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"On This Day" In Engineering History

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March 5, 1942 – We Build, We Fight

Posted March 05, 2009 12:09 PM by Steve Melito

On this day in engineering history, the U.S. Navy established a legendary Construction Battalion (CB) that would build airstrips, bridges, and roads; hospitals and housing; and warehouses and gasoline storage tanks. Known as "Seabees" (the name comes from the "CB" sound of the naval acronym), members of this military unit were recruited from the civilian construction trades and then trained to fight.

During World War II, more than 325,000 sailors served as Seabees on six continents and more than 300 islands. Seabees have also been deployed during the Korean War, the Vietnam War, the Gulf War, and the Bosnian War. Today, Navy Seabees support U.S. reconstruction efforts in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Father of the Navy Seabees

In December of 1941, Rear Admiral Ben Moreell recommended the creation of a Naval Construction Battalion at a newly-built base in Davisville, Rhode Island. As Chief of the Navy's Bureau of Yards and Docks, Admiral Moreell was responsible for managing the building and maintenance of facilities for ship construction and repair. A civil engineer, Moreell was a graduate of Washington University who had served in the Navy's Civil Engineer Corps since 1917. He had also studied military engineering at the Nationale des Ponts et Chaussées in Paris and served in the Azores, where he impressed an Assistant Secretary of the Navy who would one day be President – Franklin Delano Roosevelt.

From Pearl Harbor to Iwo Jima

Admiral Ben Moreell's request for a Naval Construction Battalion was expedited after the Japanese attack upon the U.S. Navy Base at Pearl Harbor, Hawaii on December 7, 1941. Initially, the Seabees were drawn from the ranks of civilian carpenters, machinists, and electricians. Because employment experience was more important than physical standards, however, the average age of a Navy Seabee during the early days of the war was 37. By contrast, the average age of a combat soldier in World War II was 26.

Once trained as sailors, Navy Seabees would follow in the footsteps of U.S. Marines who landed on Pacific islands such as Iwo Jima. There, as Denise Taylor of the Boston Globe later explained, Seabees "offloaded supplies during assaults, built airstrips under sniper fire, constructed military roads during air raids, and took up arms as needed."

As the Seabee's Latin motto (Construimus, Batuimus) states, "We Build, We Fight"

Resources:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Seabee

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bureau_of_Yards_and_Docks

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ben_Moreell

http://www.boston.com/news/local/articles/2007/09/20/giving_wwii_seabees_their_due/

http://www.vhfcn.org/stat.html

http://www.nbvc.navy.mil/seabeedays/cbHistory.html

http://www.marines.mil/units/marforpac/imef/1stmlg/Pages/MAR3.aspx

http://www.history.navy.mil/faqs/faq67-3.htm

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