On this day, Rear Admiral Ben Moreell requests authority from the Bureau of Navigation to create a contingent of construction units able to build everything from airfields to roads under battlefield conditions. These units would be known as the “Seabees”—for the first letters of Construction Battalion.
The men chosen for the battalions were not ordinary inductees or volunteers—they all had construction-work backgrounds. The first batch of recruits who made the cut had helped build the Boulder Dam, national highways, and urban skyscrapers; had dug subway tunnels; and had worked in mines and quarries. Some had experience building ocean liners and aircraft carriers. Approximately 325,000 men, from 60 different trades, ages 18 to 60, would go on to serve with the Seabees by the end of the war. The officers given the authority to command these men were also an elite crew, derived from the Civil Engineer Corps. Of the more than 11,000 officers in the Corps all together, almost 8,000 would serve with the construction units.
Although the Seabees were technically supposed to be support units, they were also trained as infantrymen, and they often found themselves in combat with the enemy in the course of their construction projects. They were sent to war theaters as far flung as the Azores, North Africa, the Mediterranean, the Pacific, and the beaches of Normandy.
Some of the Seabees’ feats became legendary. They constructed huge airfields and support facilities for the B29 Superfortress bombers on Guam, Saipan, and Tinian, as well as the ports needed to bring in the supplies for the bombing of Japan. The Seabees also suffered significant casualties in the process of providing innovative new pontoons to help the Allies land on the beaches of Sicily. During D-Day, the Seabees’ demolition unit was among the first ashore. Their mission: to destroy the steel and concrete barriers the Germans had constructed as obstacles to invasion.
The Seabees’ motto was “We Build, We Fight.”