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Creation of the Seabees: January 5, 1942

Tarawa, Gilbert - Bombing
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.

Seabee Personnel Matters
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.

Seabees building and airstrip
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.

148 Comments

  1. My late father was on the SeaBees in the Pacific in WW II. His name was Glenn Carroll Ernst Sr. from Illinois born in 1921. The only story I remember was of playing football with others on a runway they were building on an island. I also think he was a refrigeration specialist. Would be happy to learn more to document on and pass along. The only thing I have is a black cap that says Phillipines. Thank you.

    • My late father-in-law was also on an island in the Pacific (Tinian Island). They were there to build the landing strip for the Enola Gay (dropped the bomb on Hiroshima). He had some pictures but I don’t know what happened to them after he & my former mother-in-law died.

    • My grandaddy (RIP) was WW2 navy man. I salute your dad’s service. Thanks for sharing. Didn’t John Wayne make a movie about Seabees?

  2. My father, William E. Morris served with the Seabees in WWII. He was 32 years old when he enlisted. He trained at Camp Peary, then was at Great Lakes, and ultimately was assigned to a base in California. We have pictures of his unit, one of which has the names written on the back. Near the end of his life he told of a mission that he went on that was highly secret. He stated he had been told never to speak of it. I would like to know something about that mission, if it existed at all. We do know (from my mother) that Dad was changed somehow when he came home, as he was very sensitive to loud, sudden noises. Dad was very alert and “with it” at the time of his passing, so I am inclined to believe that something did happen. Any information would be greatly appreciated.

  3. My husband William L Thompson was in MCB-6 in 1966-1968 and was deployed to Chu Lai, Viet Nam from Davisville, Rhode Island. He currently lives in Atlanta, Georgia and is a member of the Facebook MCB-6 group. I’m sure he would love to hear from any of the guys that care to post on that group’s Facebook page.

  4. My uncle Cyril j vanic was in the seebees in world war two, he was born in 1923 and passed away in 2010 he used to meet a few times a year with his guys for lunch and by the time of his passing there were only a few left, he talked about it often and he was one of the best people ive ever known , i named my son Cyril after him !!!they were from a time when people were proud to be americans !!!

  5. My husband was a Seabee from 1976 until 1982. He was round to serve our wonderful country!

  6. My father, Horatio Nash Ogden, was an officer in the SeaBees in the Solomon Islands. Unfortunately, he told me absolutely nothing about his experiences, but when he died in 1988, he left behind an absolute treasure trove of documents, letters, pictures, etc. In addition, my parents kept every letter that they wrote to each other during the 2 ½ years he was gone. They are numbered, in perfect order and fascinating to read. I have had them scanned onto CDs as they will eventually crumble. Of the pictures that I have, he wrote names on the back of 3 of them. Picture 1 – Henry Bensel, HNO (my father), Seymour Koteen (our dentist). Picture 2 – Chief Petty Officers: Crowder, Thetford, Morton, Savoy, Dawson, Warrant Officer Deens and HNO (my father) 73rd Naval Const Batt., Oct, 1943 “These are the heads of our electrical and machine shops. Deens is officer-in-charge of equipment maintenance.” Picture 3 – 15th Naval Const Regiment Staff, May, 1944 Shoemaker, Dr. Ball, Comdr Jeffords (the boss), Reynolds, HNO (my father), Gilroy, Sala, Skidmore, Dudley, Wiley. If anyone recognizes a name, I will be glad to share a copy of the picture.

  7. I father Mac Keever was 16 when he singed up for the Navy Sea Bees in 1942 he was also in the Solomon Island and was on Tinian and Siapan building landing strips heavy equipment operator, I f anyone has pictures or remember his name I would like to hear from you he was born 1926 and died in 1975.

  8. I joined the SeaBees in July of 1969 and did boot camp in Gulfport Mississippi. Was sent to Davisville RI and then joined MCB 7 and went to Chu Lai Vietnam.
    After that I came back to Davisville and eventually was selected to be on the Atlantic Fleet SeaBee drill team.
    Lots of memories

    • Oh my gosh! My Dad was stationed at Davisville til from 1969-1972….He was with the Naval Mobile Construction Battalion 3, He went to Antarctica under Antarctica Support Activities, Operation Deep Freeze, Public Works Dept to keep lighting, heating and water systems functioning properly for International scientific research to continue uninterrupted.
      He also helped construct two new stations for the researchers and he’d clear the runways for C-130’s to fly in/out.

      I still remember living there…I was 5 when we moved back to Indiana.

  9. I was in the Seabees from Sept. 1943 to Feb. 1945. Boot training at Camp Perry, then in the 23rd SpeciaIl Battalion. Saw duty at Pearl Harbor, Iwo Jima, & Okinawa.

    • A salute to you Mr. Richardson. My father Ben Curtis was also on Okinawa but he talked very little about his time there, and space doesn’t allow me to share what he did tell us. I know he was there to prepare the landing area for the marines and soldiers to deploy. I also know it was a difficult time and that when he passed away at age 92 a couple of years ago he was buried still carrying Japanese shrapnel. Never enough can be said for the bravery and sacrifice of all those who served at that time. God’s blessings to you and another thanks for your sacrifice and service.

    • My Dad and uncle were in the Seabees in WW II and served in Guadacanal and Solomon Tslands. I think he was on the 34th.

    • Thank you for your service Mr. Richardson. My grandfather served in the Seebees around the same time and location as yourself. His name was Robert (Bob) “Bull” Madison. The only story I have was that he kept getting demoted because of his hot temper. Once having struck a superior costing him some stripes prior to the war ending. He was from Virginia. I wish I knew more. All I knew was that he built the roads that my other Marine grandfather drove trucks over shortly after, tho they never met until after the war. God Bless you sir!

  10. I served 2 tours in Vietnam with mcb 74 out of Gulfport, Ms (67-69). Although the Vietnam war was very unpopular & divisive I was & am very proud of my service to the country. (Go hogs)

  11. A very informative article. Keep them coming. There are few who survived WWII and still are living and interested in this data. I’m searching for anyone who served on the USS Baltimore during 1942 – 45. Would be interest in sharing some data directed to the above address. cmg

  12. My husband’s uncle was in the 64th Seabee’s as a photographer. He and other officers and men of the 64th published a book about the work and activities of the 64th (1942-1946). It looks kind of like a yearbook. The dedication page reads “To the parents, wives and sweethearts of the men of the 64th Naval Construction Battalion, we humbly dedicate this volume. It is or sincere hope that through the pages of this book they may share with us some of the joys, fellowship, and cooperative effort which we experienced while in the service of our Country. To each of those who were with us in Spirit, we offer thanks for keeping the home fires burning brightly and for helping to keep America so nice to come home to.”
    There is an index with the full name and address of each person in the back. I would be happy to do a look up for anyone who knows or thinks their relative may have been in this unit.

    • I had a brother Frank Cadwell Brunnemann, born in 1925, that served in the Seebees from 1943 to 1947. He was stationed at Attu Alaska and then re-enlisted when the Korean war broke out. This time he was stationed at Adak Alaska for four years. I know he was an underwater driver and that is all that we know. He died in 2005. His daughter tried to get his service record but was told that his file had been permanently sealed. Any information would be appreciated. I also know that he trained at Camp Perry, Ca.

    • Hello, I am looking for information about Leslie Wareing, who was in the Philipines at the end of the war. If he is in the book, could you please send me info? Thanks!

    • Cathy: my dad John C. Davis was in the Seabees during WW2, stationed in Okinawa I believe. Can you see if he was part of this battalion? He was born in 1912 and died in 1976. He would never speak of the WAR. When I asked, he said to never ask him again. My mother had a satin square pillow cover that said Fighting Seabees with the dates and unit he was in, but it was lost over the years.

    • I came across this about the Seabees. My father was in the Seabees around that time. I would be interested if my Dad was listed. His name is Wayne Darold Vollmar. He passed away in 1974 and he would never talk to us about this time in his life.

      Thank you

      Debbie

    • Cathi, I have a similar yearbook but mine is for the 79th construction battalion. My father served in the Pacific and Alaska. I noticed that in the book, they refer to travelling to island X but I do know he was on Saipan and Okinawa. I still have a batch of photos taken by a navy photographer of the carnage on those islands. Very tragic.

      Among the pictures in the yearbook is a photo of Olivia DeHaviland visiting their sick bay in March, 1944.

    • I tried to answer each post by clicking on it but it didn’t work so I’ll answer here.
      Deborah- Leslie Wareing isn’t listed as being in the 64th
      Jan- John C. Davis isn’t listed as being in the 64th either
      Debbie – I’m sorry but Wayne Vollmar isn’t listed in the book.
      Charlene – does your book list Frank Cadwell Brunnemann? Tony says he served in Alaska and you said your book on the 79th served in Alaska. My book says the 64th was in Newfoundland, Pearl Harbor and the Philippines. There are about 1,000 names in the index so I hope I can help someone.

    • Is Joseph G. Bennett listed?

    • Robert,
      There are a couple of Bennette’s listed but not yours. Sorry!

    • Thank you so much Miss Cathi! Yes… could you please look up Robert (or Bob) Madison. His nickname was “Bull”. Thank you!

    • Tonya, There isn’t anyone with the last name Madison listed in the 64th NCB.

  13. menber of mcb3 went to phillipines, SUBIC BAY to build the airfield our location called CUBI POINT. REMEMBER the SAN MAGUIEL beer truck YEH lll-lol had a good time with the girls at naval station ships service girls were very good dancer’s served 30 aug. 1951 to 24 mar. 1952 lets hear from u guys

  14. My late dad, Howard P. Traver, was a Sea Bee in the South Pacific and helped
    construct the airstrip on Tinan that launched the Enola Gay on her famous bomb run. He was not happy with the results of that mission since so many people died, though the mission was necessary to bring the war to an end. He and our family became very involved with the Japanese culture after the war and we hosted numerous Japanese Foreign Exchange Students and helped start the Sister City Program in Portland, Oregon in the 60’s. My own daughter is deeply involved, speaks, writes and teaches Japanese and has been to Japan with one of our foreign exchange TEACHER students.

  15. My uncle, Jimmy Bain, was in the Seabees during WW II.When he came home he used what he had learned to rise to Asst. City Engineer for Jacksonville, Fl.

  16. I am a former SeaBee having served 1961 – 1965 in MCB-5 leaving as an SWE-2.

  17. I was a seabee from 1984-1994, was injured on a exercise for desert shield in 1990. I served 5 years in the far East Asia and the Philippines and 4 years in San Diego, CA .My first year was in Port Hueneme Ca.

  18. My father, Harley E May, was stationed in England during WWII. He was an electrician’s assistant. Not sure of the base. I have a picture of him and his comrades standing next to a generator they rebuilt. Will post once I get it scanned.

  19. All Seabees contact Diane Kuebler in mass. She is the historian for you

  20. My brother George Courtney was in the Seabees during the height of WWII. The famous Hollywood actor Victor Mature served in the CBs at the same time my bro told me.

  21. I was a sea bee in the Navy, but it was ACB-1 do you have anything about then in Viet Nam?

  22. My late father Glenn F. McCain served in the Seabees in both the Philippines
    and China throughout the entire Pacific phase of the war. He was an accomplished diesel mechanic and wrapped up the final months of his service in a motor pool on mainland China.

  23. My father served in the Seabees in WW2 he talked about Guam, Guadal Canal and other places. He enlisted in the Navy December 9,1941 at the age of 32. His name was Joseph Crutcher Wheeler from Tyler, Texas. He passed away April 5. 1985.

    • Hi Mr Wheeler. My Dad was also a SeaBee during that time and served on Guam, and GuadalCanal. He had pictures but unfortunately they have been lost. His name was William Henry Schuetz. He was from Blue Jay Ohio and was around 32 years old also I believe. He would never talk a lot about what happened over there and he passed away in July of 1996. I’m always trying to find out info and any pictures of him with his company.

  24. I was in the Sea Bee’s from 1962-1965 did my boot camp in San Diego Ca.
    went to Okinawa twice,we built the barracks for the Marines. I was a swe3.
    Would like to make contact with any of the guys I served with.

  25. My Dad was in WW II in the SeaBees in the South Pacific. William Boyd Peuser from Scranton, Pennsylvania. He passed away in May 1986.

  26. My uncle William (Bud) Miller, Carpenters Mate, 24th Naval Construction Battalion. Enlisted 10 July 42, served on Rendova, Munda, Solomon Islands. Discharged 8 Sept 43 Battle Fatigue (PTSD)

  27. My father, Archie Ronald Jones, served in the SeaBees also. The only thing I remember is that he was blown off of a barge and was in a hospital for sometime with burns. He was supposedly covered with wax everyday to seal the burned skin from the air and keep the pain away. I met a friend of my father’s once who was also a friend of my husband’s family. He had photos of my father and himself in the SeaBees. When he, Stanley “Stan” Poole, moved and died I don’t know who got his photo albums as he had no living children or family. I wish I knew where his albums are and where he and my father had served.

  28. Lawrence V. Elder was a Seabee during WWII, he served in the Pacific theater, recall he was in the Phillopines.

  29. my father was in the SEEBEES durning 2nd world and was there for de day. He said the get off a ship that these dead bodies were so deep in the water they had to walk over the dead. My father is the geatest man I Have known . Jack R . LESUEUR jr.

  30. I was in ACB 1 in the far east 1960-1962. Causeways and Beach Group.

  31. My late father was a WW2 Seabee, He spent 27 months in the Southwest and Central Pacific..I am a Seabee historian. The “Dirt Sailors” don’t get enough credit! “A Most Unsung Unit indeed”..During WW2, Many went right in with the Marines in the early waves of the invasions, but were not identified because they were wearing Marine uniforms..

    Anyone need information..My e-mail [email protected]

  32. My dad, John Donahue Esser, was in the SEEBEEs, WWII, in Iwojima and Okinawa. later to the Aleutiens where a lot of stress relieving apparently went on. He was from North Dakota at the time.

  33. My dad, David Wells Bright served in the SEABEES during WWII….He trained in SanDiego, Ca. then was shipped over to the Phillipines circa 1943,I think….He mentioned Borneo and Guam as places that he built bridges,housing,etc. In his spare time, he loved to collect shells on the beaches there….I still have some of them in my possession….Dad had a close friend named Eddie Aker. He gave a eulogy at Eddie’s passing about 20 years ago, I think it was….Anybody out there remember either of them???

  34. Home of the SeaBees (CB’s) …. Davisville, RI

    • My Dad was stationed at Davisville til from 1969-1972….He was with the Naval Mobile Construction Battalion 3, He went to Antarctica under Antarctica Support Activities, Operation Deep Freeze, Public Works Dept to keep lighting, heating and water systems functioning properly for International scientific research to continue uninterrupted.
      He also helped construct two new stations for the researchers and he’d clear the runways for C-130’s to fly in/out.

      I still remember living there…I was 5 when we moved back to Indiana

  35. My Mother’s brother, Clyde Thomas Reeves, born 1907, died 1982, was in the Seabees in WWII. He served in the Phillipines and S. Pacific, and I think was also stationed in Nova Scotia. Don’t know anything more.
    t

    • Carol,
      I found Clyde Thomas Reeves as a member of the 64th . In the index of my book it gives his full name and his address as Gen. Del. Beaver, Oklahoma. The 64th was commissioned 8 Jan, 1943 . They arrived in Argentia, Newfoundland in shifts between 27 Mar. and 3 Apr. 1943. Oct. 25, 1944 the 64th Seabees boarded the General Howze for Pearl Harbor. On 28 Apr., 1945 went ashore at Tubabao Island (Philippines) to build a U.S. Naval Receiving Station.

  36. u didn`t tell, there hq were in quonset,ri., and there portable houses were called quonset huts, and still in use today.

    • My Dad was stationed at Davisville til from 1969-1972….He was with the Naval Mobile Construction Battalion 3, He went to Antarctica under Antarctica Support Activities, Operation Deep Freeze, Public Works Dept to keep lighting, heating and water systems functioning properly for International scientific research to continue uninterrupted.
      He also helped construct two new stations for the researchers and he’d clear the runways for C-130’s to fly in/out.

      I still remember living there…I was 5 when we moved back to Indiana

  37. My late father Joseph Hall was a Seabee! I was 5 at the time he went in . Remember it well even at 5. He was on Tawaii(?) with the Demolition unit. Bless all those there and all over in all the wars! Born in 1916 passed on in April 1996. God rest his soul.
    Carol

  38. My step-father was CSF Eddie Gorman of Chicago. He was with the 26th Seabees on Guadalcanal. Any info on him or unit?

  39. Thanks for the information about the founding of the Seabees during World War Two.

    Woody Einkauf, my maternal grandfather, served in the Seabees. He was born during World War One and was named for President Woodrow Wilson.

    He told me only one story about his Seabee experiences during the war. He told this story only about two weeks before he passed away.

    The story was about his operating a bulldozer or other large machine (backhoe?) during or after Guadalcanal (if my own memory serves). He was still feeling some pain or guilt for driving the machine that buried so many of the Japanese dead. There were so many dead men, he said.

    War is stupid; war is hell. We are addicted to it.

    I honor my beloved grandfather and his experiences during World War Two as a Seabee; the man who was born during the War to End All Wars.

    “The future is a war.” -E. Cervenka
    –Patrick

  40. My brother Ted Albert Megonnigil was in the Cee Bees for 20 years. He passed away in 1996 in Tacoma WA. He didn’t talk much about the Korean War, but as he was writing me one time, there was a sniper he could see up in a tree. He made friends in the Phillipeans. I miss him

  41. My DAD. Jack R. LESUEUR ! Was A SEABEES Durnig Second WORLD.
    I ask him what SEABEE, He told me it stood for ‘confused Bastereds”..
    layered told me to what SEEBEES s stood for. Years latered watched a program about the last base he had been on. He told that there that un-boarding the ship that. Thay Fright on the backs of thousand killeded Americans In the water like stacked cord wood. While. Taking enemy fire.!!! Dose anybody remembered JACK. R. LESUEUR.???

  42. My father, William E. Morris, enlisted in the Navy and Seabees in 1942, at age 34. He ultimately was stationed in California, although he trained at Camp Perry and Great Lakes. We have a number of pictures of his men, some with the names written on the back and in order. Being in the Seabees was one of the high points of his life. One picture we have shows my Dad with 2 very young men who served with him. He was a “Chief”.

  43. I was in the SeeBees from 1962-66. I went to Getmo Cuba in the winter of 62, Roosevelt Roads Puerto Rico in winter of 63, with MCB-7. I switched to MCB-6 in 64 and went to Antarctica with Operation Deep Freeze ,Detachment Whisky, Oct. 64 – Mar. 65. Then went back to Antarctic again Oct. 65 – Mar. 66. My home base was Davisville RI. I would love to hear from any of you SeeBees or Scientist that were there.

  44. My WWII Dad was on Saipan in 1944/1945, anyone else?

  45. My Father was also in the CBs before joining the Army. I know he was in the Guadalcanal area at some point. Then was in The Pacific Theater later on, in the Army. He was a Georgia boy from Hoboken and joined the CBs to help his Mother as she was on the farm and his father has died-so he sent any money back to my Grandma. My fathers name was Hilton Dodge Hickox (but was known as “Wild Bill”), does anyone know how I can find the records of his service?