbille is the director of the U.S. Navy Seabee Museum. Part of Naval History and Heritage Command’s nine museums, the mission of the U.S. Navy Seabee Museum is to select, collect, preserve and display historic material relating to the history of the Naval Construction Force, better known as the SEABEES, and the U.S. Navy Civil Engineer Corps. The second oldest of the official Navy museums, the Seabee Museum was established in 1947 in Port Hueneme, Calf., which today is part of Naval Base Ventura County (NBVC).
Mon – Sat: 9am to 4pm, Sun: 12pm to 4pm, closed all Federal holidays
Admission and parking are free.
The Museum is open to the public and tours can be arranged for schools or other groups. Call (805) 982-5167 or email [email protected]
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To read about the Seabees during World War II and their efforts with building for a nation and for equality click here.