Seabees in Somalia for Operation Restore Hope

Somalia map

Map of Somalia in Africa.

In 1992, the United States sent military support to provide relief to the war-torn nation of Somalia. That December, the Seabees deployed as one of the units forming the United Nations’ coalition force in support of Operation Restore Hope. The main objective under Operation Restore Hope was to create a protected environment to conduct humanitarian operations in the southern half of Somalia and bring food and water to starving Somalians.

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Seabee and local people pumping water in Somalia during Operation Restore Hope

Seabees supported this effort through establishing and constructing base camps at humanitarian relief sites. To connect the camps, Seabees repaired and improved main supply routes by clearing debris from city streets including bridges. However, one of the largest projects was renovating and expanding the Baidoa airstrip. This project involved removing 300,000 square feet of asphalt surface, pulverizing and mixing it with cement, and then grading and compacting the mixture. More than 600,000 square feet of AM2 matting was also laid for aircraft turnarounds, parking aprons, and helipads. The airstrip enabled the coalition’s C-130 relief flights that brought food to local people.

Furthermore, Seabees provided humanitarian support by drilling and restoring water wells, and completing work on schools and orphanages. These daily humanitarian efforts nurtured connections with local people, their daily life, and art forms. Such is displayed through these Somali baskets, which Seabees brought home from their time in Africa during Operation Restore Hope. These baskets do exactly that, restore hope. Using their traditional artistry, local people gathered available grasses and wove these three baskets with lids. One of which is located in our 1990s gallery as part of “The History of the Seabees in 75 Objects,” temporary exhibit is open February 2018 through January 31, 2019.

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Somali Baskets crafted in Somalia and brought back to the United States in 1993. NMCB 40 and 30th NCR transferred the baskets to the U.S.N. Seabee Museum.

 

 

 

 

A Memorial to those that “CAN DO!”

 

Memorial Seabee and child

A Seabee and a child: “A builder, a fighter, and an ‘Ambassador of Goodwill’ “

 

March 5th, 2018 marks the 76th birthday of the U.S. Naval Construction Force. To celebrate this occasion, Naval Facilities and Engineering Command (NAVFAC) will lay a wreath at a memorial dedicated to men and women whose esprit de corps and ability to do the impossible made them legendary. Though many visitors may name the Vietnam War Memorial, the Washington Monument, or the Lincoln Memorial, there are many other monuments and memorials that also hold a place in the proud history of the United States. Among these is the memorial dedicated to the U.S. Naval Construction Force, the Seabees. As the founder of the Seabees, ADM Ben Moreell, CEC, USN (Ret), remarked, “I have seen this force at work under oppressive and dangerous conditions and I have observed its great potential. It is akin to that faith from which stems the ‘power to remove mountains,’ faith in God, in country, in shipmates and in one’s self.”

Instead of being the work of the United States government, the money needed to bring this memorial to fruition came through the tireless efforts of Seabees past and present. In March 1970, a call went out among the active duty, retired, and veteran Seabee community to donate $4 million to a memorial foundation created to build a fitting monument to honor all Seabees, especially those who had lost their lives, since its founding in 1942, and to also establish a scholarship fund.

DeWeldon IWO

Painter Second Class Felix W. de Weldon presents his bronze model of the United States Marine Corps Memorial to President Harry S Truman

 

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de Weldon’s hand drawn design of the completed monument

 

To create this monument, a commission was offered to Felix de Weldon, an Austrian born sculptor and Seabee veteran, most famous for the creation of the United States Marine Corps Memorial, known by many as the Iwo Jima Memorial. De Weldon’s design called for a memorial made up of four separate parts. At the forefront would be a nine foot tall sculpture of a Seabee, armed with an M1 Garand, whom had just stepped off his unseen bulldozer to greet a small child. This image depicted the Seabees as builders, fighters, and as “Ambassadors of Goodwill.”   The statue would stand on a finished piece of black granite into which would be carved the words:

   “WITH COMPASSION FOR OTHERS

               WE BUILD – WE FIGHT

FOR PEACE WITH FREEDOM

            Behind the statue would be a bas-relief that showed Seabees trained in the various construction trades. Depicted are builders, equipment operators, engineering assistants, Civil Engineer Corps (CEC) officers and others working together to complete missions such as airfield, bridge, and watch tower construction. Above the relief, the Seabee motto, “SEABEES – CAN DO”, would be etched in gold. Below the a relief would be a paraphrase of a sign made famous on the island of Bougainville during WWII: “With Willing Hearts and Skillful Hands the Difficult We do at Once, the Impossible Takes a Bit Longer.” On either side of the previously mentioned portions were to be granite pillars inscribed with a dedication, the Navy Hymn, and sites where Seabees had deployed from WWII to the then present day.

Memorial Seabees can do

The bas relief behind the main statue that shows Seabees and CEC officers engaged in various labors.

 

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Construction workers and artisans work to complete the memorial before its dedication in 1974.

 

At first the money came in slowly, but by 1973, due to the hard work and perseverance that are a hallmark of the Seabees, the $250,000 needed to create the memorial had been collected by the foundation. After delays in site approval, both houses of Congress passed the bills that authorized construction thus allowing the installation of the finished pieces, which until then, had been stored in Mr. de Weldon’s Washington, DC workshop. On Memorial Day, 1974, the memorial was unveiled and dedicated. Among the speakers and distinguished guests were ADM Moreell, the current and former commanders of NAVFAC, the sculptor, and the Acting Secretary of the Navy.

The National Seabee Memorial is located on the Virginia side of the Potomac River, across from the Lincoln Memorial and the National Mall. It stands on Memorial Avenue, the road that visitors and mourners alike take to reach this nation’s most hallowed ground, Arlington National Cemetery.