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- 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.

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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’s Attic – Seabees at D-Day

The invasion of Normandy, France, on June 6, 1944 involved an immense effort by Seabees before, during and immediately following D-Day. The actions of these heroes are documented in one of the Seabee Museums most unique item, the map of Omaha Beach on display in the Atlantic Theater section of the museum.

Normandy D-Day Map

This D-Day map shows the landing and various actions conducted by the Seabees to insure the Allies victory.

The map, (actually two connected) shows the invasion beaches where the Seabees constructed the Mulberry harbor. Issued to Commander Douglas C. Jardine, commander of the 25th Naval Construction Regiment, he marked the map with the location of the Gooseberry blockade of ships, the Phoenix caissons, the pontoon causeways, German POW camp, emergency airfield, and Seabee camp at Omaha Beach.

Display of Normandy map at the U.S. Navy Seabee Museum

Display of the map at the Seabee Museum. Directly in front of the map is a model of a Landing Ship, Tank, referred to as the LST. These ships served as the critical means for transporting the construction supplies and equipment required by WWII Seabees.

The map is also marked with the words “TOP SECRET – BIGOT.” BIGOT was a security classification used in World War II to designate security at the highest levels, even higher than “TOP SECRET.” It was an acronym: British Invasion of German Occupied Territory, selected by Prime Minister Winston Churchill prior to American entry into World War II. A select group of people, anyone with working knowledge of the D-Day planning for Operation OVERLORD, had to have Top Secret – Bigot clearance.

Directly north of the words “EASY RED,” on the bottom left hand section of the map, shows the location of the beach obstacles to the left of causeway no. 2. Prior to the main landings at Normandy thousands of beach obstacles had to be cleared. Naval Combat Demolition Units (NCDUs) were paired with Army combat engineer units to form Gap Assault Teams (GAT) to clear Utah and Omaha beaches in the initial minutes of the D-Day landings. Ensign Karnowski, CEC, commander of NCDU 45, and his core team of five (including two Seabees) landed on Omaha Beach at sector EASY RED at 0625 hours. The team successfully blew 50 and 100-yard gaps in the obstacles, the only ones on the eastern half of Omaha Beach. These enabled members of the First Infantry Division to assault the bluffs overlooking EASY RED. As the battle progressed, this became the principal egress from Omaha Beach on D-Day.

Ensign Karnowski his core team from NCDU 45.

Ensign Karnowski his core team from NCDU 45.

The Seabees also built offshore cargo and docking facilities, piers, and breakwaters. These were constructed out of old cargo ships, special prefabricated concrete structures that were floated over from England, and the ubiquitous steel pontoons. The huge port area that was formed out of this odd combination of materials became known as Mulberry A. Even after the artificial harbor was partially destroyed in a severe storm, the Seabees landed hundreds of thousands of tons of war material daily. In addition to these massive amounts of supplies, by July 4, only 28 days after D-day, they had helped land more than a million Allied fighting men.

Rhino Ferry on Normandy beach

A Rhino ferry being unloaded of its cargo on a Normandy beach, June 1944.

Come see the unique map yourself at the U.S. Navy Seabee Museum and discover what other secrets it holds!

For more information please check out the Seabee History page on the Naval History and Heritage Command website located here http://www.history.navy.mil/research/library/online-reading-room/title-list-alphabetically/s/seabee-history0/world-war-ii.html

 

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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.

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.

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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: As Amirkian as Apple Pie – The Seabees and the AMMI Pontoons, Part 2

Since World War II, the Navy’s steel pontoons or “magic boxes” have been extensively utilized as components of amphibious landings as causeways, lighters, tugs and other items. These pontoons were designed to transfer materiel and equipment from ship to shore in deep water. During various Pacific campaigns the ocean waters were deep enough to support these pontoons and items made from them.

That was great as long as naval amphibious warfare remains in deep waters, but what happens when supplies are needed up rivers or on shallow banks? As the U.S. entered the Vietnam Conflict this problem became more and more prevalent until the Navy reached out to our good friend Dr. Arsham Amirkian

Dr. Amirkian, chief engineer at the Naval Facilities Engineering Command (NAVFAC), conceived of the AMMI Pontoon as a possible solution to the cargo off-loading problems in Vietnam caused by the lack of adequate deep water port facilities. This pontoon gave the Seabees a unique component for rapid port construction and operation from the amphibious assault.

The AMMI Pontoon had several advantages over the magic box, as pointed out in the table below, but the thing that gave the AMMI Pontoon a major advantage over the magic box is the framing system called “biserrated orthotropic.”

Framing System

General Differences Between the “Magic Box” and the Ammi Pontoon

Metrics Magic Box Ammi Pontoon
Dimensions 90x22x5 feet 90x28x5 feet
Weight 67.5 tons 50 tons
Drawn water 20 inches 8 inches
Weight supported 100 tons 290 tons
Freeboard 10 inches 10 inches

Unlike the conventional framing of watercraft, where use is made of rolled-section stiffeners of L- or T-shape, all AMMI Pontoons feature a novel rib system that not only increases the structural strength, but also reduces framing weight. It is the “biserrated orthotropic” that makes the AMMI Pontoon so unique. Dr. Amirikian named the system to convey the two characteristics of the bent-plate stiffeners used in the system: 1. The trapezoidal trough shape of the member and 2. The serrated openings that occur along the upper edges of the two sides.

Pontoon

The strips of plating for the stiffeners are cut from a large plate along two paralleling serrations, rather than along straight lines that are used in conventional pontoon building. By this means, the width of the strip is increased by a distance equal to the depth of the serration, without an increase in its weight. Subsequently, when the strips are bent to form trough shapes an increase of almost the same extent is also obtained in the depth or height of the member, with a corresponding increase in their strength.

Another bonus for the “biserrated orthotropic” design is that when these members are welded to the shell plating, the serrated openings, which occur in an alteration sequence in the two faces, provide access for depositing the back or interior welds of the connecting edges for full fusion. The same openings also making it possible to inspect and maintain the otherwise-concealed interior surfaces of the ribs.

Another distinguishing feature of the AMMI is the end-connectors and the tube pile spud wells. These items enable the pontoon to be used to build bridges both floating and elevated. How does it do this? Stay tuned for next and final instalment to see how!

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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