Great Warriors are not limited to those whose primary mission is to close with and destroy the enemy. Waging modern warfare demands a total team effort by combat, support and service units working closely together to project the power of ground, air and naval forces against the enemy. From World War II to today’s operations, U.S. Navy Seabees have been a vital component of America’s warfighting team.
At the outbreak of World War II, the U.S. Navy relied on contracted civilian construction workers to build and maintain overseas bases. However, this put civilians in harm’s way. For instance, when the Japanese took Wake Island in December 1941, they seized over 1,200 civilian construction workers; 98 were executed and 82 died in captivity. Thus in January 1942, the Navy began recruiting skilled construction workers (engineers, mechanics, electricians, steelworkers and heavy equipment operators) to serve as “build and fight” sailors in the new Naval Construction Battalions (CBs, hence the nickname “Seabees”). By World War II’s end, 325,000 Seabees served in all of the war’s theaters.
Although World War II Seabees built countless construction projects on four continents and 300 islands, their contribution to victory in the Pacific was especially vital. Seizing that vast, mostly undeveloped region of tropical jungles and barren, isolated islands from the Japanese would have been impossible without the bases, roads, airfields and fuel storage installations constructed by the Seabees.
Seabees often came ashore with the first wave of amphibious assault troops, fought enemy air and ground attacks, and when necessary turned their construction equipment into war weapons. In the Solomon Islands in November 1943, for example, Seabee Aurelio Tassone, using his bulldozer’s blade as a bullet shield, crushed a Japanese pillbox and its 12 enemy defenders. For his heroism, he received a Silver Star medal. In total, World War II Seabees were awarded five Navy Crosses, 33 Silver Stars and 2,000 Purple Heart medals. Nearly 300 Seabees were killed in action, while another 500 died in construction accidents.
Since World War II, Seabees have “built and fought” in all of America’s wars – in Korea, Vietnam, the Persian Gulf, Afghanistan and Iraq – and their contributions to each were great. For instance, in Korea in 1950, Seabees landed with the first wave of Marines invading Inchon. And in Vietnam in 1965, the combat actions of Seabee Marvin G. Shields were so heroic he received a posthumous award of the Medal of Honor.
Today’s Seabees, officially called Naval Mobile Construction Battalions, continue the “build and fight” legacy of these “can do!” Great Warriors.
Jerry D. Morelock, PhD, “Armchair General” Editor in Chief.
ACG thanks reader Mike McKinnon for his service as a U.S. Navy Seabee and for recommending Seabees as a worthy Great Warriors subject.
Originally published in the September 2014 issue of Armchair General.