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.

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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:


               WE BUILD – WE FIGHT


            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.

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.


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.

Seabee Heritage Center, November 2017

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.

Bosnia map

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.


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.



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.”

A Lifetime of Leadership – An Intern’s Experience Working on the Merdinger Collection

My name is Lisa Padgett, and I am a MLIS student at San Jose State University.

This semester I interned at the US Navy Seabee Museum in Port Hueneme, California. The last few months have been a fantastic learning experience working on the Dr. Charles J. Merdinger collection. My task was to complete processing, do preservation as needed, complete the inventory, create a finding aid, digitize the collection and create an exhibit to be posted on-line.

Ingi Blog 12-14-2015 Photo 1The finding aid and slides that Lisa worked on for the Merdinger Project

Dr. Merdinger led an amazing life. He was an ensign on the USS Nevada at Pearl Harbor, served in the CEC in Panama, Alaska, Japan, and Vietnam. He was also a Rhodes Scholar and a published author. Later he became President of Washington College and Deputy Director at Scripps Institute of Oceanography and so much more. It has been my privilege to bring his story to light for the public.

Captain Merdinger accepting key to new hangar from Mr. C.J. Mark , Vice President, Continental Heller Corporation. Note, description is scratched out with pen so information may not be correct.

Captain Merdinger accepting key to new hangar from Mr. C.J. Mark , Vice President, Continental Heller Corporation. Note, description is scratched out with pen so information may not be correct.

This was an ambitious project to try complete in only 135 hours of the internship, and will probably require many more hours to see it through to the end. But the process has been one of the most rewarding and educational parts of my MLIS program. Many thanks to Ingi House, and the rest of the wonderful staff, of the US Navy Seabee Museum, for letting me be a part of this project. Thank you!

Ingi Scrapbook

Page of a scrapbook from the collection that Lisa scanned.

Lisa Padgett was an intern for the Seabee Museum during the Fall 2015 Semester.

For more information on becoming an intern with the Seabee Museum please contact Hanako Wakatsuki-Chong at hanako.wakatsuki-cho@navy.mil


Archivist’s Attic: The Fastest Seabees – The Forgotten Fifty-five

In 1943, the Navy was buzzing around the top coast of New Guinea on their way towards the Philippines. At Mios Woendi the Navy ordered a PT-boat Base to be built. Lieutenant Harold Liberty handpicked fifty-five of the best construction men who were experienced in all phases of construction and eager to work hard.

“Each man had a place in at least three operations,” Liberty explained “The cook could drop his skillet and run a winch or string a pipeline. The hospital corpsman didn’t tie his last bandage and go to bed – he manned a crane or drove a truck.” And each one of them was a potential gunner. Each man could pick up and do another man’s job and do it well.

Crew 55

Just like a swarm of bees, everyman also knew his position and what was expected of them the second they hit the ground. There was no fumbling, no lost motion. Like bees building a hive, the men went in and began going through the hard work of base building.

And build they did, they worked so well together that they started setting records! The Mios Woendi base was built in just 21 days. That feat set the pace for the rest of their operations; soon the detachment was zigzagging from island to island building entire Naval Operating Bases in just 20 days.

With all this speed one wonders, how could they ever be forgotten!? The answer is the same as the question, speed! The outfit moved so quickly, so many times and to so many different places that the men hardly ever got any mail. Forgotten! More like the fast-fifty five or the flashing forward fifty-five.

Whatever you want to call them the Fifty-five lived up to the Seabee standards of Can Do! They just flew by faster than anyone could see them!

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150225-N-JU810-001Meet the Archivist: Ingi House
Ingi House is originally from Kansas where she got her B.A. in history from K.U. and M.L.S. from E.S.U. 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 Admiration 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.