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The Fighting Seabees

Updated on November 16, 2013

The Birth of the Seabees

On December 7, 1941, the Empire of Japan attacked the United States Navy's Pacific Fleet at Pearl Harbor, Hawaii. This single action practically destroyed the fleet and launched the United States into World War II against a well equipped Japanese military. With no bases in the Pacific or Asia, the United States had to move fast to position it's military forces, which in turn, meant building bases and airfields to island hop in the Pacific.

After the attack on Pearl Harbor, Rear Admiral Ben Moreell, Chief of the Bureau of Yards and Docks of the U.S.Navy, suggested establishing a Naval Construction Force to satisfy the new demands of a naval presence in both Europe, and the Pacific. On, August 11, 1942 the Naval Construction Training Center, Camp Endicott, was commissioned at Davisville, Rhode Island, which trained over 100,000 Seabees during the course of World War II.

The first Seabees were recruited from civilian construction trades, and were controlled by the Navy's Civil Engineer Corps, (CEC), and because of the experience requirements for this new kind of sailor, the average age was 37. Many of these original Seabees came from the government's prior Conservation Corps, (CC) program, which constructed many of our current parks around the country.

During World War II, the Seabees started a long standing tradition, earning their motto: Construimus Batuimus, which in latin means, " We Build, We Fight" and "Can Do!". From 1942-1945, over 325,000 Seabees paved the way across the globe, building airstrips, roads, bridges, storage tanks, and Quonset huts for hospitals, barracks, and warehouses, fighting and building, with U.S. forces on more than 300 islands.

Korean War

During the Korean War, the U.S. Navy mobilized over 10,000 Seabees to again help build a war, most were volunteers. Seabees first landed on the coastal battleground of Inchon, South Korea. The Seabees constructed causeways with hours of the landing against high tides, and enormous enemy fire.

Next, came a major airfield at Cubi Point in the Philippines. Originally the project was to be civilian contractors, but once they saw the rugged Zambales Mountains, and thick jungles they thought it would be impossible. So, they called up the Seabees in 1951, for a successful completion. Seabees cut a mountain in half and paved the way for a 2 mile runway. The $100,000 project was completed in 1956, and composed of an air station, and a pier, capable of berthing an aircraft carrier.

Antarctica: Operation Deep Freeze

In 1955, the U.S. Navy began "Operation Deep Freeze " in Antarctica. Their job was to build scientific bases on the continent. The first "Wintering Over" as it was referred to there after, were 200 Seabees that miraculously built a 6,000-foot ice runway on McMurdo Sound. The years that followed Seabees constructed roads, underground storage facilities, laboratories, and berthing areas for personnel deploying on the operation. In 1962, the seabees constructed the first nuclear power plant in Antarctica, McMurdo Station.


Seabees participated in the Vietnam War between 1954-1972. Building roads, bridges, airfields, hospitals, and barracks. In 1962, Seabees constructed the first Special Forces camps, as U.S. Forces began a deeper role in the war. In 1965, during the Battle of Dong Xoai Construction Mechanic 3rd Class Marvin G. Shields of Seabee Team 1104 was killed in action. He was the first Seabee to be awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor, and still remains the only Seabee to bestowed the honor.

Seabees built schools, hospitals, roads, bridges, and dug water wells, to improve the infrastructure of South Vietnam. While teaching the Vietnamese people various construction skills.

As usual, Seabees continued to "build and fight", throughout the remainder of our involvement in the war.


Operation Desert Shield/Storm

In 1990, when the U.S. was preparing to go to war with Iraq. The Seabees saddled up, and over 4,000 active and 1,000 reservist served in the Persian Gulf War. Building a presence in Saudi Arabia and Bahrain. Constructing airstrips, galleys, hospitals, helo landing zones, and barracks.

The Global War on Terrorism

On September 11, 2001, terrorists flew an airliner into the two World Trade Centers in New York City, totally destroying both buildings, and killing thousands of innocent Americans, which was the most startling event since the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor. This single attack , along with the threatening leadership of a ruthless dictator, Suddam Hussein of Iraq, and terrorist leader Osama Bin Laden, who resided between Afghanistan and Pakistan. Launched us into a war on two fronts. The Afghanistan War, from 2001-Present, and the Iraq War, 2003-2011, and various other fronts, like the Horn of Africa, and the Philippines.

Seabees, over 10 years, have served in these conflicts building forward operating bases, combat outposts, hospitals, infrastructure, roads, bridges, water wells, and helo landing zones for the U.S. military, and all NATO Coalition Forces. The Seabees have run convoy escorts, and educated Iraqi and Afghan people in construction, building schools, hospitals and improving their infrastructure.

All About The Seabees

The Seabees are divided up into the Atlantic Coast, in Gulfport, Mississippi, and Pacific Coast, in Port Hueneme, California. The Seabees are not structured like the rest of the Navy. There are no sections, divisions, or departments like onboard ship. The Seabees have fire teams, squads, platoons, companies, battalions, and regiments. Every Seabee is trained as a sailor at the bootcamp at the naval training facility in Great Lakes, Illinois. Then, on to A-School in his or her rate-(trade specialty) before reporting to a battalion, where they will also be trained in basic combat-skills, or a shore-duty with a Public Works Department at a Naval Base, but "usually a battalion".

Soon, after reporting to a battalion, Seabees are expected to earn the "Seabee Combat Warfare Specialist Badge, (SCWS), which shows there proficiency in being a Seabee, through their combat and in-rate knowledge.

Seabee Construction Ratings

Seabees are called Constructionman. There are 7 ratings that are construction ratings:

  1. BU-Builder
  2. SW-Steelworker
  3. EA-Engineering Aide
  4. EO-Equipment Operator
  5. CM-Construction Mechanic
  6. CE-Construction Electrician
  7. UT-Utilitiesman

The Seabees in Films and Entertainment

In the broadway musical, and later motion picture, " South Pacific ", the sailors on the island, Seabees, but the most well known motion picture is the 1944 production, "The Fighting Seabees ", starring John Wayne and Susan Hayward.

Television Characters That Were Seabees:

Ben Walton, 3rd son, "The Waltons ".

Ward Cleaver, father, "Leave It To Beaver".

Al Boreland, Tim "The Tool-Man" Taylor's Assistant, "Home Improvement". Al was played by Richard Karn, who's father was a real Seabee in World War II.


I spent 20 years in the U.S. Naval Reserve, serving on active duty on several occasions between 1986-2006. I served 4 tours to South Korea, 6 tours to the Middle East, and was mobilized during the Kosvo Conflict in 1999.

Though I was not a Seabee, I served with many. They have my utmost respect, and are an extraordinary breed. Many have died in the last 70 years, building, fighting and paving the way through American History from those first Seabees in World War II, to the current ones around the world, in the War on Terror.

I feel nothing but pride, to say I currently have a son, who is a Seabee, serving in Afghanistan.

So, on the 70th anniversary of the Seabees, I salute them, and all the others who have served this "Great Nation"!


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    • kmkellum profile image

      kmkellum 5 years ago

      Thank you very much Vellur! Glad you enjoyed!

    • Vellur profile image

      Nithya Venkat 5 years ago from Dubai

      Awe inspiring. Soldiers protect and fight for their country. They are very brave and strong. Your hub is a great source of information. Voted up.