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.
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 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.
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.
Meet 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.”
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.
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.
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!
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 firstname.lastname@example.org
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.
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!
Meet 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.
Starting up a new arm of the military can always be a challenge. What logos to use, what drills to run, what kind of exercises, commands and personal do you need to get units up and running. All important questions. On the lighter side, but perhaps just as important to moral, community and spirit, are the mottos and songs used to excite and drive the new units into action.
The Seabees officially became part of the Navy during World War II. At this time the U.S. Navy had its own traditions including their own music and lyrics. Never quite satisfied with the all-embracing Navy song “Anchors Aweigh,” the Seabees came up their own rousing chant that they put to music and turned into “The Song of the Seabees.”
Within a few months the bright and spirited song became a hit with glee clubs and radio orchestras, as well as with the Seabees themselves. Often times the song went by motto of the Seabees, “Can Do, Will Do.” Millions of copies were distributed and its popularity continued to grow. The song was even included in the popular magazine “Hit Parader” and was sung by many well-known stars including the very talented Judy Garland.
The song also became popular as a recruitment devise and was used in various advertisements encouraging men to join the new units. The opening words were often used at the start of an article before describing the various different jobs one could do while working as a Seabee.
The song remained popular long after World War II was won. In 1966 a contest was held to add another verse to the song. The Seabees got a lot of different entries but the winner was C.T. Green and his verse is now part of the official Seabee song.
We’re the Seabees of the Navy
The “Can-Do” men in green.
In war or peace you’ll find us,
Ready on the scene.
And no matter what the mission,
With our past we’ll keep tradition.
We’re the Seabees of the Navy,
Bees of the Seven Seas.
Though the song might have lost some popularity with the general public, it continues to be sung at various ceremonies and throughout the Seabee community.
Meet 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