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.


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.


The New Civil Engineer Corps Exhibit


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.


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.


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


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.


“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.


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.


Portable LVT-2 Ramp Details – Drawing 1


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.


Hooking ramp to cliff during test on Saipan.


Testing Doodlebug, 12 July 1944.


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.

Coca-Cola and the Art of Seabee “Acquisition”

It’s no secret that Seabees “Can Do”, and during WWII, this extended to Seabee ingenuity with Coca-Cola bottling and bottles. While assigned to the Marianas, J.E. Lerch, a Chief Shipfitter with the 13th Naval Construction Battalion, designed a water carbonating unit after finding an adequate source of carbon dioxide. Lerch used objects he found onsite, a Japanese searchlight, oxygen tanks from a grounded B-25, scrap brass from which he fashioned a piston pump, hoses from a beached landing craft, and a motor from a damaged electric saw.  This fountain was capable of carbonating sixty gallons of water an hour, and was able to produce two thousand Cokes and other favorite soft drinks, a day.


Water Carbonating Machine, Tinian Island. U.S. Navy Seabee Museum. 13th NCB Collection.

By the time the U.S. entered WWII, Coca-Cola was an established symbol of American life. To American forces, soft drinks were a simple reminder of home. In an effort to improve troop morale, General Dwight D. Eisenhower requisitioned 3 million Coke bottles to be shipped to North Africa and the equipment to refill them twice a month. This inspired Coca-Cola to create bottling plants throughout the Pacific and Atlantic theaters. Over 5 billion servings of Coca-Cola were distributed to U.S. troops during the war, and true to form, Seabees found inventive ways to make use of the bottles for their projects.



The staff of the Coca-Cola bottling plant established on Saipan. Courtesy of the National WWII Museum.


In Milne Bay, New Guinea the 115th Battalion incorporated Coca-Cola bottles into their bus rack construction. This enabled them to use ½” brass pipes as sub-feeders, in lieu of cables, to carry the full capacity of the generators.


Coca-Cola bottles used as bus supports. U.S. Navy Seabee Museum, Walsworth Collection.


Ernest Schefer, Chief Electrician’s Mate was on Bora Bora in 1942 when he came up with the idea and designs for using Coca-Cola bottles as insulators. Early in his deployment, he observed an electrician-lineman up in a coconut tree, securing the wire with nails. These power lines carried 440-volts, and Schefer identified the current practice as being high risk, but there were limited options to do otherwise, as insulators and other appropriate equipment were not immediately at hand. Soon after, he noticed some Coca-Cola bottles lying along the beach, and began to conceive of a way to use these as insulators. He devised a system of using a metal band to hold wire loops at each ends of the bottle, and soon after, Coke bottles were being converted into insulators. He discovered that hanging the bottles downward allowed for variations, and greater flexibility in the heavy winds.


Coca-Cola bottles used as dead end insulators in lieu of porcelain standard insulators for overhead line work. U.S. Navy Seabee Museum, Walsworth Collection.

The Seabee Museum Archive is fortunate to have the Personal Collection of Ernest Schefer, which contains several original drawings for his Coca-Cola bottle insulator. These drawings highlight the ingenuity and “Can Do” spirit of the Seabees.