The Unknown Skills of a Curator

Dozer Mannequin

WWII mannequin, Elmer,  working the dozer in the WWII Pacific Roads exhibit (U.S. Navy Seabee Museum)

When you hear the title museum curator, many thoughts may come to mind of the duties and qualities possessed by these museum professionals; preserves and interprets history, handles donations, designs exhibits, and lives a life similar to Indiana Jones or Lara Croft.  Although most of these are true (unfortunately not so much the life of Indiana Jones), did you know that many curators in small to medium sized museums install their own exhibits with the help of other staff members? We do not sit behind a desk all day. We can be found behind the scenes in our storage facilities or on the exhibit floor cleaning objects, mounting label copy, measuring pathways for accessibility, choosing colors, moving cases, and installing objects up until the moment new exhibits open and thereafter! Our work never ceases.

One of the many unknown skills museum curators possess is the ability to work with museum mannequins. This may not sound challenging, but the length of time it takes to undress mannequins, clean historical clothing, redress new mannequins, and pose them is daunting. Some of the tasks include; attaching their arms and legs, dressing the mannequins, stuffing their shirts to give them muscles and definition, and even giving a few haircuts! The hardest part of working with mannequins is posing them to become a part of the exhibit. The process of making a mannequin look natural in their pose is time consuming. Although some mannequins are considered flexible, it usually takes two to three staff members or volunteers to pose a mannequin into a position and then it takes a lot of small movements and different angles to make them look natural in their pose. Other mannequins which are meant to stand must be mounted on platforms with belts around their waists and then attached to the wall behind them so they do not fall over and hurt other artifacts or museum visitors.  

Working with mannequins is fun and entertaining, but also a lot of hard work. Who would have thought I would need to know how to tie a necktie or give haircuts as a curator? Unfortunately, these are not skills usually taught in a master’s program for museum studies,  but these are all great skills I am happy to have! So the next time you visit the U.S. Navy Seabee Museum and notice the posed mannequins around the museum, you now know how much time, effort, and care goes into creating a museum exhibit for our patrons to enjoy.

Curator’s Corner- The Legacy of Rear Admiral Lewis B. Combs

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Rear Admiral Combs with Seabees while on a visit to Trinidad to preform inspections on the 30th and 80th Construction Battalions, March 1944 (U.S. Navy Seabee Museum)

Rear Admiral Lewis B. Combs is a celebrated Civil Engineer Corps (CEC) officer best known for his many accomplishments spanning two world wars and assisting in the establishment and organization of the Naval Construction Force (NCF), better known as the Seabees, during World War II.

Combs graduated from Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute (RPI) in Troy, NY in 1916 with a degree in civil engineering and quickly joined the war effort when America entered World War I and served as an assistant civil engineer officer in charge of field construction in the Navy.

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Wedding portrait of Lewis B. Coms and Laura B. Warden with Lt. Ben Moreell, to his left,  as his best man, April 1925. (U.S. Navy Seabee Museum)

During peacetime service, he worked many overseas assignments, including the Republic of Haiti, where he met and became good friends with Lt. Ben Moreell, who would later become the “father of the Seabees”. Their friendship would span the rest of their lives as their careers each experienced an upwards path.

In 1938 Admiral Combs became the assistant chief at the Bureau of Yards and Docks (Budocks) serving under his good friend Rear Admiral Ben Moreell for 8 years through the duration of World War II and received the rank of Rear Admiral (RADM) in 1942.

In 1943, Combs received an opportunity to serve as the technical advisor during the making of the film The Fighting Seabees (1943) and formed a lifelong friendship with lead actor John Wayne. He went on to advise Wayne during the production of Sands of Iwo Jima (1949) and Home for the Seabees (1977).

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Combs on the set of The Fighting Seabees, Camp Pendleton, Calif., with actor John Wayne, 1943. (U.S. Navy Seabee Museum)

As the second in command of Budocks, Combs was responsible for administering the Navy’s shore construction and development program. Throughout 1944 to 1945, he conducted inspections of construction battalions in the Caribbean and Pacific, traveling more than 100,000 miles to personally meet with Seabees, boosting morale and welfare, listening to problems, and bringing information from the field back to headquarters. Before the war, he liked to say, he knew every one of the Navy’s 120 civil-engineering officers, by name. Before the war was over his engineering command included 10,000 officers and more than 325,000 Seabees.

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Rear Admiral Combs and CEC officers riding around Tinian Island on an amphibious wheeled vehicle while performing inspections on the 6th Seabee Brigade, February 1945. (U.S. Navy Seabee Museum)

RADM Combs finished his naval career in 1947 as the director of BuDocks Atlantic operations in New York.  He returned to Troy, NY where he became the head of the Department of Civil Engineers at RPI until his retirement in 1961. Nearly 400 military officers earned bachelor degrees in civil engineering under his guidance, predominantly CEC officers who went on to lead the NCF for decades to come.

Rear Admiral Combs passed away in May, 1996 at the age of 101. His legacy can be measured in the people and organizations he touched, and he directly influenced, either in uniform or as an academic, perhaps more civil engineers in the Navy’s history than any other man. Rear Admiral Lewis B. Combs has proudly earned the name “uncle” of the Seabees.

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Portrait of RADM Combs, created by artist Elaine Hartley Levine during WWII. (U.S. Navy Seabee Museum)

The portrait of RADM Combs, created by artist Elaine Hartley Levine during WWII, depicts Combs in the popular style of portraitures during that period; shown half-length, in a colorful descriptive setting. The small Seabee on his desk was a suitable emblem to represent his duties in NCF. The portrait is currently hung in the U.S. Navy Seabee Museum’s exhibit CEC before Seabees. Come visit the Seabee Museum and see our new additions and old treasures added to the CEC before Seabees exhibit.

Special thanks to historian Dr. Frank A. Blazich Jr. for his extensive knowledge and research on RADM Combs which was essential to creating this blog.

 

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- 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

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.”

Curator’s Corner- Detail Kilo and Timber Bunkers

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Newly acquired donation of a scaled model of a wooden timber bunker by retired Seabee John O’Brien [U.S. Navy Seabee Museum]

The U.S. Navy Seabee Museum has recently acquired a scaled model of a wooden timber bunker for its permanent collection. Donor John O’Brien served with MCB 10 as a 3rd class Builder Heavy (BUH3) and was a member of Detail KILO. John O’Brien recreated this timber bunker based on a U.S. Navy photograph he received before departing MCB 10 in 1968. According to Mr. O’Brien, over 30 of these bunkers were built and assembled by breaking the men into groups of 4 to accomplish a certain task on each bunker before moving on to the next.

 

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Photo courtesy of the U.S. Navy used to recreated the model of the wooden timber bunker [U.S. Navy Seabee Museum]

The men of Mobile Construction Battalion 10 (MCB 10), who are commonly referred to as the “Men of Ten”, accomplished many courageous tasks while deployed during the Vietnam Conflict. Their third deployment to Vietnam in 1967-68 was unique because it was the first time that the battalion had been so widely dispersed rather than keeping them together. Construction detail crews were spread across South Vietnam, just south of the Demilitarized Zone (DMZ) dividing North and South Vietnam. The DMZ ran east to west along the Ben Hai River near the 17th parallel and extended 5 kilometers on each side of the river.

According to MCB 10’s cruise book, Delta Company, consisting primarily of builders and steelworkers, was one of two general construction companies in the battalion. Its function was vertical construction, such as steel and wooden frame buildings, bridges and revetments (retaining walls). Because of widely spread construction sites, the company was broken down into smaller details.

 

map of south vietnam with camps

Locations MCB 10 were widely dispersed into smaller details to construct roads, camps, and bunkers throughout South Vietnam. [MCB 10 1968 Cruise book, U.S. Navy Seabee Museum Archives]

Detail INDIA departed Gia Le for Phu Bai on September 28, 1967 to construct living quarters for the First Marine Air Wing. Work was well underway; when Detail INDIA was disbanded on November 2, 1967 due to the need for Seabees to preform higher priority work near the DMZ, in the I Corps area. The I Corps encompassed the five northernmost provinces in South Vietnam. Detail KILO was established on the same day, November 2, 1967, to complete heavy timber ammo and personnel bunkers at Cam Lo for the Marines. Their mission was completed in just over thirty days, eleven days ahead of schedule. Detail KILO returned to base camp on December 18, 1967 where the battalion regrouped and continued to work throughout the remainder of the deployment to change a sand-surrounded airstrip site at Quang Tri into a sprawling military complex.

 

photograph of detail kilo NMCB 10

Photograph of Detail Kilo [MCB 10 1968 Cruise book, U.S. Navy Seabee Museum Archives]

Mr. O’Brien recalled his commander of Detail KILO, LTJG Phillip Crocket, challenging the crews to catch up with the crew ahead of them by claiming the crew was already done and enjoying a beer. If they caught up with them, they could rest and have a beer too. Crockets motivational plan worked to complete the project in record time, although no one rested until the completion of the project.

According the Commanding Officer of MCB 10, D.A. Bartley, he said “it was an interesting and rewarding deployment not only from the standpoint of the construction accomplishment, but also from the accolades received from our ‘customers’, the Marines and Army, for [the battalions] outstanding performance, devotion and dedication to duty.”

Come to the museum on August 2, 2016 2-4pm and learn more about the timber bunker and other behind the scene collections at the U.S. Navy Seabee Museum.

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 at Incheon

In September 1950 the personnel and equipment of Acey Bone (ACBONE), the familiar name of Amphibious Construction Battalion ONE, participated in the invasion of Inchon, Korea. This decisive victory turned the tide in favor of the United Nations and enabled the recapture of Seoul, South Korea, a few weeks later. Acey Bone was able to set up piers, a tent city, and even provide entertainment, quicker than you can get through your holiday celebrations!

Seabees at Wolmi Do during Inchon Invasion.

Seabees at Wolmi Do during Inchon Invasion.

On the morning of September 15th, the Marine Landing Force made its assault at Inchon. The Seabees were right on their heels and one and a half hours after the first waves hit the beach the Seabees had the pontoon cause way launched, assembled, and ready for beaching.

Natural obstacles proved the biggest test for building the harbor. Tidal flats and extreme tides led to maximum tidal currents against which the causeway could not be maneuvered. Working against time and tide, the pier was installed after two unsuccessful attempts. Placement of the pier had to be carefully planned in order to provide constant accessibility during both high and low tides.

Even with all the Seabee ingenuity, tidal conditions continued to limit operations. To combat this, small crafts were employed to maintain a constant flow of materials across the pier. The combination of pier work and small craft permitted 24-hour utilization of the vital links.

Smoke during naval bombardment on Incheon, Korea

Smoke rises from fires and explosions caused by pre-invasion naval bombardment on Incheon, Korea.

While pontoons were being placed in the harbor, the beach conditions were also being improved in order to make a workable base. A tent city was constructed while drivers improved roads improving the flow of materials. Seabees with railroad experience also brought Korean locomotives through enemy mortar and fire to supply the troops. They manned this equipment for the duration of their stay. Their fortitude and unusual skill provided unexpected service in support of the logistic operations.

All work and no play makes even the best military cranky. No problem with that though, the Seabees took care of that when they installed a theater. The theater proved so popular that once again, the traditional “Courtesy of the Seabees” sign was displayed on a beachhead.

Seabees at Incheon Harbor, Korea

Seabees are pictured leaving Incheon Harbor, Korea during the successful redeployment of UN troops to Incheon.

Consolidation and improvement operations continued until October 1950, by which time the preliminary work was done and the Base Development phase commenced. In just three short weeks the Seabees had built a pontoon cause way, installed a tent city, worked on making a railway functional, and provided entertainment for the troops! All because Seabees Can Do!

 

Ingi Face

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.