Seabees Lend a Helping Hand in Bosnia

While Seabees lent a helping hand in war-torn Bosnia during the mid-to-late 1990s, rebuilding schoolhouses, homes, and bridges for transportation, there was also the duty of protection and prevention. As their construction uniform includes flak vests and Kevlar helmets, protecting civilians in combat zones have always been a part of their humanitarian efforts.

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Between 1992 and 1999, approximately 200,000 military and civilians were killed as a result of the Bosnia civil war. To minimize their vulnerability in the face of war and genocide, the United Nations and the U.S. Department of Defense joined together to help Bosnian civilians in the mid-1990s. One program they jointly developed and instituted was a campaign to protect children against landmines. The campaign appealed to children’s superhero pop-culture sensibility with the Superman: Deadly Legacy comic book. The U.S. military, including the Seabees, gave these comic books to children teaching them to stay away from explosives and hidden landmines. Whether they were in fields or buildings—shiny objects should not always be played with.

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Superman: Deadly Legacy comic book, circa mid 1990s (U.S. Navy Seabee Museum archives)

The United Nations Children’s Fund (UNCEF) organization noted that as of 1996, “about 800 people [were] killed by landmines every month, 30-40 percent of them children,” in the world where “68 countries… an estimated 110 million landmines are lodged in the ground.” Humanitarian protection efforts using comic books in native languages against landmines continued in Bosnia as well as in other countries during the 1990s and included the joint forces of Superman and Wonder Woman.

 

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The Unknown Skills of a Curator

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WWII mannequin, Elmer,  working the dozer in the WWII Pacific Roads exhibit (U.S. Navy Seabee Museum)

When you hear the title museum curator, many thoughts may come to mind of the duties and qualities possessed by these museum professionals; preserves and interprets history, handles donations, designs exhibits, and lives a life similar to Indiana Jones or Lara Croft.  Although most of these are true (unfortunately not so much the life of Indiana Jones), did you know that many curators in small to medium sized museums install their own exhibits with the help of other staff members? We do not sit behind a desk all day. We can be found behind the scenes in our storage facilities or on the exhibit floor cleaning objects, mounting label copy, measuring pathways for accessibility, choosing colors, moving cases, and installing objects up until the moment new exhibits open and thereafter! Our work never ceases.

One of the many unknown skills museum curators possess is the ability to work with museum mannequins. This may not sound challenging, but the length of time it takes to undress mannequins, clean historical clothing, redress new mannequins, and pose them is daunting. Some of the tasks include; attaching their arms and legs, dressing the mannequins, stuffing their shirts to give them muscles and definition, and even giving a few haircuts! The hardest part of working with mannequins is posing them to become a part of the exhibit. The process of making a mannequin look natural in their pose is time consuming. Although some mannequins are considered flexible, it usually takes two to three staff members or volunteers to pose a mannequin into a position and then it takes a lot of small movements and different angles to make them look natural in their pose. Other mannequins which are meant to stand must be mounted on platforms with belts around their waists and then attached to the wall behind them so they do not fall over and hurt other artifacts or museum visitors.  

Working with mannequins is fun and entertaining, but also a lot of hard work. Who would have thought I would need to know how to tie a necktie or give haircuts as a curator? Unfortunately, these are not skills usually taught in a master’s program for museum studies,  but these are all great skills I am happy to have! So the next time you visit the U.S. Navy Seabee Museum and notice the posed mannequins around the museum, you now know how much time, effort, and care goes into creating a museum exhibit for our patrons to enjoy.

Archivist’s Attic- Seabees, Classifications, & Life Skills during WWII

With the formation of the newly created Naval Construction Battalions in 1942, Civil Engineer Corps (CEC) officers needed to create new qualifications for each Seabee rank and rate in order to recruit civilians into the force.  When recruited, men were recommended for a certain rank and rate based on age, education, previous experience, and hobbies: CPO Draftsman, minimum age 32; CBM (Diver), must be a diver with considerable experience on waterfront work; Navy Mail Clerk, must be trustworthy; Carpenter’s Mate, related civil job–cabinetmaker; musician, etc. While recruits had a general idea of what they rated, “[t]he day following a recruit’s arrival at Camp Peary’s Seabee training center (opened in 1942) a trained interviewer reclassified by them.”

 

While at Camp Peary, the interviewer asked the recruit a series of focused questions and information requests specific to certain duties and jobs/ranks such as: MM1c (Bulldozer Operator), Milling Machine Operator, Carpenter’s Mate… which needed filling for Seabees.

 “Would you be able to pull a 3 foot diameter stump with caterpillar 60, and how would you set the machine to do so?”

“What do you call the circle on a dividing head that you use to turn the work a definite amount?”

 “Name two knots used to tie together the ends of ropes to make a safe hitch for scaffolding.”

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Seabee Recruiting Cruiser Contingent in Parkersburg, West Virginia, October 1943. (U.S. Navy Seabee Museum archives)

While in the Seabees during WWII, enlisted men between the ages of 17 and 50 earned from $54.00 to $126.00 a month depending on rate and rank.

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Statistical Report/graph of CB personnel, 1942 through 1945. (U.S.Seabee Museum archives)

The first Seabee Detachment departed the U.S. January 27, 1942. In November that same year, President Roosevelt authorized the Seabees be expanded to 210,000 men from the initial force of 99 men nearly a year earlier. By the end of the war, more than 325,000 Seabees served on 6 continents and 250 islands.

 

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Curator’s Corner- The Legacy of Rear Admiral Lewis B. Combs

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Rear Admiral Combs with Seabees while on a visit to Trinidad to preform inspections on the 30th and 80th Construction Battalions, March 1944 (U.S. Navy Seabee Museum)

Rear Admiral Lewis B. Combs is a celebrated Civil Engineer Corps (CEC) officer best known for his many accomplishments spanning two world wars and assisting in the establishment and organization of the Naval Construction Force (NCF), better known as the Seabees, during World War II.

Combs graduated from Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute (RPI) in Troy, NY in 1916 with a degree in civil engineering and quickly joined the war effort when America entered World War I and served as an assistant civil engineer officer in charge of field construction in the Navy.

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Wedding portrait of Lewis B. Coms and Laura B. Warden with Lt. Ben Moreell, to his left,  as his best man, April 1925. (U.S. Navy Seabee Museum)

During peacetime service, he worked many overseas assignments, including the Republic of Haiti, where he met and became good friends with Lt. Ben Moreell, who would later become the “father of the Seabees”. Their friendship would span the rest of their lives as their careers each experienced an upwards path.

In 1938 Admiral Combs became the assistant chief at the Bureau of Yards and Docks (Budocks) serving under his good friend Rear Admiral Ben Moreell for 8 years through the duration of World War II and received the rank of Rear Admiral (RADM) in 1942.

In 1943, Combs received an opportunity to serve as the technical advisor during the making of the film The Fighting Seabees (1943) and formed a lifelong friendship with lead actor John Wayne. He went on to advise Wayne during the production of Sands of Iwo Jima (1949) and Home for the Seabees (1977).

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Combs on the set of The Fighting Seabees, Camp Pendleton, Calif., with actor John Wayne, 1943. (U.S. Navy Seabee Museum)

As the second in command of Budocks, Combs was responsible for administering the Navy’s shore construction and development program. Throughout 1944 to 1945, he conducted inspections of construction battalions in the Caribbean and Pacific, traveling more than 100,000 miles to personally meet with Seabees, boosting morale and welfare, listening to problems, and bringing information from the field back to headquarters. Before the war, he liked to say, he knew every one of the Navy’s 120 civil-engineering officers, by name. Before the war was over his engineering command included 10,000 officers and more than 325,000 Seabees.

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Rear Admiral Combs and CEC officers riding around Tinian Island on an amphibious wheeled vehicle while performing inspections on the 6th Seabee Brigade, February 1945. (U.S. Navy Seabee Museum)

RADM Combs finished his naval career in 1947 as the director of BuDocks Atlantic operations in New York.  He returned to Troy, NY where he became the head of the Department of Civil Engineers at RPI until his retirement in 1961. Nearly 400 military officers earned bachelor degrees in civil engineering under his guidance, predominantly CEC officers who went on to lead the NCF for decades to come.

Rear Admiral Combs passed away in May, 1996 at the age of 101. His legacy can be measured in the people and organizations he touched, and he directly influenced, either in uniform or as an academic, perhaps more civil engineers in the Navy’s history than any other man. Rear Admiral Lewis B. Combs has proudly earned the name “uncle” of the Seabees.

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Portrait of RADM Combs, created by artist Elaine Hartley Levine during WWII. (U.S. Navy Seabee Museum)

The portrait of RADM Combs, created by artist Elaine Hartley Levine during WWII, depicts Combs in the popular style of portraitures during that period; shown half-length, in a colorful descriptive setting. The small Seabee on his desk was a suitable emblem to represent his duties in NCF. The portrait is currently hung in the U.S. Navy Seabee Museum’s exhibit CEC before Seabees. Come visit the Seabee Museum and see our new additions and old treasures added to the CEC before Seabees exhibit.

Special thanks to historian Dr. Frank A. Blazich Jr. for his extensive knowledge and research on RADM Combs which was essential to creating this blog.

 

photo-of-robyn-for-curators-cornerMeet the Curator: Robyn King is pursuing her master’s degree in Museum Studies and Nonprofit Management through Johns Hopkins University. She earned her Bachelors in History and Anthropology from the State University of New York at Oneonta. She has experience working at state museums, historic sites, the National Park Service, and most recently the Navy. She is an expert in collection management, and has worked closely with both natural and cultural collections. Robyn loves all museums and sharing her love of history. When she is not working, she is volunteering her time with the National Peace Corps Association, as a Returned Peace Corps Volunteer from West Africa.

Curator’s Corner- Seabee Recruitment Caravan & Exhibit Truck

 

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Seabee Exhibit Truck (reproduction), used during the WWII Seabee nation-wide recruitment campaign (U.S. Navy Seabee Museum)

The U.S. Seabee Museum, with the help of the CEC/ Seabee Historical Foundation, has acquired a WWII reproduction of a Seabee Exhibit Truck which was used during the Seabee Nation-Wide Recruitment Campaign.  An original 1942 exhibit diorama from the museum’s collection is displayed in the truck.

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Recruitment Poster (U.S. Navy Seabee Museum

The recruiting campaign began in October 1942 and nation-wide tours launched in 1943 to spearhead the enlistment of 100,000 Seabees into the Naval Construction Battalion by the first of the year.  The Seabee recruitment caravans, also known as a “recruiting stations on wheels,” consisted of an exhibit truck and a recruitment cruiser. The caravans was accompanied by four enlisted men and two commissioned CEC officers who provided full information about enlisting with the Seabees. Men from ages 17 to 50 with construction experience were needed immediately to build bases on distant battlefronts.

 

“…one of the most interesting [exhibits] to have ever been produced by the navy department…The purpose of the display is to stimulate interest in enlistments in the Seabees, the construction battalion of the navy.”

                                                                                            -The Times Leader, August 1943

The exhibit truck’s diorama, depicted through the medium of miniature wax figures*, shows a complete landing operation carried out by the Seabees on Island “X” in the South Pacific. The dioramas showed Seabees clearing away tropical trees, building barracks, landing supplies and performing multiple other duties required of them in establishing island bases.

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Newspaper article announcing the arrival of the recruitment caravan, Middletown, OH Journal August 16, 1943

Prior to the Recruitment Caravan’s visit to each city, arrangements were made in advance to distribute special posters, have newspaper articles written, and to have announcements made by local radio stations of its arrival. Further publicity was made through local labor organizations and social clubs.

Upon arrival to visiting cities, the caravan was escorted into the city by a police escort and station wagon, accompanied by fanfare, music, and crowds. The vehicles usually “docked” in front of the county courthouse or city hall. In the evening the caravan would “anchor” at a local park where concerts were held before the showing of the Seabee motion picture “Builders for Battle” and “Sports of Sailormen”. The entire community was invited to see the movies free of charge and inspect the exhibit.

The Seabee Museum’s Exhibit Truck is modeled after one of the original trucks that toured the Midwest during the summer of 1943.  The recruitment caravan visited numerous cities in Kentucky, Ohio, and Indiana during the two-month tour where an estimated 140,000 people viewed the exhibit diorama.

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Before displaying one of the original dioramas in the newly procured exhibit truck, the Naval History & Heritage Center (NHHC) Conservation Branch performed conservation treatment on the diorama with the goal to stabilize it and improve its aesthetic integrity for its upcoming exhibition.  The diorama was cleaned, distorted figures were stabilized, fallen or broken palm fronds were re-attached, and its background was fixed and painted.

Come visit the Seabee Exhibit Truck at the U.S. Navy Seabee Museum today and check out the newly conserved diorama.

*Miniature figures were made out of different materials including wax, putty, and paper mache

 

photo-of-robyn-for-curators-cornerMeet the Curator: Robyn King is pursuing her master’s degree in Museum Studies and Nonprofit Management through Johns Hopkins University. She earned her Bachelors in History and Anthropology from the State University of New York at Oneonta. She has experience working at state museums, historic sites, the National Park Service, and most recently the Navy. She is an expert in collection management, and has worked closely with both natural and cultural collections. Robyn loves all museums and sharing her love of history. When she is not working, she is volunteering her time with the National Peace Corps Association, as a Returned Peace Corps Volunteer from West Africa.

Curator’s Corner- Blue Star Mother Flag

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Courtesy of the War Manpower Commission

Blue Star Mother Flags, also known as Service Flags or Blue Star Flags, represent a symbol of love, pride, hope, and grave concern for families who have members serving in the military during any period of war the United States is engaged in. The tradition of displaying the indoor flag began during World War I. The flag was originally designed and patented by Army Captain Robert L. Queisser of the 5th Ohio Infantry who had two sons serving on the front line. The flag would hang in the front window of the home with a blue star (or multiple blue stars) representing the number of their children or family members serving in a war.

During World War II, the practice of displaying the Blue Star Flag became much more widespread. On February 1, 1942 the first meeting of the Blue Star Mothers of America, Inc. was attended by 300 women in Flint, Michigan. The organization was founded as a Veteran Service Organization and was part of a movement to provide care packages to military members serving overseas and to assist families who encountered hardships as a result of their son or husband serving in the war. Quickly, chapters formed around the nation, and the Blue Star Flags of WWI reappeared in the windows of American homes once again. There were over 300,000 Seabee families in World War II who could display the Blue Star Mother’s official banner.

The U.S. Navy Seabee Museum has many Blue Star Mother artifacts within its collection including two which are currently on exhibit in the WWII Home Front display. The three blue stars on the flag represented the Baker sons fighting in WWII, and was proudly displayed by their mother. The pin was worn by the mother of WWII Seabee Chief Robert D. Jacobs. It is unique in that it combines the Seabee insignia, Navy anchors, and the Blue Star Flag.

Come visit the U.S. Navy Seabee Museum on Tuesday April 4, 2017 from 2-4pm to see the Blue Star Mother artifacts and other rarely seen artifacts from the collection at the Curator’s Corner event.

 

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Meet the Curator: Robyn King is pursuing her master’s degree in Museum Studies and Nonprofit Management through Johns Hopkins University. She earned her Bachelors in History and Anthropology from the State University of New York at Oneonta. She has experience working at state museums, historic sites, the National Park Service, and most recently the Navy. She is an expert in collection management, and has worked closely with both natural and cultural collections. Robyn loves all museums and sharing her love of history. When she is not working, she is volunteering her time with the National Peace Corps Association, as a Returned Peace Corps Volunteer from West Africa.

Curator’s Corner- Artifact Spotlight: SCW Pin Seabee Sculpture

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SCW Pin Seabee Sculpture, created by SW2 (SCW) Fontaine & SW1 (SCW) Ramirez, Keflavik, Iceland, 2005 (U.S. Navy Seabee Museum)

A new addition to the U.S. Navy Seabee Museum’s permanent collection is a steel metal sculpture known as the SCW Pin Seabee. This modern style Seabee insignia incorporates the Seabee Combat Warfare Specialist insignia (SCW) which is prominently displayed on the sculpture along with a battle dressed Seabee. The sculpture was welded and brought to life by Steelworker 2nd Class (SCW) Fontaine & Steelworker 1st Class (SCW) Ramirez for the last Seabee Ball at Naval Air Station Keflavik (NASKEF), Iceland in 2005.

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SCW Insignia displayed on the sculpture

NASKEF is a former U.S. Navy base at Keflavik International Airport close to the Icelandic capital of Reykjavik. Built during World War II by the U.S. Army as part of its mission to protect Iceland and to secure northern Atlantic air routes, it served to ferry personnel, equipment, and supplies to Europe. In 1942, one of the first Seabee units was sent there to help construct Meeks Field, a main ferrying and transport airfield used for flights between the US and the UK.

 

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Map of Iceland, courtesy of Google Maps

U.S. forces withdrew from Iceland in 1947, only to return in 1951 with NATO members under a formal defense agreement to operate NASKEF. The base acted as a platform for several operational capabilities throughout the Cold War and in the modern arena. Seabee Detachments (DET) were assigned to NASKEF’s Public Works Department until the base was disestablished on September 8, 2006 and its facilities were turned back over to Iceland.

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Close up of the half man/ half bee Seabee (U.S. Navy Seabee Museum)

Presumably, the SCW Pin Seabee was created to show Seabee pride. The Seabee is represented having the head, arms, and torso of a man (GI Joe® figure), and four additional arms and the body of a bee. The Seabee is holding a wrench, hammer, welding torch, handgun, gas mask, and a rifle in each of his hands to show his construction abilities and his military prowess. As Steelworkers, the creators of the sculpture added an arc welding power supply in the foreground to highlight their Seabee rate. This sculpture is an example of how a new generation of Seabees portray themselves compared to the Disney-style bee. The museum is continuing to gather further information regarding the provenance of this Sculpture and welcomes any new information.

Visit the U.S. Navy Seabee Museum and see how the Seabee insignia has evolved since its creation in 1942.

photo-of-robyn-for-curators-cornerMeet the Curator: Robyn King is pursuing her master’s degree in Museum Studies and Nonprofit Management through Johns Hopkins University. She earned her Bachelors in History and Anthropology from the State University of New York at Oneonta. She has experience working at state museums, historic sites, the National Park Service, and most recently the Navy. She is an expert in collection management, and has worked closely with both natural and cultural collections. Robyn loves all museums and sharing her love of history. When she is not working, she is volunteering her time with the National Peace Corps Association, as a Returned Peace Corps Volunteer from West Africa.