Seabees at the South Pole 1956-57

Seabee Beginnings at the South Pole

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Task Force 43 represented the U.S. Navy’s contributions to the International Geophysical Year. The four quadrants of the shield depict the Fleet, Naval Air, Seabees and Antarctica.  U.S. Navy Seabee Museum

Seabees began construction on the first South Pole Station during the “Summer Season” of 1956-1957 – almost 20 years before their famous South Pole Dome. Early construction on Antarctica supported the International Geophysical Year (IGY), a first coalition of 39 nations committed to an 18-month systematic investigation of the Earth’s environment using the latest technologies. Along with seven ships from the Atlantic Fleet and an air wing with extreme cold experience, US Navy support of IGY – designated Task Force 43 – included a special unit of Seabees created to build-up the facilities required to do the science. Seabees were specifically tasked with constructing research facilities between the Ross Ice Shelf and the South Pole.

 

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Seabees routinely tested the ice foundations of supply trails as part of convoys across the Antarctic. Crevasses and other dangers could be hidden under a thin sheet of ice, endangering both lives and equipment. U. S. Navy Seabee Museum

Construction on the first Amundsen-South Pole station began in November 1956. Seabees faced unbelievably difficult conditions in Antarctica, which were amplified by the remote conditions of the South Pole. Common Seabee activities, such as transporting simple construction materials or maintaining a runway, became dangerous when crossing a frozen continent to supply the new Station. Blog Antarctica White OutSeabees faced extreme weather, extreme cold, and extreme geographical features such as crevasses, as they sought to make the pole habitable.

 

 

 

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This set of pants and hooded jacket, official known as inclement weather gear, were worn by a Seabee during the 1956-1957 Summer Season. Many of the vehicles were also painted a shade of red to make them easier to spot against the icy blues and whites of Antarctica.  U. S. Navy Seabee Museum

In order to keep Seabees safe while they completed construction, the Navy waived some their standard uniforming and grooming regulations. Seabees could wear almost anything that helped them to work comfortably in the extreme conditions. This included a wide variety of headgear, undergarments, wool shirts and “longer than regulation” hair and beards. In addition, special clothing was issued so that work parties in white out conditions could be easily located.

 

 

Approximately 25 Seabees began construction at the station with Jamesway hut berthing – basically insulated arched tents based on a Quonset hut design. These temporary structures were almost immediately replaced with flat-roof prefabricated Clements buildings. Knowing that the original structures would be buried within years by blowing snow, a second story was added to many of these structures. These buildings, along with pitched roof buildings known as T-5 huts, were used until the iconic South Pole Dome replaced the original or “Old Pole” Station.

The Amundsen-South Pole Station has been in continuous use since the first Jamesway hut was set-up by these intrepid Seabees. Officially commissioned and dedicated on January 23, 1957, the success of the Amundsen-South Pole stations that replaced the first are intricately woven with the Seabee spirit. Their “Can Do” attitude ensured operational stations remained in place since that first winter-over season of 1957, continuing long after Seabees departed Antarctica that final time in 1994.

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The U.S. Navy Seabees who built the first South Pole Station beginning in late November and finishing in late December 1956. Standing: Siple (civilian), Speirs, Williamson, Tyler, Wagner, Bevilacqua, McCormick, Randall, Patton, Roberts, Goodwin, Bowers. Kneeling: Scott, Chaudoin, Hisey, Prescott, Powell, Nolan, Montgomery, Hubel, Woody, McGrillis, Slaton. Not pictured: Tuck. Paul Siple was the chief scientist at the South Pole during the International Geophysical Year (IGY), 1957-1958. U.S. Navy Lieutenant junior grade Richard A. Bowers was the Officer in Charge of construction. Bill Bristol, Navy photographer, took the photo. The shadow of the South Pole marker can be seen down the middle. Photograph by U. S. Navy, NSF

 

 

 

Breaking Down Barriers: The 34th Naval Construction Battalion

While “African Americans have served in the U.S. Navy during every declared war in American history” 1, in June 1940, only 2.3% of Navy personnel were black, and rated primarily as stewards and messmen. The Selective Service Act of 1940 provided that in the selection and training of men “there shall be no discrimination against any person on account of race or color.”2 In the summer of 1942, the Navy opened all general service ratings to African-Americans, with the caveat that they be segregated in training schools, quarters, and military units. An exception to this came with the establishment of Naval Construction Battalions.

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34th Naval Construction Battalion logo.

The 34th Naval Construction Battalion (NCB), established on 23 October 1942 at Norfolk, Virginia, was the first battalion primarily comprised of African-American personnel who had previous construction experience in over 50 trades including electricians, carpenters, blacksmiths, riggers, painters, draftsmen, and steelworkers. The 34th NCB consisted of 880 black men and 280 white men, with all white officers, chief and first-class petty officers. These new enlistees began basic training with their battalions, and eventually were deployed together overseas.

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1943: Construction of Ilu River bridge on Highway 50 at Guadalcanal, by men of the 34th NCB.

The 34th NCB served on Espiritu Santo, Guadalcanal, Tulagi, and Okinawa. At one point, the 34th was split into small detachments and spread throughout the Northern and Central Solomon Islands, where they constructed airstrips, roads, warehouses, hospitals, and other military facilities. At the height of the war, there were more than 12,000 black Seabees, nine black battalions, and 15 predominately black stevedore construction battalions, or “specials”.

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November 1943: three 34th NCB divers working on the marine railway at Gavuta. Note the improvised diving gear made from gas mask. From left to right: H.M. Douglas, Slc (CB); T.A. Blair, CM2c (CB) and I. Philip, SF2c (CB).

Despite the progressive nature and success of the 34th NCB, they struggled to gain equitable treatment from their superiors. In October 1944, after a 20 month overseas deployment, the 34th NCB returned to Camp Rousseau in Port Hueneme, California. Their Commanding Officer instituted such policies as separate quarters, mess lines and mess huts for white and black enlisted personnel.He also refused to rate blacks as chief petty officers, and black petty officers were used to perform unskilled, manual labor, and were never placed in charge of base working details, unlike their white counterparts. In response, over 1000 black Seabees staged a hunger strike from March 2-3, 1945, refusing to eat, yet continuing to perform their assigned duties. A subsequent investigation by the Chief of the Bureau of Naval Personnel, stated that “if the present commanding officer persists in his policy regarding the non-rating of Negro chief petty officers, the filling of all vacancies in the grade of petty officer first class will cause virtual stagnation in the advancement of negro petty officers of a lower rating and will have the effect of suppressing all ambition within the Negro personnel.”3 The Bureau determined that “although there may be some degree of natural segregation in a mixed group, under no circumstances should there be segregation or discrimination forced by reason of quartering, messing, and assignment to duty.”4 As a result of the investigation, the CO, his executive officer, and twenty percent of the officers and petty officers were relieved of their duties.

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February 1944: Joseph E. Vaughn, MM3c, Harry E. Lash, CM3c, and William A. Shields, GM3c, members of the 34th NCB. Awarded Purple Heart medals for wounds received during enemy bombing on 22 February 1943, Kukum, Guadalcanal.

The new commanding officer instituted a training program designed to allow for enlisted personnel to be rerated, and provide greater opportunities for qualified black Seabees of this groundbreaking battalion to receive the promotions that were previously denied to them. All but three Seabee battalions were deactivated following the end of WWII. The 34th NCB was deactivated in October 1945.

References

1. NAVFAC Historian’s Office (1988). Black Americans in the U.S. Navy 1776-1946.
2. NAVFAC Historian’s Office (1988) . Black Americans in the U.S. Navy 1776-1946.
3. Naval Inspector General letter (1945). Conditions at Camp Rousseau, Port Hueneme, California, Investigation of.
4. Chief of Naval Personnel letter (1945). Conditions at Camp Rousseau, Port Hueneme, Calif., Investigation of.

 

 

Curator’s Corner- Seabee Combat Warfare Specialist Insignia

Seabee Combat Warfare Specialist Insignias; the gold insignia is worn by an officer and the silver is worn by enlisted Seabee (U.S. Navy Seabee Museum)

Seabee Combat Warfare Specialist Insignias; the gold insignia is worn by an officer and the silver is worn by enlisted Seabee (U.S. Navy Seabee Museum)

Becoming a Seabee Combat Warfare Specialist (SCW) is earned and is not a privilege. Earning a SCW pin is an amazing achievement in a Seabee’s career and is important to gaining access to other opportunities within the Naval Construction Force (NCF).

The SCW program dates to a Master Chief’s conference in 1992, which concluded that the Seabee community should have a warfare designation to recognize the Seabees’ past accomplishments to the Navy.

The SCW insignia pin features an armed Seabee over a crossed sword and rifle atop oak leaves. The silver insignia is for enlisted personnel and gold is for officers.

To qualify to become a Seabee Combat Warfare Specialist is no easy task. To earn this pin the service member must complete Personal Qualification Standards (PQS) which include Seabee Combat Warfare volume I & II, Naval Construction Force 1&C, and Navy Safety Supervisor from the Navy’s Non-Resident Training Course (NRTC) website. In addition, the Seabee must be within physical standards, qualified with the M-16 rifle or M-4 carbine, and must be currently assigned to a unit of the Naval Construction Force. The Seabee must also take a written exam and a field exercise. Upon completion of all prescribed training, a “murder board,” committee of questioners who help someone prepare for a difficult oral examination, is usually held. Upon completion of the murder board, the final board which lasts about two hours is given. The boards are a way to measure confidence and gauge potential leadership within the Naval Construction Force. If nominees pass the board, they are given the title of a Seabee Combat Warfare Specialist.

Seabees place heavy emphasis on tactical field training and basic combat skills. The Seabee Combat Warfare insignia expresses the motto of the Seabees, “We build, We fight.” Come see the SWC Insignia pins and many other Seabee related memorabilia at the U.S. Navy Seabee Museum.

Robyn King, curator

Robyn King, curator

Meet the Curator: Robyn King Robyn King 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 Parks Service, and most recently the Navy. She’s 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’s she not working, she’s volunteering her time with the National Peace Corps Association, as a Returned Peace Corps Volunteer from West Africa.

Curator’s Corner- Treasures from the Seabee Art Collection

Yugoslavian art reliefs of man and woman

Yugoslavian art reliefs of man and woman in traditional clothing donated to the U.S. Navy Seabee Museum

The U.S. Navy Seabee Museum is proud to collect and exhibit treasures from around the world that Seabees have accumulated during their time in service. Many of these objects are souvenirs or gifts handcrafted by locals all around the world, some extremely unique.

Two of these artifacts in the U.S. Navy Seabee Museum collection come with the story of the Seabees working abroad with the U.S. Department of State. The Seabees from the Naval Support Unit provide support to the Department of State security program on a continuing basis.

Seabees perform construction, renovation, maintenance, and repair work in the secure spaces at U.S. embassies around the world. Most of these tours of duty are 3-4 year assignments.

In the late 1960’s Senior Chief Builder (BUCS) Theodore R. Roff, Jr. was a Seabee assigned to work with the State Department in the city of Belgrade, Serbia, formally part of the Yugoslavia. During his time in Belgrade he purchased two magnificently handcrafted copper reliefs, malleable metal shaped by hammering from the reverse side to create a raised design. These reliefs are solid copper and were crafted by an art teacher who taught at a local school in Belgrade. The artist’s name has been long since forgotten by its original owner.

These copper reliefs portray a man and a woman, both in traditional dress of Yugoslavia. It was not uncommon to see rural women in traditional working clothing all the way up to the end of the first President of Yugoslavia, Josip Tito, term in office in 1980. Today, these traditional clothes are mostly worn by elders in rural areas, on national holidays, and as part of celebrations, tourist attractions, and displayed in museums.

The woman in the relief is depicted collecting grapes. This may speak to Yugoslavia’s rich history of viticulture and production of wine, dating back to before Ancient Roman times. The former country of Yugoslavia was among the top wine producing countries before it was dissolved into 6 countries in the early 1990’s.

The man is shown playing a traditional Serbian flute known as a frula. The frula is a small wooden flute with six holes and was played by shepherds while tending their flocks. It was also used for leisure times, traditional, or to accompany the kolo (circle dance).

Seabees don’t only bring home unique collectibles from their time abroad; they bring home stories of different cultures and traditions to be shared.

Visit the U.S. Navy Seabee Museum to see the many other pieces of art and gifts Seabees have donated.

Robyn King, curator

Robyn King, curator

Meet the Curator: Robyn King 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 Parks Service, and most recently the Navy. She’s 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’s she not working, she’s volunteering her time with the National Peace Corps Association, as a Returned Peace Corps Volunteer from West Africa.

Curator’s Corner: Making a Donation to the U.S. Navy Seabee Museum

 

Behind the scenes view of the U.S. Navy Seabee Museum Collection Facility

Behind the scenes view of the U.S. Navy Seabee Museum Collection Facility

Have you ever thought about donating heirlooms to a museum? Have you cleaned out your attic or a family member’s home and come across scrapbooks, photographs, uniforms, or other memorabilia you think a museum may be interested in? Museums are the gatekeepers of the past, the interpreters of history, and the conservators of historical artifacts.

The U.S. Navy Seabee Museum’s mission is to collect, preserve, and display historical material relating to the history of the Seabees and the Civil Engineer Corps. We cannot fulfill our mission without donations and no one wants to come to an empty museum. The artifacts and archives bring history to life.

Trench art jewelry fashioned out of Plexiglas from a downed Japanese aircraft donated to the U.S. Navy Seabee Museum by a Seabee who was assigned to the 51st Naval Construction Battalion which operated near Saipan during WWII.

Trench art jewelry fashioned out of Plexiglas from a downed Japanese aircraft donated to the U.S. Navy Seabee Museum by a Seabee who was assigned to the 51st Naval Construction Battalion which operated near Saipan during WWII.

Why donate your heirlooms to a museum?

There are many reasons to donate your heirlooms to a museum because they have a historic or regional significance, relate to a significant person or event, and offer resources for future researchers. Preservation is also another reason why people donate their heirlooms. Museums provide housing for artifacts through climate controlled storage facilities and safe environments away from sunlight damage, daily wear, and mold contamination for future generations to enjoy.

If the items you are considering donating are not your own, it is recommended that you discuss your intentions with all family members prior to donating your relative’s memorabilia to a museum. It is important that everyone is in agreement.

Finding the Right Museum

Once the decision has been made to donate items to a museum, the next step is finding the right institution for your objects. Museums have different missions and themes. Museum types vary including: history, natural history, science, or children’s museums. It is important to find a proper institution where your heirlooms will be safe and appreciated. Think locally for your heirloom’s new home and visit near-by museums to discuss donation potentials.

The U.S. Navy Seabee Museum is under the Naval History and Heritage Command (NHHC). This Command oversees 10 Navy museums around the country with the shared mission to collect, preserve, protect, and make available the artifacts, documents, and art that embody our naval history and heritage for future generations.

(For a complete list of the navy museums, please visit http://www.history.navy.mil/visit-our-museums.html )

At the U.S. Navy Seabee Museum, we consider all donations that relate directly to the U.S. Naval Construction Force and the Civil Engineer Corps. If you or your relative were a Seabee, CEC Officer, or were directly associated with them, we would be happy to consider your donation.

Letters written by a Seabee to his wife back home during WWII. These were donated to the Seabee Museum by a Seabee’s relatives.

Letters written by a Seabee to his wife back home during WWII. These were donated to the Seabee Museum by a Seabee’s relatives.

Proposing the Donation

Before contacting an institution about your potential donation you need to gather the item’s story, we call that provenance. In the museum world the word provenance refers to an object’s history, who owned the object, when and where, and any other information on the object. Objects alone may have historical value, but the stories that accompany the object bring them to life.

We need to know as much information on the Seabee or CEC officer. For instance, which battalion they served in. If you do not know the answer, the national archives have made it easier for you to request Military Service Records by visiting their website at http://www.archives.gov/veterans/military-service-records/. We also capture oral histories, documentation proving the item’s authenticity, letters, journals, diaries, photographs, record of importation, manufacture, or sale, and legal documents like deed or wills.

Making Contact

Once you have chosen a museum, call to find out who handles the donations, most likely it would be a curator or registrar. At the U.S. Navy Seabee Museum, the curator is responsible for accepting new donations. I can be reached by telephone at 805-982-6191 or by e-mail at robyn.king1@navy.mil. We ask that you contact the museum before you drop off any donations. They will not be accepted as walk-in donations. I will ask you to describe the item, its history, and why you think it belongs in the museum. If it is of interest to the museum, I will then ask to see a photo of the object to see its condition.

Each donation is presented to the Museum Collection Committee who ultimately decides to accept the donation or not. The museum may take temporary custody of the item while it makes its decision. This process usually takes 3 months due to our current backlog. You will be notified if your object was selected to be included in our collection.

Accepted: Transferring Ownership

If the Seabee Museum accepts your donation, the paperwork is simple. You sign an official Deed of Gift form and your heirloom becomes property of the Department of the Navy. If your donated item has a copyright, this process will be further discussed with our archivists at that time.

What happens after the donation?

                After you have transferred ownership, the Director of NHHC at the Washington Navy Yard must accept your donation to the museum. This may take a few weeks to process. Once the Seabee Museum receives back all appropriate paperwork we will then accession (accept your donation into the Seabee Museum Collection), catalog (individually number each object), photograph, and prepare the object for exhibition or storage. Your name, as donor, will be linked to the donated items in the collection database. If the item is included in an exhibition, museum staff might have to do additional research on the object.

Fallen Soldier Battle Cross and eagle hand carved onto an antler as a dedication to the Seabees of NMCB 25 that passed away in 2006. This was donated to the U.S. Navy Seabee Museum and currently on exhibit in the Hall of Heroes.

Fallen Soldier Battle Cross and eagle hand carved onto an antler as a dedication to the Seabees of NMCB 25 that passed away in 2006. This was donated to the U.S. Navy Seabee Museum and currently on exhibit in the Hall of Heroes.

Is your donation guaranteed to go on exhibit?

The simple answer is no. It may never go on display. Only about 2% of a museum’s collection is on display in the museum at any given time. The majority of collections are in storage for preservation and to be studied by scholars and researchers.

Rejection

No matter how much your heirloom means to you, it may not be right for the museum. It might be declined because it is in poor condition, or it does not fit the Seabee Museum’s mission, falling outside the museum’s scope of collection or the museum already has similar items.

Every museum has storage and capacity issues. We cannot accept every donation and have collecting priorities. If our museum collection is unable to accept your donation, you may have the option to donate it to our education department for learning purposes.

If the Seabee Museum declines your donation, consider offering it elsewhere. Local maritime museums collect navy related artifacts; state archives collect diaries, letters, maps, photographs and some artifacts; and the NHHC has 9 other museums that may be interested in your donation.

Thank You to the Donors

                The donation process is a detailed process, mostly done behind the scenes at a museum. With your help and knowledge of your items, together we can work together to make the process as smooth as possible. By contacting the museum first, we can tell you right away if your donation is something we may be interested in acquiring and go from there. The entire processes from start to finish may take about 3 months. You will receive a thank you letter from our museum director showing our appreciation and gratitude.

Your donations help our museum fulfill its mission to collect, preserve, and display historical material relating to the history of the Seabees and the Civil Engineer Corps. Please consider donating to the U.S. Navy Seabee Museum if you think you may have objects relating to the Seabees and the Civil Engineer Corps. I look forward to speaking with you over the phone to start the donation process!

150225-N-JU810-010Meet the Curator: Robyn King Robyn King 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 Parks Service, and most recently the Navy. She’s 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’s she not working, she’s volunteering her time with the National Peace Corps Association, as a Returned Peace Corps Volunteer from West Africa.

Our Cultural Expanse: Asian & Pacific Islanders, 1992-Present

While the Navy ceased recruitment efforts specifically targeting Filipino Americans, it remains the top service of choice for them and Filipino nationals. Throughout the current century, they have contributed to the all-inclusive, all-volunteer Navy, making it one of those powerful navies in the world due it its multi-cultural diversity.

“It is our goal that every ship, work center, community, and rank is representative of our nation’s diversity.” — Adm. Jonathan Greenert, Chief of Naval Operations

In 2014, more than 43,000 Asian and Pacific Islanders served on active duty in the Navy.

While we conclude our Asian and Pacific Islander presentation, we would like to invite you to our formal presentation with special guest speaker Susan Ahn Cuddy, former Navy lieutenant who was the first Asian American woman to serve in the Navy when she joined the Woman Accepted for Emergency Services (WAVES) during WWII. The speaking engagement will be Saturday May 9, 2015 at 10 a.m. in the Seabee Museum Main Education Room.

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Explore our parent command, Naval History and Heritage Command‘s historical presentation: Asian and Pacific Islanders.

For non-military presentations, visit the official website for Asian and Pacific American History Month.

Our Cultural Expanse: Asian & Pacific Islanders, 1973-1991

Admiral Elmo Zumwalt’s measures to further reduce racial discrimination and tension in the Navy resulted in increased enlistment and advancement opportunities. In 1976 the U.S. Naval Academy opened its doors to women, thus removing the final barrier to commissioning opportunities for minorities at the Academy. More than 2.3 percent of the armed forces were of Asian & Pacific Islander descent prior to U.S. involvement in the Persian Gulf War in the early 1990s.

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Explore our parent command, Naval History and Heritage Command‘s historical presentation: Asian and Pacific Islanders.

For non-military presentations, visit the official website for Asian and Pacific American History Month.