The “Large Slow Target”

Off the shore of Normandy, France during the D-Day invasion, June 1944 an enemy mine hit and sunk LST (Landing Ship Tank) 523. Known as the “Large Slow Target” by servicemen as LSTs traveled at 12 knots under a load of 2,100 tons its design fulfilled a critical need in WWII.

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Troops and equipment load aboard a Seabee Rhino ferry from LST at Normandy, June 1944.

During WWII, Allied forces needed an ocean-going ship capable of shore-to-shore delivery of vehicles, tanks, and cargo. With that goal in mind, the British began development of such a craft. In meeting with Americans November 1941, U.S. Navy’s Bureau of Ships (BuShips) agreed to design and build LSTs for Allied use. The LST vessel with its flat bottom, large ballast system, 14-foot wide ramp enabled Seabee Special battalions to drive tanks, vehicles, and unload construction equipment directly onto beaches or causeways. Normandy invasion forces needed an estimated 12,000 tons of daily supplies and 2,500 vehicles were needed for the first 90 days of combat operations.

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Seabees with the 1006th Naval Construction Battalion Detachment offloading equipment from LSTs on Utah Beach, June 1944. When high tide comes, the ships retreat from the beach.

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The LST-523 model made of balsa wood on display in the Atlantic Theater WWII gallery at the Seabee Museum in Port Hueneme, CA. Scale of model: 1 inch equals 6 feet (1:72).

By the war’s end, BuShips built more than 1,050 Landing Ship Tanks. However, only 26 LSTs succumbed to enemy action and a further 13 were lost to weather or accidents. A model of the sunk LST-523 at 1:72 scale and 56” long sits proudly on display in the Atlantic Theater WWII gallery at the Seabee Museum, in Port Hueneme, CA.

Today, a WWII Landing Ship Tank is still in service as a Long Island Sound ferry for passengers and vehicles.

 

Questions:

What role did the Seabees play in off loading the LSTs?

How does 12 knots compare to land speed?

When and where did D-Day take place?

Seabees in Somalia for Operation Restore Hope

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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.

 

 

 

 

U.S. Navy Seabee Museum gives TLC to Seabee Heritage Center in Gulfport, MS

It’s that time of year—a time for goodwill, for giving thanks, and lending a helping hand. With many holiday seasons or projects, they do not happen overnight as we prep for cooking a great meal, make travel plans to spend time with family, or take time off our normal work to help others. Similarly, the U.S. Navy Seabee Museum’s exhibit plan for the Seabee Heritage Center did not happen overnight, and took numerous people, from museum staff and volunteers, and yes—Seabees, to make the magic happen.

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Seabee Heritage Center, Gulfport, MS, March 2017.

Beginning in March, Seabee Museum staff looked through the museum’s collection database, and archives to choose specific artifacts and materials to tell the Seabee story. Each item was pulled, text written, and the artifacts shipped for a weeklong mission at the Seabee Heritage Center at Naval Construction Battalion Center (NCBC) Gulfport. While there, staff revitalized more than twenty-five exhibit cases and assessed what steps to take next in the exhibit space.

Springing forward few months to summer, museum staff began planning for a December 1st celebration rounding off the Seabee 75th anniversary at the NCBC Gulfport Seabee Heritage Center.

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Digital drawing of new exhibit layout for Seabee Heritage Center, November 2017.

In preparation for the exhibit and celebration, much like earlier this year, museum staff considered artifacts, how to best tell the Seabee story, and when staff could fly to Gulfport for a weeklong installation. Before staff could consider a layout of the artifacts, they gathered an understanding of how the heritage center will be used in the present and future, along with taking into consideration the artifacts already on display. Moving forward with these facts, Seabee Museum staff designed a digital 3-D layout of the exhibit space and cases, figured out what and where artifacts might fit, as well as designed art panels telling the Gulfport battalions’ and the Seabee story from WWII to present.

Packing-up artifacts and exhibit supplies at the U.S. Navy Seabee Museum, November, 2017.

Packing-up artifacts and exhibit supplies for shipment from the U.S. Navy Seabee Museum, November, 2017.

As November rolled around, with yards of bubble wrap in hand, museum staff and volunteers packed and shipped three pallets of artifacts, art panels, and exhibit supplies to the Seabee Heritage Center in Mississippi. As with most events, timing is everything. Museum staff flew to Gulfport the night before the shipment arrived and in the morning Seabees helped move large exhibit cases and prep the space for exhibit.

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Newly completed exhibits at Seabee Heritage Center at Naval Construction Battalion Center (NCBC) Gulfport, MS, November 2017.

Over the next four days, two museum staff members unwrapped and displayed over forty-five newly shipped artifacts, more than twenty-five textual art panels, then cleaned and spruced-up more than twenty-five exhibit cases in the main room and the entryway display honoring the fallen. At which time, the U.S. Navy Seabee Museum staff wrapped up the week flying back home to Port Hueneme, California and Thanksgiving with their families.

Happy Holidays.

Seabee Heritage Center entryway, November 2017

Seabee Heritage Center entryway, November 2017

 

 

 

 

 

 

Seabees Lend a Helping Hand in Bosnia

While Seabees lent a helping hand in war-torn Bosnia during the mid-to-late 1990s, rebuilding schoolhouses, homes, and bridges for transportation, there was also the duty of protection and prevention. As their construction uniform includes flak vests and Kevlar helmets, protecting civilians in combat zones have always been a part of their humanitarian efforts.

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Between 1992 and 1999, approximately 200,000 military and civilians were killed as a result of the Bosnia civil war. To minimize their vulnerability in the face of war and genocide, the United Nations and the U.S. Department of Defense joined together to help Bosnian civilians in the mid-1990s. One program they jointly developed and instituted was a campaign to protect children against landmines. The campaign appealed to children’s superhero pop-culture sensibility with the Superman: Deadly Legacy comic book. The U.S. military, including the Seabees, gave these comic books to children teaching them to stay away from explosives and hidden landmines. Whether they were in fields or buildings—shiny objects should not always be played with.

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Superman: Deadly Legacy comic book, circa mid 1990s (U.S. Navy Seabee Museum archives)

The United Nations Children’s Fund (UNCEF) organization noted that as of 1996, “about 800 people [were] killed by landmines every month, 30-40 percent of them children,” in the world where “68 countries… an estimated 110 million landmines are lodged in the ground.” Humanitarian protection efforts using comic books in native languages against landmines continued in Bosnia as well as in other countries during the 1990s and included the joint forces of Superman and Wonder Woman.

 

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The Unknown Skills of a Curator

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WWII mannequin, Elmer,  working the dozer in the WWII Pacific Roads exhibit (U.S. Navy Seabee Museum)

When you hear the title museum curator, many thoughts may come to mind of the duties and qualities possessed by these museum professionals; preserves and interprets history, handles donations, designs exhibits, and lives a life similar to Indiana Jones or Lara Croft.  Although most of these are true (unfortunately not so much the life of Indiana Jones), did you know that many curators in small to medium sized museums install their own exhibits with the help of other staff members? We do not sit behind a desk all day. We can be found behind the scenes in our storage facilities or on the exhibit floor cleaning objects, mounting label copy, measuring pathways for accessibility, choosing colors, moving cases, and installing objects up until the moment new exhibits open and thereafter! Our work never ceases.

One of the many unknown skills museum curators possess is the ability to work with museum mannequins. This may not sound challenging, but the length of time it takes to undress mannequins, clean historical clothing, redress new mannequins, and pose them is daunting. Some of the tasks include; attaching their arms and legs, dressing the mannequins, stuffing their shirts to give them muscles and definition, and even giving a few haircuts! The hardest part of working with mannequins is posing them to become a part of the exhibit. The process of making a mannequin look natural in their pose is time consuming. Although some mannequins are considered flexible, it usually takes two to three staff members or volunteers to pose a mannequin into a position and then it takes a lot of small movements and different angles to make them look natural in their pose. Other mannequins which are meant to stand must be mounted on platforms with belts around their waists and then attached to the wall behind them so they do not fall over and hurt other artifacts or museum visitors.  

Working with mannequins is fun and entertaining, but also a lot of hard work. Who would have thought I would need to know how to tie a necktie or give haircuts as a curator? Unfortunately, these are not skills usually taught in a master’s program for museum studies,  but these are all great skills I am happy to have! So the next time you visit the U.S. Navy Seabee Museum and notice the posed mannequins around the museum, you now know how much time, effort, and care goes into creating a museum exhibit for our patrons to enjoy.

Curator’s Corner- The Legacy of Rear Admiral Lewis B. Combs

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Rear Admiral Combs with Seabees while on a visit to Trinidad to preform inspections on the 30th and 80th Construction Battalions, March 1944 (U.S. Navy Seabee Museum)

Rear Admiral Lewis B. Combs is a celebrated Civil Engineer Corps (CEC) officer best known for his many accomplishments spanning two world wars and assisting in the establishment and organization of the Naval Construction Force (NCF), better known as the Seabees, during World War II.

Combs graduated from Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute (RPI) in Troy, NY in 1916 with a degree in civil engineering and quickly joined the war effort when America entered World War I and served as an assistant civil engineer officer in charge of field construction in the Navy.

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Wedding portrait of Lewis B. Coms and Laura B. Warden with Lt. Ben Moreell, to his left,  as his best man, April 1925. (U.S. Navy Seabee Museum)

During peacetime service, he worked many overseas assignments, including the Republic of Haiti, where he met and became good friends with Lt. Ben Moreell, who would later become the “father of the Seabees”. Their friendship would span the rest of their lives as their careers each experienced an upwards path.

In 1938 Admiral Combs became the assistant chief at the Bureau of Yards and Docks (Budocks) serving under his good friend Rear Admiral Ben Moreell for 8 years through the duration of World War II and received the rank of Rear Admiral (RADM) in 1942.

In 1943, Combs received an opportunity to serve as the technical advisor during the making of the film The Fighting Seabees (1943) and formed a lifelong friendship with lead actor John Wayne. He went on to advise Wayne during the production of Sands of Iwo Jima (1949) and Home for the Seabees (1977).

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Combs on the set of The Fighting Seabees, Camp Pendleton, Calif., with actor John Wayne, 1943. (U.S. Navy Seabee Museum)

As the second in command of Budocks, Combs was responsible for administering the Navy’s shore construction and development program. Throughout 1944 to 1945, he 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 headquarters. Before the war, he liked to say, he knew every one of the Navy’s 120 civil-engineering officers, by name. Before the war was over his engineering command included 10,000 officers and more than 325,000 Seabees.

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Rear Admiral Combs and CEC officers riding around Tinian Island on an amphibious wheeled vehicle while performing inspections on the 6th Seabee Brigade, February 1945. (U.S. Navy Seabee Museum)

RADM Combs finished his naval career in 1947 as the director of BuDocks Atlantic operations in New York.  He returned to Troy, NY where he became the head of the Department of Civil Engineers at RPI until his retirement in 1961. Nearly 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.

Rear Admiral Combs passed away in May, 1996 at the age of 101. His legacy can be measured in the people and organizations he touched, and he directly influenced, either in uniform or as an academic, perhaps more civil engineers in the Navy’s history than any other man. Rear Admiral Lewis B. Combs has proudly earned the name “uncle” of the Seabees.

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Portrait of RADM Combs, created by artist Elaine Hartley Levine during WWII. (U.S. Navy Seabee Museum)

The portrait of RADM Combs, created by artist Elaine Hartley Levine during WWII, depicts Combs in the popular style of portraitures during that period; shown half-length, in a colorful descriptive setting. The small Seabee on his desk was a suitable emblem to represent his duties in NCF. The portrait is currently hung in the U.S. Navy Seabee Museum’s exhibit CEC before Seabees. Come visit the Seabee Museum and see our new additions and old treasures added to the CEC before Seabees exhibit.

Special thanks to historian Dr. Frank A. Blazich Jr. for his extensive knowledge and research on RADM Combs which was essential to creating this blog.

 

photo-of-robyn-for-curators-cornerMeet 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.

Curator’s Corner- Seabee Recruitment Caravan & Exhibit Truck

 

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Seabee Exhibit Truck (reproduction), used during the WWII Seabee nation-wide recruitment campaign (U.S. Navy Seabee Museum)

The U.S. Seabee Museum, with the help of the CEC/ Seabee Historical Foundation, has acquired a WWII reproduction of a Seabee Exhibit Truck which was used during the Seabee Nation-Wide Recruitment Campaign.  An original 1942 exhibit diorama from the museum’s collection is displayed in the truck.

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Recruitment Poster (U.S. Navy Seabee Museum

The recruiting campaign began in October 1942 and nation-wide tours launched in 1943 to spearhead the enlistment of 100,000 Seabees into the Naval Construction Battalion by the first of the year.  The Seabee recruitment caravans, also known as a “recruiting stations on wheels,” consisted of an exhibit truck and a recruitment cruiser. The caravans was accompanied by four enlisted men and two commissioned CEC officers who provided full information about enlisting with the Seabees. Men from ages 17 to 50 with construction experience were needed immediately to build bases on distant battlefronts.

 

“…one of the most interesting [exhibits] to have ever been produced by the navy department…The purpose of the display is to stimulate interest in enlistments in the Seabees, the construction battalion of the navy.”

                                                                                            -The Times Leader, August 1943

The exhibit truck’s diorama, depicted through the medium of miniature wax figures*, shows a complete landing operation carried out by the Seabees on Island “X” in the South Pacific. The dioramas showed Seabees clearing away tropical trees, building barracks, landing supplies and performing multiple other duties required of them in establishing island bases.

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Newspaper article announcing the arrival of the recruitment caravan, Middletown, OH Journal August 16, 1943

Prior to the Recruitment Caravan’s visit to each city, arrangements were made in advance to distribute special posters, have newspaper articles written, and to have announcements made by local radio stations of its arrival. Further publicity was made through local labor organizations and social clubs.

Upon arrival to visiting cities, the caravan was escorted into the city by a police escort and station wagon, accompanied by fanfare, music, and crowds. The vehicles usually “docked” in front of the county courthouse or city hall. In the evening the caravan would “anchor” at a local park where concerts were held before the showing of the Seabee motion picture “Builders for Battle” and “Sports of Sailormen”. The entire community was invited to see the movies free of charge and inspect the exhibit.

The Seabee Museum’s Exhibit Truck is modeled after one of the original trucks that toured the Midwest during the summer of 1943.  The recruitment caravan visited numerous cities in Kentucky, Ohio, and Indiana during the two-month tour where an estimated 140,000 people viewed the exhibit diorama.

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Before displaying one of the original dioramas in the newly procured exhibit truck, the Naval History & Heritage Center (NHHC) Conservation Branch performed conservation treatment on the diorama with the goal to stabilize it and improve its aesthetic integrity for its upcoming exhibition.  The diorama was cleaned, distorted figures were stabilized, fallen or broken palm fronds were re-attached, and its background was fixed and painted.

Come visit the Seabee Exhibit Truck at the U.S. Navy Seabee Museum today and check out the newly conserved diorama.

*Miniature figures were made out of different materials including wax, putty, and paper mache

 

photo-of-robyn-for-curators-cornerMeet 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.