Archivist Attic – Diversity Wanted – African-American Seabees

Even from its early days in World War II, the Seabees were all about the Can Do! attitude. It didn’t matter who you were, as long as you could get the job done. This spirit carried through even when the social norms of the day kept some groups back, specifically African-Americans.

During WWII initial African American units were led by white-southern men who were racist and disrespectful. Even with the odds stacked against them these men continued to work hard and perform all scheduled duties. This spirt, coupled with peaceful hunger strikes and a healthy dose of legal knowhow led to the removal of the initial officers in charge. In their place BuDocks replaced them with non-southerners. This change in leadership would pave the way for equality, not only in the Seabees but in the general military as well.

New Timber Bridge over Ilu River on Highway

Members of 34th Naval Construction Battalion stand in a row on top of Timber Bridge over Ilu River on Highway 1943-44.

With the change in leadership the men followed by example and started to treat their African American service men with the same respect and dignity their leaders showed. In addition they often fought on small islands and in small units where men couldn’t afford to be picky about who they worked with, after all, if a bridge has to be built and you only have a few people you’re going to use everyone available. The small units, coupled with a building respect enabled the units to work better and faster together than they would have apart.

Group of 13 men of the 34 are awarded Purple Heart Medals

Group of 13 men of 34th Naval Construction Battalion awarded Purple Heart May 28, 1944.

African-American Seabees not only helped out with general construction, they also contributed by lending their talents to diving, cooking and photography. With these additional skills African Americans were able to prove to their commanding officers and to the military in general that they could do more than simply be stewards.

Head Battalion Photography

A member of 34th Naval Construction Battalion Head Battalion Photography, adjusting equipment 1943-44.

Though there are still improvements that need to happen, the Seabees are one of the most integrated units in the military, thanks in part to their attitude and the ability to change when needed. After all, everyone Can Do!  #WWII #BlackSeabees #BlackHistory #AfricanAmericans

Ingi Face

Archivist Ingi House is originally from Kansas where she got her B.A. in history from the University of Kansas and M.L.S. from Emporia State University. After working for the Dole Institute of Politics she moved to the East Coast. In D.C. she worked at the National Archives and Records Administration and then at the Defense Acquisition University where she became a Certified Archivist. Her continued enjoyment of military history lead her to switching coasts and coming to work for the Seabee Museum where she is collection manager for the archives and records manager liaison.



Curator’s Corner- Gifts to Seabee Sweethearts

Happy Valentine’s Day from the U.S. Navy Seabee Museum! In honor of this month’s holiday I found it fitting to showcase a few souvenirs in the collection that were given to the Seabee “sweethearts”.

Feb CC Photo 1

Trench art bracelet forged out of aluminum created by a Seabee of the 63rd Naval Construction Battalion (U.S. Navy Seabee Museum Collection)

During times of war, many Seabees made trinkets called “trench art” in their off duty hours while deployed to pass their time. Trench art is decorative items made out of materials available around them such as scrapped metal and gun casings. Seabees would fashion pieces of art or jewelry for their wives or girlfriends back home to show them their affection while deployed during WWII. This trench art bracelet was created by a Seabee with the 63rd Naval Construction Battalion (NCB) during WWII in the Pacific Theater. The 63rd NCB was deployed to the islands of Guadalcanal, Emirau, and Manus to build dock facilities, ammunition depots, Quonset huts, roads, and airstrips. This bracelet is made of aluminum with a large heart in the center with the engraving “To Clara, My Love, Leon”.

Feb CC Photo 2

Hand drawn gift to a Seabee sweetheart on a handkerchief created by a Seabee deployed to Guam during WWII (U.S. Navy Seabee Museum Collection)

Another gift is a hand drawn picture on a handkerchief from a Seabee who served in Guam in 1946 for his love. This handkerchief’s handmade drawings are in ink of a couple kissing with a green heart in the background and a drawing of Mount Fuji, Japan in the background with the setting sun and tree in the front. The handkerchief has Japanese writing, Kanji, in the upper right of the hanky, and the lower left has, “Be lovely, to love!!” written in large letters next to the lovely art of the kissing couple.

Photo 3

Seabee sweetheart charm (U.S. Navy Seabee Museum Collection)

Seabee souvenirs could be purchased on many bases as well. This Seabee sweetheart charm was purchased by a Seabee of the 10th NCB for his girl back home to wear around her neck and to keep him close to her heart while he was serving in the Pacific Theater during WWII. The Seabees of the 10th NCB constructed Quonset villages, aviation repair shops, submarine piers, and water distribution systems on Guam, Oahu, Canton Island, and Johnston Atoll.

Seabees love to give mementoes and gifts to their sweethearts back home to let them know they have not been forgotten and they are thought of often. Come to the U.S. Navy Seabee Museum and see more gifts brought back by the Seabees!

Robyn profile pic“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.”