The Seabee Museum and Masks

Today we find ourselves in a new normal under the cover of protection—wearing masks—not only for our family and ourselves, but as humanitarian’s taking care of our neighbors. While the world may seem geographically larger through social distancing—less travel, it might also seem smaller by our common activism to take care of each other. Over the last few months people and multiple institutions including museums, have donated personal protective equipment (PPE). Scavenging their hearts, homes, and museum collection supply rooms they made and gathered PPE ranging from homemade masks, to nitrile gloves, and N95 masks that curators and conservators wear while caring for artifacts and archival collections.

Recently, while teleworking I attended a virtual collection’s talk where the presenter spoke about the journey of artifacts; specifically, a ball-bearing marble and that of an unopened letter—written by son, traveled by post overseas, and returned by post back to the boy’s home. The speaker encouraged listeners to not only consider an object’s final use, but how it got there. Example: how did the mask get from “A” to “B,” and what did it do once it was there? In the case of the speaker, the ball bearing/marble began as a piece of gunshot; and a son wrote the letter to his deployed father. The unopened letter is now on exhibit in a museum where inspired students imagine what words are inside the envelope based on the letter’s story/journey.

“OKINAWA, Japan (April 9, 2020) Utilitiesman 1st Class Nicole Grieve, deployed with Naval Mobile Construction Battalion (NMCB) 5, sews cloth face coverings at NMCB-5’s mask-making workshop at Camp Shields in Okinawa, to comply with Navy requirements. NMCB-5 is deployed across the Indo-Pacific region conducting high-quality construction to support U.S. and partner nations to strengthen partnerships, deter aggression, and enable expeditionary logistics and naval power projection. (U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 1st Class Stephane Belcher/Released)” Image and text from Navy.mil.

“PORT HUENEME, Calif. (April 14, 2020) Steelworker Constructionman Cody Mossow, assigned to Naval Mobile Construction Battalion (NMCB) 4, cuts out the inner layer of a 3-D printed face mask on Naval Base Ventura County. Personnel assigned to NMCB-4 are creating 3D-printed face masks to support COVID-19 relief efforts. (U.S. Navy photo by Construction Electrician Constructionmen Alexzander Petitt /Released)” Image and text from Navy.mil.

Looking at the Seabee Museum’s exhibits, there are at least seven masks (PPE) with a story on display. The masks range from gas masks from WWII and the 1990s, to face protection used in Antarctica; and a Jack Browne diving mask, that Browne—a diver—designed in the 1940s. The Jack Browne style was used until the 1970s. The masks were built for extreme conditions; they traveled from maker to Seabee, to deployment location (Pacific Theater, Arctic/Antarctica, or Southwest Asia), and potentially fulfilled the mission and protected the user, and later entered into the museum’s collection for future visitors to learn about. Today, with helping hands and ingenuity, Seabees are busy at work making new stories while providing relief in our challenging times by sewing and printing PPE including ear guards and protective masks. There is a need, people designed and built the PPE, people delivered it, and people are being protected. Stay Safe…

A Seabee used this ND Mark IV Gas Mask while stationed in Kodiak, Alaska during WWII. The diaphragm gas mask with head harness improved the users field of vision compared to when using the Mark III. The user wore the filter at the back of the neck and attached to the mask with a metal clip.

A Seabee used this mask and helmet liner while deployed in Antarctica during 1980s. The balaclava, which exposes only the eyes and mouth, protects the wearer’s face from freezing in subzero temperatures.

 

“Jack Browne” Mask – Named after diver/designer of this triangular mask around 1940, its distinctive feature is a three-way valve to ease breathing.

 

 

Seabee News from “Island X”

The Seabee News Service was created during World War II by the Bureau of Yards and Docks. It was a semi-monthly news service that was intended to encourage battalions to publish their own newspapers, assist with providing content, and to inform Seabees at home and abroad of the projects and accomplishments of battalions deployed throughout the world.

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Seabee News Service, Issue 1, 15 Sep 1943

Most battalions had contests to come up with a name for their newspapers, and some ended up changing the name of their newspaper during the course of the war. For example, Naval Construction Battalion (NCB) 1 had three names for their newsletter:

news 5The typical newsletter consisted of information concerning battalion hails and farewells, commendations and promotions, medical officer memos, news from home, chaplain’s messages,

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NCB 7 Newsletter, The Buz, 11 November 1943

 

information about recreation (sports, musical performances, movies),  original drawings by battalion members,

 

 

 

 

and messages from the battalion Commanding Officer.

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NCB 1 Newsletter, The Pioneer, 27 January 1944

Battalion newsletters were often mailed home, so most contained a statement that they had been reviewed and approved by Navy censors. Maintaining base location anonymity was essential to victory. In an effort to preserve secrecy, Seabees used the name “Island X” to describe their location when writing home or creating base or command newsletters. The term was used for any location they were serving, to include a small island, Africa, Great Britain, Sicily, South America, Iceland, or Alaska. Newsletters also provided detailed reminders of what kind of information to exclude from letters to the homefront.

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Censor comments from the 7th NCB Waterfront, 23 January 1945

After the war, Seabees created local alumni organizations named Island X-#, with different numbers, (i.e. Island X-7 Port Hueneme) which are still running. Although the units referred to their locations as “Island X”, researchers can now use the appendix in Building the Navy’s Bases and the Unit Histories  located on the U.S. Navy Seabee Museum website, to determine where they were based upon the dates on the newsletters. Researchers can also use the newsletters to search for possible stories about family members, and in conjunction with digitized WWII Cruisebooks, learn more about the battalions they served with. The U.S. Navy Seabee Museum is currently in the process of scanning and digitizing the World War II newsletters, and plan to make them available on our website in the future.

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Original artwork by NCB 1 member Tony Lane from the unit newsletter, The Pioneer, 27 January 1944

 

 

Seabees Crossing the Rhine River

By Dr. Lara Godbille, Director

During World War II, more than 50,000 Seabees served in the Atlantic Theater where they participated in all the European amphibious landings, including Anzio, Salerno, and Normandy.  In addition, the Seabees supported the Allied troops’ march across Europe. While the most celebrated Seabee story recalls how they ferried General George Patton’s armored units during his famous crossing of the Rhine River in March 1945, the Seabees also experienced some relatively unknown adventures.

In November 1944, three Construction Battalion Maintenance Units (CBMUs) — CBMUs 627, 628 and 629 — were commissioned for assignment to an enemy location in a future operation. While all three CBMUs participated in the crossing of the Rhine River, only CBMU 629 was involved in front-line activities while the other two were with the rear echelon.

Every man does his job as a team, checking and loading weapons a

Although they came from different branches of the armed services, Seabees of CBMU 629 serving with Gen. George Patton’s Third Army Division did the job as a team, checking and loading weapons and supplies before making the Rhine River crossing in March 1945.

On Nov. 17, 1944, four pontoon training crew detachments were formed from CBMU 629, consisting of one officer and six enlisted Seabees, and deployed forward. The first detachment moved through Belgium and joined other small boat units attached to General Omar Bradley’s First Army Division in Aachen, Germany. They became the first Seabees to enter Germany on Dec. 26, 1944, and later played a significant role in the repair of the Ludendorff Bridge at Remagen.

Prior to the war, 47 road and railway bridges spanned the Rhine. By 1945, only   the Ludendorff Bridge remained standing. On March 7, 1945, the U.S. 9th Armored Division captured the Ludendorff Bridge as part of Operation Lumberjack. One week later, Seabees moved forward to start working on pontoon barges to support the bridge.  Working without rest and under fierce enemy fire, the Seabees completed   one barge in less than 24 hours and a second the next day. Despite their best efforts, on March 17, 1945, the bridge collapsed taking with it the lives of 28 U.S. soldiers.

Seabees assist Patton cross the Rhine.

Seabees assist in pushing a portion of an Army bridge into place by LCVP on the Rhine River near the Remagen bridgehead in April 1945

The second detachment served under the command of Gen.  Patton in the Third Army Division. This detachment supervised the construction of a pontoon pile-driver barge by the Army Engineers to build a bridge across the Mosell River at Toul, France. The barge was later disassembled and transported overland to the Rhine River, where it was reassembled in preparation for Patton’s famous crossing in March 1945.

Seabees help Patton and Army cross the Rhine River.

Crossing the Rhine at Boppard, Germany. The boat crews are Seabees wearing Army uniforms at the request of General Patton.

The third detachment also served with Patton’s Third Army Division, and in early 1945 assembled Army sea mule barges and built pontoon pile-driver barges on the Meuse River near Maastricht in the Netherlands. This detachment also made “procurement trips” into Germany in search of tools, supplies and coal. These missions resulted in Seabees being among the first Allied troops to cross the Siegfried   Line, a defensive barrier of bunkers, tunnels and tank traps built by Germany, stretching nearly 400 miles along the German border.

The fourth detachment functioned as the faculty of the “River Rat Finishing School,” an Army school for barge and small boat assembly and operation on the Meuse River.

Landing craft are loaded onto flatbed trucks for transporting ov

Landing craft are loaded onto flatbed trucks for transporting overland.

The Legacy of Rear Admiral Lewis B. Combs

Abridged version of “Civil Engineer, Scholar, Naval Officer: The Life of Rear Adm. Lewis B. Combs”     By Dr. Frank A. Blazich Jr.

Rear Adm. Lewis B. Combs, CEC, USN, 1895-1996. Source: U.S. Navy Seabee Museum

Rear Adm. Lewis B. Combs, CEC, USN, 1895-1996. Source: U.S. Navy Seabee Museum

Ask any member of the Naval Construction Force (NCF) who is considered “the father of the Seabees” and they will answer Adm. Ben Moreell. Ask them who is the “uncle of the Seabees,” and they may give a quizzical look.

In a military career covering two world wars, the legacy of Rear Adm. Lewis B. Combs can be measured in the people and organizations he touched. At the time of his death in 1996, Combs had directly influenced, either in uniform or as an academic, perhaps more civil engineers in the Navy’s history than any other man. Therefore, he was considered to be the “uncle” of the Seabees.

As the assistant chief of the Bureau of Yards and Docks (BuDocks) during World War II, Combs served as Moreell’s deputy, responsible for administering the Navy’s shore construction and development program. At the time of his appointment as assistant chief for BuDocks in 1938, fewer than 120 Civil Engineer Corps (CEC) officers were on active duty. That number grew to more than 10,000 by war’s end, together with approximately 325,000 Seabees. Postwar, he became the “Dean of the Latter-Day CEC” while head of the Department of Civil Engineering at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute (RPI). Almost 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.

Lewis Barton Combs was born on 7 April 1895, at Manchester Center, Vermont.  He went to college at nearby RPI, graduating in 1916 with his bachelor’s degree in civil engineering. Following graduation, the New York Central Railroad employed Combs as a maintenance engineer.

After America’s entry into World War I, Combs answered the call for national service. After scoring highly on a competitive examination for the CEC, Combs received an appointment as an assistant civil engineer in the Navy with the rank of lieutenant (junior grade) on 27 December 1917. The start of 1918 found him attending an indoctrination course at the U.S. Naval Academy before reporting on February 13 to the Washington Navy Yard for duty as assistant civil engineer in charge of field construction. Combs served in this assignment throughout the remainder of World War I until September 1919.

Combs peers through the nose of a Boeing B-29 Superfortress, North Field, Tinian, Feb. 27, 1945.

Combs peers through the nose of a Boeing B-29 Superfortress, North Field, Tinian, Feb. 27, 1945.
Source: U.S. Navy Seabee Museum.

Peacetime service, however, provided Combs overseas assignments and renewed recognition for his engineering and organizational skills. From September 1919 to June 1924, he served as the assistant to the engineer in chief, Republic of Haiti, with duties as director of Highways and Bridges, Harbor Development and Lighthouse Service. As part of his responsibilities, Combs organized and developed the latter two departments and construction programs. For his services, he received a letter of commendation from the President of Haiti and the Haitian National Order of Honour and Merit (rank of commander). Promoted to the permanent rank of lieutenant in July 1920, Combs built a strong rapport in Haiti with a fellow CEC lieutenant, Ben Moreell. This friendship would remain a permanent fixture for the rest of their lives as their careers each experienced an upwards trajectory.

Returning to the United States in June 1924, Combs entered a period of service on both coasts until 1935. Through the remainder of the 1920s he worked at the Navy Yards at New York and Portsmouth, N.H. On 27 April 1925, he married Laura B. Warden with Moreell as his best man. By year’s end, the Navy saw fit to promote Combs to lieutenant commander. From 1929 to 1935, Combs served in Public Works for the 9th and 11th Naval Districts, and the Naval Training Station at Great Lakes, IL, and Naval Operating Base, San Diego, CA. In May 1935, Combs and his wife moved to the Republic of the Philippines for his assignment as Public Works officer of the 16th Naval District and Cavite Navy Yard. Promoted to the rank of commander, his work on the island of Luzon included surveying the southern islands, work which proved extremely valuable in the late 1930s. For these surveys and reports he was commended by the commander in chief, U.S. Asiatic Fleet.

In June 1937, Combs returned to the United States and reported for duty at BuDocks in Washington, D.C. Here he served as officer in charge of construction, Naval Experimental Model Basin, Carderock, MD, until 28 January 1938, when he became assistant chief at BuDocks. Combs remained the assistant chief for eight years, the longest such tenure of any officer in the Navy. Elevated to the rank of rear admiral on 21 Septembr 1942, this latter promotion made Combs the first officer in the Navy to hold flag rank while an assistant bureau chief.

Throughout 1944 to 1945, he personally 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 BuDocks headquarters. In the area of training, Combs’ guidance was invaluable in the development and establishment of the CEC Officers School, today located in Port Hueneme, CA. While at Port Hueneme in the fall of 1943, Combs entered the film industry, serving as a technical adviser during the making of The Fighting Seabees and forming a lifelong friendship with lead actor John Wayne. Wayne would call on Combs’ advice again during production of Sands of Iwo Jima (1949) and Home for the Seabees (1977).

Combs on the set of The Fighting Seabees, Camp Pendleton, Calif., with actor John Wayne, 1943.

Combs on the set of The Fighting Seabees, Camp Pendleton, Calif., with actor John Wayne, 1943.

After the formal surrender of the Japanese in September 1945, Combs’ wartime contributions received formal recognition. He received an honorary doctorate in engineering and delivered the commencement address at RPI on 24 October 1945. After he completed his tour as BuDocks’ assistant chief on 18 February 1946, Secretary of the Navy James Forrestal awarded him the Distinguished Service Medal for orchestrating the world’s largest integrated construction program in the building of more than 900 naval bases and stations, an investment of more than $15 billion. On March 1, Combs became director, Atlantic Division, BuDocks, N.Y., where he served until ordered home and relieved of all active duty on 23 October 1947. He was transferred to the Retired List of the Navy on 1 December 1947, at the permanent rank of rear admiral.

Following his retirement, Combs taught at RPI as a professor and made head of the Department of Civil Engineering 1 January 1948. Combs oversaw the undergraduate and graduate civil engineer programs, paying particular ate ntion to the “CEC Qualification Program” for Naval Academy and Coast Guard Academy graduates. This accelerated three-year program provided graduates with both a bachelors and masters in civil engineering. Combs retired in June 1961 as a professor emeritus.

While at RPI, Combs maintained close ties with his former CEC officers, as well as BuDocks. He returned to active duty twice, first in 1955 to accompany BuDocks Chief RADM John R. Perry on an inspection tour of the base construction program in Spain, and again in 1959 traveling to the Arctic with USAF Major General Augustus M. Minton for a tour of the Distant Early Warning line of radar sites. For his contributions to military engineer education, the Society of American Military Engineers presented Combs with the Bliss Medal on May 15, 1961, making him the first CEC recipient of the award.

Rear Adm. Lewis B. Combs, CEC, USN, 1895-1996.

Rear Adm. Lewis B. Combs, CEC, USN, 1895-1996.
Source: U.S. Navy Seabee Museum

For the next three decades, Combs remained active in his community. A frequent guest speaker at Seabee Balls, high school graduations, engineering conferences and other community functions, his memory and compassionate nature remained hallmarks of his character. He died in Red Hook, N.Y., on May 20, 1996, at the age of 101, preceded in death by his wife of 71 years, Laura, on March 8, 1996.

 

Revamping of the Powell STEM Center

The Powell STEM Center opened in 2015 thanks to heartfelt donations given by the Powell family and friends in memory of their sweet daughter Kennedy Ann Powell who passed away January 2, 2014.

Since the initial opening of the STEM Center, also known as “See The Engineering Magic Center,” thousands of children and families have enjoyed visiting it at the U.S. Navy Seabee Museum. Now, nearly five years after its opening, this fact holds strong. What is different, is the addition of new educational activities corresponding to Seabee seven rates that were once again supported by the generous donations that made the center possible.IMG_7455

Activities representing Seabee rates include:

  • Construction Mechanic (CM) – Gear Wall, Giants Tires, and Build-your-own-engine sets
  • Steelworker (SW) – Ball Wall with ramps to move, build and then direct the balls
  • Builder (BU) – Jumbo Lego style building blocks, wheel barrels, builder workbenches
  • Equipment Operator (EO) – Construction equipment for to push around the center
  • Construction Electrician (CE) – Circuit Block Sets (coming soon)
  • Engineering Aide (EA) – Kinetic Sand, Magnadoodle, Etch-A-sketch (coming soon)
  • Utilitiesman (UT) – Kinetic Dominoes, Pipe Maze (coming soon)

More additions include:

  • Magnetic alphabet, picture, and poetry boards
  • Wood building tables
  • A cozy rug showcasing a map of the world
  • Comfortable seating (more to come soon)
  • A great library of books geared towards “What” Seabees do everyday

Starting this Thursday, March 5, 2020 at 10:30, the U.S. Navy Seabee Museum will begin its new “Storytime” program highlighting our new collection of great books in the STEM Center.

From the museum staff’s prospective—while we enjoy adding new items to the STEM Center, the best part is seeing everyday what the children and their families have built together while in the center: a shed for a wheelbarrow, a tower on a table, new directions for balls to travel, and spelling their names or favorite things on the magnetic boards.

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75th Anniversary of Seabees on Iwo Jima

February 19th marks the 75th anniversary of the United States initial assault on the Japanese island of Iwo Jima.  The Allies viewed Iwo Jima as a potential strategic outpost to stage aircraft such as the B-29 Superfortress, and the P-51 and P-61 escort fighter planes used for raids on Okinawa Shima and Japan. The Japanese had already developed Iwo Jima into an air base, with two operational fields and a third under construction at the time of the American assault. Three naval construction battalions (NCB) were assigned to the Marines to take part in the assault: the 31st NCB was attached to the 5th Marine Division, the 62nd NCB to the 5th Amphibious Corps, and the 133rd NCB to the 4th Marine Division.

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Seabees unload cargo onto the black sandy beaches of Iwo Jima, pictured here in February 1945.

 

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Seabees unload cargo onto the black sandy beaches of Iwo Jima, pictured here in February 1945.

During the invasion of Iwo Jima on February 19, 1945, the entire 133rd Naval Construction Battalion was sent ashore to serve as a shore party for the first wave of the assault for the Fourth Marine Division, landing between the hours of 0930 and 1620. The 31st NCB also sent 65 men in on DDay. The Marines went ashore on the southeastern beaches of Iwo Jima, meeting relatively little resistance. Shortly after landing, the Marines and Seabees endured extreme heavy artillery and mortar fire from the Japanese forces stationed across the island. Seabees unloaded and forwarded ammunition and supplies to the front, uncovered and destroyed landmines, and provided demolition crews for blasting and clearing obstructions at the unloading points.

Iwo Jima Beach Area

Wreckage and ships open for loading at beach

Bulldozer operators cleared debris, made roads accessible and cleared disabled vehicles from the beach, while vehicle maintenance crews kept the vehicles operational. Surveyors, draftsmen, corpsmen, and security performed other critical duties.  Seabees also engaged in corpsmen activities, less than 400 yards from the front lines, providing first aid support by carrying stretchers, applying tourniquets, and assisting with administering plasma to those Marines and Seabees wounded on the beachhead. Both medical officers of the 133rd Naval Construction Battalion were injured while rendering first aid to the wounded, under heavy Japanese mortar and artillery fire.

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February 1945: Minor engine trouble was soon repaired on this barge carrying loads of fuel.

By the time Iwo Jima was secured on March 16, both South and Central Fields were merged into one operational airfield, and 50 Superfortresses had made emergency landings on their return from raids over Japan. With the ever present threat of enemy land mines throughout the landscape, Seabees engaged in projects throughout the island, to include airdrome construction; salvage; a tank farm for aviation and motor gas and diesel fuel; construction of primary and secondary roads and living areas; general, field and station hospitals; air warning services; cemeteries; bomb and ammunition storage; water distillation; and a harbor project, complete with building a breakwater, necessary piers and quay walls.

IwoJima1From 19 February 1945 to 16 March 1945, hundreds of Seabees were killed or wounded either in action or by enemy land mines scattered throughout the island. Many were subsequently awarded the Purple Heart or Bronze Star for heroic service or meritorious achievement during the campaign. A memorial at the 5th Marine Cemetery on Iwo Jima was built by Seabees from the 31st NCB to honor those who gave the ultimate sacrifice.

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The New Civil Engineer Corps Exhibit

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The new CEC exhibit, including early CEC until the attack on Pearl Harbor.

From the drawing board to exhibit, the newly revamped Civil Engineer Corps (CEC) exhibit is near completion and open to the public.

In 2012, the Seabee Museum staff and volunteers installed the previous CEC exhibit and since then have focused on telling many angles of the Seabee’s story. With the desire to expand and tell a more detailed history, earlier this year staff began focusing on the CEC exhibit

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First the exhibit team thought about the CEC storyline; when it began, how much space we might need to tell a comprehensive history, what parts or people should be highlighted, where the exhibit will fit inside the physical space of the museum, and if we use more than one space—how should we divide the exhibit (the beginning of the CEC, a pivotal point in Seabee and CEC history, and present day CEC).

To accomplish our goal, we divided the CEC exhibit between two locations in the museum. The first exhibit space is located just off the Grand Hall near the Seabee recruiting truck which gives a hint of historical events up to and including the Pearl Harbor attack in 1941. The CEC story and the prelude to the Seabees started several years before then in the mid-1790s with the creation of the Naval Shore Establishment and Congress funding six warships. The story continues up until the bombing of Pearl Harbor. A pivotal point towards the creation of the Seabees, the telling is anchored by a piece of the superstructure of the U.S.S. Arizona. The second part of the CEC exhibit is located after the WWII exhibit spaces, and picks up the story where part one ended—from Pearl Harbor to the Civil Engineer Corps we know today.

Please keep an eye out, as gradually through 2020 the museum staff will be adding more educational opportunities to the CEC exhibit.

 

Fun Questions:

What is the CEC insignia?

Which CEC officer was the father of the Seabees?

 

Aurelio Tassone and his Tank Dozer

dozer-20191024085157_0001On October 27, 1943, a party of 8 Seabees and their commanding officer from Company A of Naval Construction Battalion (NCB) 87 landed by LST on the island of Mono, an hour after the assault on the island had begun. Mono Island is part of the Treasury Islands within the country of the Solomon Islands, and was considered key to the planned invasion of Bougainville, 28 miles to the north. Company A landed with two bulldozers and a jeep, which they were to use to cut a road along the jungle beach. They were accompanied by an engineering reconnaissance group of 25 men from Headquarters Company, and assigned to the Eighth New Zealand Brigade, which was engaged in heavy fighting upon their arrival.

The assault troops were bombarded by enemy bombing, mortar and machine gun fire, and were taking a heavy toll from the Japanese. In particular, a well-concealed and strongly built Japanese pillbox containing a cannon and machine guns was constructed near the position of the LST, and holding up advance from the beach. The party of Seabees was led by Lt. Charles E. Turnbull, who ordered Machinists Mate First Class Aurelio Tassone to engage the pillbox with his 24-ton, D-8 bulldozer. Tassone raised the blade the blade on his bulldozer to act as a shield, and made the slow approach to the pillbox. Lt. Turnbull followed on foot, 10 feet to the side and behind the dozer, and armed with a carbine to provide covering fire. Under continuous heavy fire, Tassone drove his bulldozer toward the pillbox and lowered the blade, tearing into and crushing the barricade, covering its occupants with tons of earth and logs. For their actions and bravery, Turnbull and Tassone were later awarded the Silver Star.

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New Zealand and American assault troops inspect wrecked Japanese pillbox on Falami Beach. Size of heavy coconut logs and other timbers attest to strength of enemy fortification.

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Aurelio Tassone and Lt. Charles E. Turnbull atop the D-8 dozer, which Tassone named “Helen” after his wife

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Aurelio Tassone receiving the Silver Star Medal from Comdr. Easterly, 87th OinC

Morale Boosting Boots

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“No Place Like Home,” red glittered desert boots in GWOT exhibit.

A pair of red glittered desert boots labeled “No Place Like Home,” referencing actress Judy Garland’s memorable line from The Wizard of Oz musical that featured four found friends on a journey, are in the collection and on display in the U.S. Navy Seabee Museum’s Global War on Terrorism (GWOT) exhibit. While the movie with Garland was produced in 1939 (three years before the U.S. Navy created the Seabees), those iconic words and glittered red shoes have not lost their meaning or in giving that nostalgic feeling for home. Seventy years after the movie was made, the 1st Naval Construction Reserve donated these boots made with glue and glitter in 2009 after the boots completed their morale boosting mission.

 

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Note mailed to Afghanistan with the ruby glittered boots.

A Seabee stationed in Gulfport, Mississippi mailed these customized boots to a member of the 1st NCR just before they returned home fromdeployment in Afghanistan during Operation Enduring Freedom (OEF) in the early 2000s. OEF Afghanistan began October 2001, and by November in true Seabee style they were constructing multiple forward operating bases for the U.S. and coalition forces. While securing and fortifying a combat outpost, they completed warehouses; built schools and dormitories; repaired runways, bridges, and roads.

 

When you follow the brick path into the U. S. Navy Seabee Museum, other exhibits about home include: the Homefront exhibit, which features Blue Star Mother artifacts (Blue Star Mothers of America originated during WWII and supported mothers whose children were serving in the armed forces, while The Gold Star Mothers began in 1928 in view their children who died in WWI); the “It Takes a Family” mural painted by K.B. Schaaf in 2013 located in the Grand hall and features welcome home signs. Which brings us back to “No Place Like Home,” the iconic red glittered desert boots and those four characters in the Wizard of Oz who had desire, courage, heart, know how, and that undeniable family like friendship that gives us a morale boost when we need it. Can Do!

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The Homefront exhibit case with display of Blue Star Mother artifacts.

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“It Takes a Family” mural painted by K.B. Schaaf in 2013, located in the Grand Hall.

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Seabees and Doodlebugs at Tinian

The Tinian invasion was a shore-to-shore operation from Saipan by landing craft. It began on 24 July 1944, when an advanced party of officers and enlisted personnel from the 121st and 18th Naval Construction Battalions (NCB) landed with the Fourth Marine Division on two narrow beaches on the northwest coast of the island. The assault troops were tasked to install landing ramps, used to expedite transportation of supplies and equipment over coral lined beaches at Tinian Island.

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First completed Doodlebug with some of the Seabee and Marine personnel who built her. The 18th and 121st Naval Construction Battalions were attached to the 2nd and 4th Marine Divisions respectively at the time.

The Seabee assault organization on Tinian differed from the usual landing configuration for construction forces assigned to Marine Divisions. Assault patrols were trained, prior to the occupation, to perform certain specific tasks by patrols that could be activated or inactivated according to the operation requirements in the field. Seabees were organized into assault patrols under the Construction Officer on staff. These patrols worked in close harmony and coordination with the Marine Division engineer unit during the assault, and did not become part of the construction brigade until the island was secured. Twelve assault units were set up, as follows:

LVT-ramp maintenance                                                 Traffic Circulation

Beach Access                                                                     Railroad Demolition

Road Reconnaissance                                                     Railroad Construction

Road Construction                                                          Airfield Rehabilitation

Road Maintenance                                                          Civil Affairs Construction

Water Supply                                                                    Reserve

The landing at Tinian presented the Seabees with a unique problem: landing men and supplies on the Tinian invasion beach, which consisted of jagged coral cliffs up to 15 feet high that flanked the narrow landing beaches. Commodore Paul J. Halloran drew rough sketches of a plan to overcome the cliff obstacle, and described what he wanted built to mechanics of two Seabee battalions on Saipan, who then designed the apparatus using materials from an abandoned Japanese sugar mill. This apparatus became known as the “Doodlebug”. Seabees converted a LVT (landing vehicle, tracked) to supply the flotation and mobility necessary for putting the ramp itself in place. Ten of these assault ramps were built by the battalions in a short time, and enabled combat personnel and supplies to land across the ramp onto the Tinian shoreline.

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Portable LVT-2 Ramp Details – Drawing 1

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Portable LVT-2 Ramp Details – Drawing 2

Doodlebug drawings

Portable LVT-2 Ramp Details: General Notes

The ramp consisted of two 10-inch I beam side-rails, supporting a mat of 6-by-12-inch timbers, and was carried to the landing point by the vehicle itself. The side rails were suspended from the sides of the LVT, and sloped to permit their forward ends to clear the top of the bank. The first 10 feet of the timber mat was supported by the rails and the remainder by slides built over the vehicle’s cargo well. At the landing point, the forward ends of the rails were released and came to rest on the top of the bank; the LVT then backed away a few feet, allowing the after ends of the rails to rest on the bottom. Further backing permitted the timber mat to come to rest upon the rails for its entire length, allowing the vehicle to go ashore over the ramp.

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Hooking ramp to cliff during test on Saipan.

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Testing Doodlebug, 12 July 1944.

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Demonstration of portable ramp for LVT-2 approaching the bluff and beach at Saipan, 12 July 1944.

A group of Seabees and Civil Engineer Corps (CEC) officers were assigned to ramp detail, and were responsible for maintaining the LVT ramps and ensuring that they were installed properly. The work lasted three days, as harbor facilities were non-existent and everything had to come across the barrier reef, to be unloaded and transported inland. As ramps were put into place and made ready, men and their equipment streamed onto the island. Seabee ingenuity was key to providing a tactical advantage that enabled the Marines to capture the beachhead and place Tinian under American control.