January 5 marks the day in 1942 that Rear Admiral Ben Moreell was given authorization to create the Seabees, the naval force that would carry out an astonishingly diverse array of construction tasks at home and abroad for the Navy during World War II.
The creation of the Seabees (short for Construction Battalions) was deemed essential following America’s entrance into the war, when it became clear that, rather than continuing to use civilian contractors who couldn’t defend themselves against enemy attack, the navy needed military men to build bases, landing strips, and so on in current and potential war zones.
In the beginning, Seabees were recruited on a voluntary basis from over 60 construction trades and ranged in age from 18 to 50, with an average age of 37. But after December 1942, they were drafted via the Selective Service System, and the average age dropped. By the war’s end, about 325,000 men had served in the Seabees.
The motto of the Seabees was “We Build, We Fight,” and build they did. Whether serving in the Pacific or the Atlantic, they took on an amazing range of projects, often using ingenuity and a “can do” attitude to accomplish what seemed to be impossible. Some of their most common projects included unloading ships; building, enlarging, and maintaining bases; building pontoon causeways; cutting roads; serving in demolition units; building piers, wharfs, breakwaters, and offshore docks; operating landing craft; repairing damaged buildings; installing plumbing, lighting, communication lines, and power lines; making and repairing airstrips, airfields, and control towers; and building hospitals, warehouses, chapels, and housing—just to name a few.
Although the Seabees weren’t generally used in active combat, they frequently landed with the assault forces and thus were trained to be able to defend themselves if necessary. One famous Seabee, Aurelio Tassone, earned a Silver Star when he used his bulldozer to crush an enemy-occupied pillbox in the Solomon Islands. The comparable bravery of many other Seabees was reflected in the 33 Silver Stars and 5 Navy Crosses they earned in the war—and by the fact that almost 300 of them were killed in action.
Do you have any Seabee relatives? If so, try looking for them or their battalions on Fold3. Or if the Seabees in general have caught your interest, try doing a broader search to find thousands of documents about the force.