What is a Seabee? 9 Things to Know About the Navy’s Construction Battalion

By Sandi Gohn

The Navy Construction Battalion – better known as the Seabees – is responsible for building much of the temporary and permanent infrastructure at U.S. military locations around the world. With roots dating back to World War II, the Seabees were formally established on March 5, 1942, to meet the Navy’s growing need to build bases, camps and other structures as part of the war effort. In the over seven decades since its founding, Seabees have gone on to serve in most major U.S. conflicts.

Here are nine things to know about the Seabees’ monumental history:

1. The Seabee motto is “Construimus, Batuimus.”

The Latin phrase, which means “We build, We fight,” was the brainchild of Rear Adm. Ben Moreell, who is considered the father of the Seabees.

2. The nickname “Seabee” comes from the first letters of the words that make up the unit’s formal name, “Construction Battalion.”

When said together as one word, the letters “C” and “B” sound like the word “Seabee,” hence the battalion’s iconic nickname.

3. True to their motto, Seabees can build just about anything, anywhere.

Photo credit U.S. Navy/Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Cole C. Pielop

A Seabee diver prepares steel sheet pile for measurement during SCUBA operations within the Tinian Harbor in September 2020.

“The men and women of the Seabees have been deployed globally in every theater around the world constructing bases, building airfields, conducting underwater construction and building roads, bridges and other support facilities while providing protection for themselves and those around them,” wrote Navy Petty Officer 1st Class Heather Salzman in a 2020 DVIDShub.net story.

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4. The Seabees have one Medal of Honor recipient, Marvin G. Shields.

During the Vietnam War in 1965, Navy Construction Mechanic 3rd Class Marvin G. Shields, then just 25 years old, showed great heroism when a camp he and his fellow Seabees were constructing suddenly came under attack. Despite being wounded several times, Shields continually ignored his own injuries to defend the area and stay in the fight for roughly 14 hours. His actions helped save 15 Seabees and Green Berets who were at the camp. Ultimately, Shields’ injuries proved fatal, and he died before the survivors were rescued. He was posthumously awarded the Medal of Honor in 1965, which his wife and young daughter accepted on his behalf.

The tradition started in 1943 at Port Hueneme, California, and featured Susan Hayward, who co-starred alongside John Wayne in the film “The Fighting Seabees,” as the first queen. As time went on and the tradition expanded to other areas where Seabees were stationed, Seabee Queens grew to include other famous faces or relatives of the Seabees themselves. This tradition was discontinued in 1992.

6. Seabee units were some of the first fully integrated units in the Navy at the end of WWII.

Photo credit U.S. Navy/The New York Public Library Digital Collections

During World War II, Seabees erect a steel tank constructed deep in the jungles of one of the South Pacific bases.

During WWII, over 12,500 Black service members enlisted in Seabee battalions – notably the 34th, 20th (Special) and 80th. Many of these units deployed all around the world. As they fought for our nation, these pioneering Black sailors also fought against racial prejudices and paved the path toward a fully integrated U.S. military.

7. Seabees helped build some of the first structures at the South Pole.

After WWII, Seabees first traveled to Antarctica in 1946 to help the Navy establish a research base on the continent.

Photo credit DoD

As part of Deep Freeze 73, Seabees deployed to Antarctica to construct a six-story high dome at South Pole Station. The dome covered and protected most of the buildings at South Pole Station.

Over the next several decades, Seabees continued to deploy to the harsh frozen environment to build the Amundsen-Scott South Pole Station, which features the iconic South Pole dome. This remote research area is extremely isolated and is located 1,000 miles away from the continent’s larger McMurdo Station.

8. There is a Seabees Memorial.

U.S. Marines consisting of both staff and students attached to the Quantico Staff Noncommissioned Officers Academy run past the National Seabee Memorial in Arlington, Virginia in 2016. | Photo credit U.S. Marine Corps/Lance Cpl. Cristian L. Ricardo

Located just outside of Arlington National Cemetery in Virginia, the Seabees Memorial was dedicated in 1972 and was sculpted by Felix de Weldon, a Seabee veteran himself. De Weldon also sculpted the United States Marine Corps Memorial, which is also located in Arlington, Virginia.

9. You can spot Seabees by looking closely at their uniforms.

Seabees sport a unique sewn-in logo, or patch, on their left chest pocket. The embroidered patch features the battalion’s official “Fighting Bee” logo along with the word “Seabees.”

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