Following the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor and the United States' entry into World War II, the use of civilian labor in war zones became unsafe and impractical. In addition, under international law, civilians were not permitted to engage in enemy warfare.
From the Island Hopping of World War II and the cold of Korea, to the humid jungles of Vietnam, to the mountains of Bosnia, and to the deserts of Afghanistan and Kuwait, the Seabees have displayed feats of bravery while producing engineering miracles. Those can-do minds have erected entire bases, paved and bulldozed thousands of miles of roadway and airstrips, and accomplished a variety of other complex construction projects.
In the beginning
The need for a militarized naval construction force to build advance bases during World War II became self-evident. Therefore, Rear Admiral Ben Moreell, chief of the navy's Bureau of Yards and Docks, was determined to organize, activate, and man Navy construction units.
On January 5th, 1942, Moreell received authority from the Bureau of Navigation to recruit men from the civilian construction trades for assignment to a naval construction regiment composed of three naval construction battalions.
The earliest Seabees were placed under the leadership of the Navy's Civil Engineer Corps. Because of an emphasis on experience and skill, rather than physical standards, the average age of Seabees during the early days of the war was 37. In fact, in those initial days, it was not uncommon for skilled men to enlist at upwards of 60 years of age.
That was the actual beginning of the historically essential Seabees. Admiral Moreell personally furnished them with their official motto: "Construimus, Batuimus" — "We Build, We Fight."
World War II
More than 325,000 men served with the Seabees in World War II, fighting and building on six continents and more than 300 islands. In the Pacific, where most of the construction work was needed, the Seabees could be found landing soon after the marines — building major airstrips, bridges, roads, warehouses, hospitals, gasoline storage tanks and housing, all while drawing enemy fire.
During the war, the Seabees performed now-legendary accomplishments in both the Atlantic and Pacific theaters of operation. At a cost of nearly $11 billion and numerous casualties, they constructed more than 400 advanced bases along five historic roads to victory.
The South Atlantic road wound through the Caribbean Sea to Africa, Sicily, and up the Italian peninsula. The North Atlantic road passed through Newfoundland to Iceland, Great Britain, France, and Germany. The North Pacific road passed through Alaska and along the Aleutian Island chain. The Central Pacific road wound its way through the Hawaiian, Marshall, Gilbert, Mariana, and Ryukyu islands. The South Pacific road went through the South Sea islands to Samoa, the Solomons, New Guinea, and the Philippines. All of the Pacific roads converged on Japan and the Asiatic mainland.
Korea and Vietnam eras
By 1950, following the United States victory in World War II, the Seabees construction battalions had been minimized to 3,300 men on active duty. Those men were later reorganized into two categories: amphibious construction battalions (PHIBCBs) and naval mobile construction battalions (NMCBs).
With the Korean conflict underway, more than 10,000 men were called up for overseas duty. The Seabees landed at Inchon alongside amphibious assault units — fighting destructively high tides as well as heavy enemy fire. When a truce was declared, ending the war, the Seabees were not demobilized as they were after World War II.
After Korea, the increasingly busy Seabees distinguished themselves on numerous other missions. From providing essential assistance in the aftermath of a horrifying 1953 earthquake in Greece, to providing construction (roads, orphanages, public utilities) and much-needed training to several Third-World countries, the Seabees became known as "The Navy's Goodwill Ambassadors."
When deployed to Vietnam, Seabee construction crews often found themselves under withering enemy fire, while Marine and Army counterparts backed them up with returning fire. Once again, while enduring harsh conditions, the Seabees were still capable of performing their mission — building infrastructure, military bases, schools, and providing health care facilities for the needy Vietnamese people.
Following the Vietnam War, Seabees built and repaired important naval bases in Puerto Rico, Japan, Guam, Sicily, and Spain. While focusing on the Trust Territories of the Pacific, "Civil Action Teams" provided invaluable services — not only for the U.S. Government, but for many desperate people around the world.
The Middle East
The Seabees began their largest peacetime construction on Diego Garcia Island in 1971. That massively constructed complex, located in the Indian Ocean, required 11 years to build, and cost more than $200 million. Because the base accommodated the U.S. Navy's largest ships and the largest military cargo jets, it soon proved to be priceless when Iraq invaded Kuwait in August 1990 — setting the stage for the launching of Operation Desert Shield and Operation Desert Storm.
During the Gulf War, more than 5,000 Seabees also performed several important duties in the Middle East. In Saudi Arabia, the intrepid builders constructed 10 fully equipped camps for more than 42,000 troops, 14 mess halls capable of feeding 75,000, and six million square feet of aircraft parking tarmac.
Rescuing those in need
The Seabees have performed long-term rescue missions, such as Operation Restore Hope in famine-struck Somalia, Operation Fiery Vigil in the volcano-torn Philippines, Operation Provide Comfort in southwest Asia, Florida's Hurricane