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Seabees their simple motto tells the story: "We build, we fight".
From the island hopping of World War II and the cold of Korea, to the jungles of Vietnam,
to the mountains of Bosnia, and to the desert of Afghanistan, the Seabees have built
entire bases, bulldozed and paved thousands of miles of roadway and airstrips, and
accomplished a myriad of construction projects.
In December 1941, with an eye on the developing storm clouds across both oceans, Rear
Admiral Ben Moreell, Chief of the Navy's Bureau of Yards and Docks, recommended
establishing Naval Contruction Battalions. With the attack on Pearl Harbor and the U.S.
entrance into the war, he was given the go-ahead.
The earliest Seabees were recruited from the civilian construction trades and were
placed under the leadership of the Navy's Civil Engineer Corps. Because of the emphasis on
experience and skill rather than on physical standards, the average age of Seabees during
the early days of the war was 37.
More than 325,00 men served
with the Seabees in World War II, fighting and building on six continents and more than
300 islands. In the Pacific, where most of the construction work was needed, the Seabees
landed soon after the Marines and built major airstrips, bridges, roads, warehouses,
hospitals, gasoline storage tanks and housing.
With the general demobilization following the war, the Construction Battalions were
reduced to 3,300 men on active duty by 1950. Between 1949 and 1953, Naval Construction
Battalions were organized into two types of units: Amphibious Construction Battalions
(PHIBCBs) and Naval Mobile Construction Battalions (NMCBs).
The Korean Conflict saw a call-up of more than 10,000 men. The Seabees landed at Inchon
with the assault troops. They fought enormous tides as well as enemy fire and provided
causeways within hours of the initial landings. Their action here and at other landings
emphasized the role of the Seabees and there was no Seabee demobilization when the truce
Following Korea, the Seabees embarked on a new mission. From providing much needed
assistance in the wake of a devastating earthquake in Greece in 1953 to providing
construction work and training to underdeveloped countries, the Seabees became "The
Navy's Goodwill Ambassadors". Seabees built or improved many roads, orphanages and
public utilities in many remote parts of the world.
These "Civic Action
teams" continued into the Vietnam War where Seabees, often fending off enemy forces
alongside their Marine and Army counterparts, also built schools and infrastructure and
provided health care service. After Vietnam, the Seabees built and repaired Navy bases in
Puerto Rico, Japan, Guam, Greece, Sicily, and Spain. Their civic action projects focused
on the Trust Territories of the Pacific.
In 1971, the Seabees began their largest peacetime construction on Diego Garcia, a
small atoll in the Indian Ocean. This project took 11 years and cost $200 million. The
complex accomodates the Navy's largest ships and the biggest military cargo jets. This
base proved invaluable when Iraq invaded Kuwait in August 1990 and Operations Desert
Shield and Desert Storm were launched.
During the Gulf War, more than 5,000 Seabees (4,000 active and 1,000 reservists) served
in the Middlle East. In Saudi Arabia, Seabees built 10 camps for more than 42,000
personnel; 14 galleys capable of feeding 75,000 people; and 6 million square feet of
aircraft parking apron.
Over the past 50 years the Seabees have repeatedly demonstrated their skills as fighters and builders. From the islands of the Pacific to the jungles of Vietnam to the sands of Saudi Arabia and to the mountains of Bosnia, they have built and fought for freedom. In peacetime, they have been goodwill ambassadors. In peace and in war, they have lived their motto: "Can Do!"