Monday, March 6, 2017

Sea Bees

On March 5, the Seabees turn 75. And though that initial, all-volunteer, and older-aged construction force was soon to be replaced by a new group of younger and unskilled recruits by way of the draft in 1942, the rugged spirit of those first men to earn the title of “Seabee” (along with their straightforward motto of “Can Do”) would pass down to the young men and women who would follow in their footsteps over the next 75 years. They would forge a rich history steeped in victory and sacrifice while going on to participate in every major U.S. military engagement and humanitarian action since the inception of the U.S. Naval Construction Forces.

During World War II, Seabees in the Pacific theater would build 441 piers, 111 airstrips, hundreds of square blocks of warehouses, and numerous hospitals that would serve 70,000 patients. In the European theater, Seabees attached to naval demolition units (the forerunners of today’s Navy SEALs) were some of the first American service members to set foot on the beaches of Normandy, where they labored to destroy concrete and steel barriers meant to impede the impending allied invasion.

In 1950, after a brief respite from war, Seabees would find themselves under heavy fire at Inchon, South Korea, where they successfully labored to overcome 30-foot tides and a swift current while installing essential pontoon causeways, in what has come to be known as one of the most brilliant amphibious assaults in history.

And during the early years of the 1960s, a number of young men voluntarily enlisted to become part of the now-legendary building and fighting force that had been established just one generation earlier. These were men like Construction Mechanic 3rd Class Marvin Glenn Shields, who joined the Navy at 22 and later went on to courageously fight and die at the battle of Dong Xoai. For his bravery, Shields was posthumously awarded the Medal of Honor.

Those examples are just a drop in the bucket of Seabee history. This is a military construction force that, time and again, has successfully risen to the occasion in the face of adversity.

That quality is what motivated those early, first-generation Seabees of 75 years ago to serve. And Capt. Jeffrey Kilian, current commodore of 30th Naval Construction Regiment — the man responsible for all deployed Seabee operations in the Pacific — says it still motivates the young men and women who answer the call to serve today.