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What Is A Seabee? The U.S. Navy's Construction Battalion

Soldiers pouring cement

What is a Seabee?
The Naval Construction Force, better known as the Seabees, was born March 5, 1942. To meet the Navy’s need for construction of advanced bases in combat zones in World War II, Rear Admiral Ben Moreell, Chief of the Bureau of Yards and Docks, requested specific authority to activate, organize, and man Navy construction units.

Since then, for more than 80 years, Seabees have been the Navy’s construction force, building bases and airfields, conducting underwater construction, and building roads, bridges, and other support facilities. They play a crucial role in supporting the fleet and combatant commands while carrying out the Navy’s maritime strategy.

What is a Seabee motto?
The founder of the Seabees, Moreell, gave the Seabees their motto, “Construimus, Batuimus,” which translates from Latin to English, “We build. We Fight.”

Given the nature of the Seabees mission, to come ashore in austere conditions and build something where there was nothing, the motto makes sense. But Seabees also developed a reputation for being fierce defenders of what they built which helped them define what is a Seabee.

soldier measuring rebar on construction site

What is a Seabee nickname?
The term “Seabee” is itself not an acronym, but the term Seabee comes from the first letters of the words that comprise the unit’s formal name, “Construction Battalion.” When abbreviated, the letters are “C” and “B” and given the Navy’s penchant for playing with words, the term Seabee was coined.

And the nickname would lead to the creation of one of the most iconic military mascots in U.S. military history.

1942 picture of Frank Iafrate the designer of the seabees image

What is a Seabee mascot?
In 1942, Frank Iafrate, a Navy enlisted clerk at the Naval Air Station Quonset Point, was approached by an officer who knew he had skill as a cartoonist. The officer asked Iafrate to create an insignia for a group of 250 men he was in charge of. The group was one of four new special teams of Navy men who were being trained by civilians in construction work and by Marines in military training. They were being referred to as Construction Battalion men.

These new units would be used to build forward bases and go ashore in the second wave after the Marines. Their primary task included building airstrips, docks, roads, and advance bases but they would also be trained in military defense and be ready to fight and defend what they had built.

When he asked himself, what is a Seabee, or “CB” mascot, Iafrate thought of a busy bee that works industriously and yet is capable of protecting his property when confronted by an enemy. He decided on a Navy white hat on an animated bee to make him strictly Navy; a hammer and wrench in his hands to show his construction abilities; and a machinegun held in his front “legs” to show his military muscle. Iafrate designed the bee with a serious look on his face to show determination.  

Enlist with the Seabees antique flyer

At the time the insignia was designed only for the First Naval Construction Battalion and not for an entire branch of the Navy. The new group also needed a name to go along with the new insignia. Iafrate thought the sketches of a bee in Navy gear reminded him of the sea and the main character was bee. Thus, a phonetic rendering of the initials “C” and “B” became "Seabees" that completed the final insignia.

The insignia, with the new name for the newly created Construction Battalions, was widely accepted and became the official seal of the Seabees. On March 5, 1942, the Chief of the Bureau of Navigation approved the designation of Construction Battalions as “Seabees” and the insignia was authorized to be put on major equipment.

What is a Seabee Insignia?
Iafrate’s design would not only become the symbol of the Seabees, but it would be adopted by the U.S. Navy as a branch insignia. Today, all Seabees wear the Seabee combat insignia created by Iafrate once they earn it.

The badge is worn on service uniforms and combat uniforms once earned, but the embroidered patch is worn on the combat uniform for those who have finished "A" school.Seabees insignia

What is a Seabee internationally?
Seabees play an important role in sustaining global relationships. Seabees are forward deployed around the world to provide engineering and construction support while promoting regional stability and improving lives through engineering civic action projects in many countries.

What is a Seabee (CB) doing in the South Pole?
In 1956, Seabees helped the Navy build a research base on Antarctica. It was in use until 1975, a testament to the skill of the Seabees. It was eventually abandoned and demolished in 2010.

In 1975, the Seabees built a dome over the South Pole Station that covered and protected the buildings at the research facility until 2009.

What is a Seabee (CB) Medal of Honor history?
In June 1965, Marvin G. Shields was a Seabee constructing an Army Special Forces Camp at Dong Xoai. The camp started getting mortared and attacked by more than 2,000 Vietcong. By morning, the camp had fallen into enemy hands.

Shields had been wounded by mortar fire, but that did not prevent him from fighting alongside of the Green Berets. He would be wounded a second time by shrapnel and he was also shot in the jaw, but he helped evacuate wounded personnel.

Over the next four hours, Shields fought on and even helped a Special Forces officer knock out a Vietcong machinegun which was mowing down American and ally forces. The Americans had fallen back into a building and they were surrounded on all sides, defending themselves from the building. Shields and the SF officer attacked the machinegun with a rocket and destroyed it, but on the way back to the building, Shields was wounded for the third time, shot in both legs.

June 1965 image of Marvin G. Shields

He was air evacuated from the camp with other wounded Seabees. He died during the evacuation.  

What is a Seabee? They are sailors with a long, distinguished legacy. They build. They fight.

(EDITOR’S NOTE: Public information from the U.S. Navy was used to write this post.)

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Comments on this post ( 1 )

  • Nov 13, 2022

    My husband was a SeaBee and retired after his stint in Desert Storm. They are a great bunch of men and not afraid to defend their country.

    — Gayle Moles

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