Curator’s Corner- Davisville Stained Glass

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Original stained glass window from the Chapel in the Pines in Davisville, Rhode Island (U.S. Navy Seabee Museum)

Davisville, Rhode Island is the birthplace of the Seabees and was a strategic location for Seabees serving during the Cold War. The Navy acquired the property in 1939, and built the Naval Air Station Quonset Point. In 1942, adjoining properties were developed for training Seabees, including Advanced Base Depot (ABD) Davisville. After WWII, ABD Davisville was placed in caretaker status until August 8, 1951, when it was reactivated as Naval Construction Battalion Center (NCBC) Davisville due to the intensification of the Cold War. The base played a significant role during the Cold War by supporting advance base construction, emergency public works, and participating in special task force projects. The active duty mission of the base was disestablished in 1974. All active duty units were transferred to Gulfport or Port Hueneme and NCBC Davisville was changed to reserve status. Reserve NCBC Davisville officially closed on April 1, 1994.

 

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Chapel in the Pines, base chapel in Davisville, Rhode Island (Courtesy of the CEC/ Seabee Historical Foundation

“The Chapel in the Pines” was the base chapel of NCBC Davisville built by the Seabees in 1963. At construction, it was the only poured concrete chapel in the world. A large, circular stained glass window was featured in the chapel. The stained glass is about 7 feet in diameter and lights up with vivid shades of green, blue and red. The words “Praise Ye The Lord” are crafted into the stained glass along with a small Seabee insignia in the lower right-hand corner.

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Seabee insignia crafted into the stained glass (U.S. Navy Seabee Museum)

 

After the closing of Davisville in 1994, the stained glass was removed from the Chapel of the Pines and relocated to the Seabee base in Gulfport, Mississippi where the U.S. Navy Seabee Museum Annex resided. When Hurricane Katrina hit in 2005, it severely damaged the museum’s building and all the historical artifacts were removed. The stained glass was relocated to Gulfport’s chapel for safe keeping until its official move to the U.S. Navy Seabee Museum in Port Hueneme, California where it is prominently displayed in the museum’s Cold War Gallery.

Come visit the U.S. Navy Seabee Museum and see the new Cold War exhibition which is now open to the public.

 

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- Artifact Spotlight: Trench Art Shot Glasses

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Trench art, 20mm brass shot glasses, donated by SF1c Ralph E. Nichols of the 73rd Naval Construction Battalion (U.S. Navy Seabee Museum)

The men of the Naval Construction Battalion (NCB), better known as the Seabees, are known to have collected and brought home many souvenirs and war trophies from WWII. The Seabees of the 73rd NCB were no different. They spent most of their time during WWII on the islands of Munda and Peleiu in the South Pacific, known only as Island X to their loved ones back home. They worked on projects such as malaria control, road construction, construction for beach landings and airfields, and built camps including housings, hospitals, churches, and mess halls.

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Seabees from the 73th NCB playing baseball or watching a boxing tournament in their free time (73rd Seabees cruise book, U.S. Navy Seabee Museum Archives)

Nights the Seabees were not in foxholes being bombed by “Washing Machine Charlie” (a term given by U.S. allied forces to Imperial Japanese aircraft that performed nighttime missions and bombings over allied occupied islands in the South Pacific), they would enjoy recreational activities such as watching movies and participating in sporting events such as boxing tournaments, baseball or basketball. Many of the men also began to create trench art in their spare time. The Seabees have always been noted for their ability to improvise and make something out of any pile of scrap.

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Trench art souvenirs illustration from the 73rd Seabees cruise book (U.S. Navy Seabee Museum Archives)

The souvenir craze first hit the 73rd NCB on Guadalcanal with the abundance of Imperial Japanese shells, sea shells, and grass skirts. As they island hopped around the Pacific Ocean to Roviana, Sasseville, Munda, Banika, and Peleiu, they kept the desire for souvenirs with them. With projectile casings all around them as they worked, they spent their down time collecting them and crafting trench art.

Ship Fitter First Class (SF1c) Ralph E. Nichols of the 73rd NCB donated his collection of memorabilia to the museum in the 1970s which included a set of 6 trench art brass shot glasses made out of 20mm projectile casings from cannon shells. The bottom of each shell casing is marked “S.M.C. 1943 20mm M21A1”. They were most likely manufactured by the Symington Machine Corporation in Rochester, N.Y. Each shell casing measures a height of 2 inches.

Each shot glass is marked inert which means they are chemically inactive. As material potentially presenting an explosive hazard (MPPEH), every piece of ordnance donated to the U.S. Navy Seabee Museum must go through the process of becoming inert certified before being displayed in the museum.

Come visit the U.S. Navy Seabee Museum for the grand opening of two new exhibitions, WWII Pacific Theater and Cold War on Saturday January 21, 2017 and see the different types of trench art and trophies the Seabees brought home with them.

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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.

Curator’s Corner- The W. Reynolds Collection

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Trench art coconut lamp, made out of three coconuts and inert ammunition (U.S. Navy Seabee Museum

 

The U.S. Navy Seabee Museum will be officially opening the WWII Pacific Theater Exhibit in January 2017 to kick off the Seabees 75th Anniversary. Among the new exhibits will be a World War II trench art exhibit.

The Seabees are known to have created unique examples of trench art during WWII. Trench art, or decorative items made by soldiers during times of war, were created by Seabees during their off duty hours while deployed to pass their time. Seabees used the materials around them to create trinkets for them to send home as gifts and to remind them of their time as Seabees.

Many unique examples of trench art have been donated to the Seabee Museum. W. Reynolds, a Seabee who served in the Pacific Theater, handmade many pieces of trench art which have been donated to the museum by his family. A few examples from his collection include a handcrafted coconut lamp made from three coconuts and inert ammunition, and a cigarette holder and letter holder made out of Imperial Japanese shell casings and hammered brass. The museum unfortunately has very little information regarding the donor’s battalion and where he was deployed.

Come visit the U.S. Navy Seabee Museum and see W. Reynolds collection and an array of trench art on display throughout the museum.

photo of robyn for curator's corner.pngMeet 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- Humanitarian Missions

 

 

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NMCB 3 Seabees deployed to Djibouti to work with Combined Joint Task Force- Horn of Africa

The U.S. Navy Seabees have a long history of providing humanitarian efforts around the world from Palau in the South Pacific to Afghanistan. Seabees are vital members of the Combined Joint Task Force- Horn of Africa (CJTF-HOA) and are deployed to build partner nation capacity in Eastern Africa and help prevent Islamic radicalization. Lt. Cmdr. Michael James of NMCB 74 said, “as Seabees, we normally are supporting other units and forces…here in HOA, we’re one of the primary means for CJTF-HOA to accomplish its mission by building schools, medical clinics and water wells … we aren’t just building something and leaving, we’re interacting with the people and working with them to help themselves make their life better.”

Senior Chief Equipment Operator (EOCS) Pamela Leith (nee Lee), donated the first collection to the museum representing the Seabees deployment with CJTF-HOA. EOCS Leith was deployed with NMCB 3 to Djibouti for humanitarian missions in 2009. While in Djibouti, EOCS Leith worked on a school rehabilitation project in the city of Ali Sabieh and a water well mission in Dikhil. By using the construction force’s building expertise, the Seabees are able to complete many small projects and spend more time interacting with the community.

On one such occasion, the hotel where the Seabees were staying in Ali Sabieh was constructing an additional building and EOCS Leith noticed the Djiboutian’s were doing everything by hand and hauling dirt in by buckets. She decided to help by using the Seabee’s front end loader to haul a few scoops in and build up their floor. This small gesture probably saved them several days of labor which only took her an hour.

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Seabees from NMCB 3 celebrating the end of Ramadan with Djibouti natives

 

The hotel staff was grateful for the Seabees’ contribution to their community and treated them like family for the duration of their stay. They invited the Seabees as their guests to a large feast after Ramadan which they all attended and even threw EOCS Leith a dinner party before she departed on her new mission. The staff appreciated everything she had done for them and gave her gifts of local tradition which included a dress, skirt, shawls, and a large knife with leather scabbard which are currently on display in the museum.

While EOCS Leith was building the water well in Dikhil, she was notified that the new hotel building in Ali Sabieh had added her name in large letters to a pillar as a sign of respect and gratitude. She went back to see the finished building and to greet the hotel staff. Leith said, “It was truly touching that they did that for me!”

Lt. Cmdr. Stephen Legg of NMCB 11, who NMCB 3 replaced said, “Actions often speak louder than words…as we work side-by-side with the Africans through our military-to-military programs or build new school facilities here in Djibouti, our efforts speak volumes to the fact the American people care, and we are here to help Africans find solutions to African problems.”

Come visit the U.S. Navy Seabee Museum and see EOCS Leith’s collection and other humanitarian mission stories.

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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.

 

 

 

 

Curator’s Corner- Seabees and the Global War on Terror

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Seabee assigned to NMCB-74 helps set a security perimeter at a project site near Fallujah, Iraq, 2004.

The U.S. Navy Seabee Museum recently opened several new exhibits including an exhibit on the Seabees and the Global War on Terrorism (GWOT). GWOT refers to the international military campaign that started after the September 11, 2001 attacks on the United States. America’s involvement in the Global War on Terrorism after the 9/11 attacks increased the need for more Seabees. All active and reserve Naval Mobile Construction Battalions (NMCBs) and Naval Construction Regiments (NCRs) have been deployed to both Iraq and Afghanistan in Operation Enduring Freedom (OEF) and Operation Iraqi Freedom (OIF) providing critical construction skills. The Seabees have been deployed since the beginning of the invasion of Afghanistan in 2001, Iraq in 2003, and have been providing humanitarian assistance in Africa since 2007.

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Girder from Tower One of the World Trade Center donated to the U.S. Navy Seabee Museum

 

The museum has acquired a piece of twisted girder (steel beam) from Tower One of the World Trade Center and it is displayed in the new exhibit. This donation was made in 2006 by retired officer Art Grenci of the Los Angeles Police Department. EOCS Pamela Leith, who at the time was a 1st Class Equipment Operator, took Mr. Grenci to visit the old Seabee Museum. He was impressed with the pride and honor that was displayed for the Seabees past and present, that he wanted the steel to have a good home at the U.S. Navy Seabee Museum, so all could learn about 9/11 and would never forget.

Come visit the U.S. Navy Seabee Museum and explore the new GWOT, Antarctica, Seabee Culture, Underwater Construction, and Special Assignments exhibits!

photo of robyn for curator's corner.pngMeet 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 Queens and Their Throne

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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.

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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.”

Archivist Attic – “Acey Bone” Serves Steaks on Planes

In 1952 Wonsan, a key supply and transportation center for the enemy, fell back into the hands of communist Korea. While fighting to regain essential territory, severely damaged naval aircraft were being forced to either ditch at sea or land behind enemy territory. The Navy need to locate a safe place for them to land. Just as luck would have it “Acey Bone” (ACBONE), the familiar name of Amphibious Construction Battalion ONE, was on the job! They managed to build a lifesaving airstrip quicker than you can cook dinner.

Emergency landing strip on Wolmi Do Island.

Emergency landing strip on Wolmi Do Island.

Carrier-based Navy aircraft, making daily attacks on the city of Wonson, were frequently damaged to the degree that pilots had to choose between ditching at sea or landing in enemy-held territory. These losses made finding a safe solution in Allied territory imperative. In June 1952, Vice Admiral P.R. Briscoe directed “Acey Bone” to construct an emergency air strip on Yodo Island in Wonsan Harbor. The small, hilly island had remained behind enemy lines after the Wonsan evacuation, but appeared so unimportant that the North Koreans never took it over. Within easy shelling range of the mainland, it was the perfect place for the Seabees to build the much needed air-strip.

Another view of the landing strip on Wolmi Do Island

Emergency landing strip on Wolmi Do Island from the side.

A rapid survey showed that there was only one possible location for the airstrip, a low level area used by the Koreans for rice paddies. After bringing in equipment and supplies “Acey Bone” started construction. Drilling, blasting, filling and grading of the hilly area took just nineteen days to complete. The brand new airstrip was 2,400 feet long and went from one side of the island to the other.

On the twentieth day the code message the “Steak Is Ready,” was declared signaling that the airstrip was ready to be used.. This pre-arranged signal was acted on immediately by no less than nine Corsair pilots who all landed on the new field the very first day it was completed.

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Photograph of members of Acey Bone (ACBONE), the familiar name of Amphibious Construction Battalion ONE, after the invasion.

Despite the ease with which the island could be shelled and the constant need for filling shell holes in the airstrip, operations continued for a year. The airfield was named “Briscoe Field” in honor of Vice Admiral P.R. Briscoe. During this time, Navy and Air Force aircraft, valued at over ten million dollars, were saved by utilizing the emergency airstrip and over sixty pilots were spared the choice between capture and ditching at sea.

Once again “Acey Bone” showed the true Can Do! Spirt of the Seabees by not only providing a place to land, but doing so in style!

 

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Meet the Archivist: Ingi House

Meet the Archivist: Ingi House

Ingi House is originally from Kansas where she got her B.A. in history from the University of Kansas and M.L.S. from Emporia State University. After working for the Dole Institute of Politics she moved to the East Coast. In Washington D.C. she worked at the National Archives and Records Administration and then at the Defense Acquisition University where she became a Certified Archivist. Her continued enjoyment of military history led her to switching coasts and coming to work for the Seabee Museum where she is collection manager for the archives and records manager liaison.