Curator’s Corner- Seabee Queens and Their Throne

Seabee Queen Susan Hayward on bulldozer

Actress Susan Hayward was the first Seabee Queen, crowned in November of 1943 upon her throne (U.S. Navy Seabee Museum Archives)

The U.S. Navy Seabee Museum is preparing to open several new exhibits this fall, one of which presents Seabee heritage. We cannot discuss Seabee heritage and not mention the history of Seabee Queens and their reign.

Seabee Queens are a part of Seabee history which sheds light on their culture and traditions. The first annual birthday celebration to commemorate the founding of the Naval Construction Force was in 1943 and subsequent events were called the Seabee Ball. As part of those celebrations, the oldest and youngest Seabees on the base were recognized, and a Seabee Queen was selected to preside over the festivities.

Seabee Queen Susan Hayward with her Seabees

Seabee Queen Susan Hayward with her Seabees (U.S. Navy Seabee Museum Archives)

The first woman selected as Seabee Queen was actress Susan Hayward, John Wayne’s co-star in the 1944 movie, The Fighting Seabees. She remained the Seabee Queen throughout World War II and she returned to Port Hueneme several times over the course of the war.

Due to the rapid demobilization of the battalions after WWII, no queens were selected from 1946 through 1951. In 1952, Seabee Queens emerged as a morale booster once more. Every year thereafter, Seabees nominated wives, girlfriends, daughters, or movie stars and voted for a new Seabee Queen.

Seabee Betty - Guam Seabee Ball

Seabee Betty becomes the Seabee Queen for the Guam Seabee Ball (U.S. Navy Seabee Museum Archives)

Seabee Queens were also selected at Seabee Balls around the world as naval bases expanded in the 1950s. The most famous Seabee Queen overseas was Seabee Betty, a Chamorro woman who hosted welcome and farewell parties for all the Seabees deployed to Guam. You can learn more about Seabee Betty in the new exhibit.

The tradition of selecting a Seabee Queen was discontinued in Port Hueneme in 1992—nearly twenty years after the first woman became a Seabee and before women served in an active duty construction battalion—a direct reflection of the changing customs surrounding the Seabees.

Seabee Queen Throne and stool on display at the U.S. Navy Seabee Museum

Seabee Queen Throne and stool on display at the U.S. Navy Seabee Museum (U.S. Navy Seabee Museum)

The new Seabee Heritage exhibit will showcase an original Seabee Queen Throne and stool which was created in 1980; carved from 4 x 4 pine and plywood with a painted image of Phoebe the Female Seabee for use at the Gulfport, Mississippi Seabee Balls until 1993. The throne was one of the many artifacts brought back to Port Hueneme after the devastation of Hurricane Katrina hit the Gulfport Seabee Base.

Come to the U.S Seabee Museum this fall and see the new Seabee Heritage exhibit and take a photo op on the Seabee Queen Throne!

Special thanks to Kimberlyn Crowell, museum curator, for her extensive knowledge of Seabee Queen history which was essential to creating this blog.

Robyn profile picMeet the Curator: Robyn King “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.”

Archivist Attic – “Acey Bone” Serves Steaks on Planes

In 1952 Wonsan, a key supply and transportation center for the enemy, fell back into the hands of communist Korea. While fighting to regain essential territory, severely damaged naval aircraft were being forced to either ditch at sea or land behind enemy territory. The Navy need to locate a safe place for them to land. Just as luck would have it “Acey Bone” (ACBONE), the familiar name of Amphibious Construction Battalion ONE, was on the job! They managed to build a lifesaving airstrip quicker than you can cook dinner.

Emergency landing strip on Wolmi Do Island.

Emergency landing strip on Wolmi Do Island.

Carrier-based Navy aircraft, making daily attacks on the city of Wonson, were frequently damaged to the degree that pilots had to choose between ditching at sea or landing in enemy-held territory. These losses made finding a safe solution in Allied territory imperative. In June 1952, Vice Admiral P.R. Briscoe directed “Acey Bone” to construct an emergency air strip on Yodo Island in Wonsan Harbor. The small, hilly island had remained behind enemy lines after the Wonsan evacuation, but appeared so unimportant that the North Koreans never took it over. Within easy shelling range of the mainland, it was the perfect place for the Seabees to build the much needed air-strip.

Another view of the landing strip on Wolmi Do Island

Emergency landing strip on Wolmi Do Island from the side.

A rapid survey showed that there was only one possible location for the airstrip, a low level area used by the Koreans for rice paddies. After bringing in equipment and supplies “Acey Bone” started construction. Drilling, blasting, filling and grading of the hilly area took just nineteen days to complete. The brand new airstrip was 2,400 feet long and went from one side of the island to the other.

On the twentieth day the code message the “Steak Is Ready,” was declared signaling that the airstrip was ready to be used.. This pre-arranged signal was acted on immediately by no less than nine Corsair pilots who all landed on the new field the very first day it was completed.

ACB-1 after the invasion

Photograph of members of Acey Bone (ACBONE), the familiar name of Amphibious Construction Battalion ONE, after the invasion.

Despite the ease with which the island could be shelled and the constant need for filling shell holes in the airstrip, operations continued for a year. The airfield was named “Briscoe Field” in honor of Vice Admiral P.R. Briscoe. During this time, Navy and Air Force aircraft, valued at over ten million dollars, were saved by utilizing the emergency airstrip and over sixty pilots were spared the choice between capture and ditching at sea.

Once again “Acey Bone” showed the true Can Do! Spirt of the Seabees by not only providing a place to land, but doing so in style!


Ingi Face

Meet the Archivist: Ingi House

Meet the Archivist: Ingi House

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 Washington 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 led her to switching coasts and coming to work for the Seabee Museum where she is collection manager for the archives and records manager liaison.