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.

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.

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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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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!

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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.

Archivist’s Attic: The Song of the Seabees

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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.”

Seabee Song 5

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.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HC_wQQrZ3Xc

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.

Song of the Seabees004

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.

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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