An often overlooked branch of the Navy plans a big new museum
When the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor, two things became instantly clear to Rear Adm. Ben Moreell: The Navy was going to have to build bases and airstrips all over the Pacific, and it couldn’t hire civilians to do it under enemy fire. Members of MoreelPs new Naval Construction Battalions became known as Seabees from their initials, and before the war was over, 350,000 of them had laid 111 major airstrips in the Pacific; led the way ashore on D-day: installed the pontoon ferries that took Patton’s troops across the Rhine; and much, much more.
They’ve played roles just as essential in every war since and in peacetime too, from Africa to Southeast Asia to the South Pole. Yet most Americans barely know they exist. To remedy that, the CEC/Seabee Historical Foundation (CEC is the Navy’s closely related Civil Engineer Corps) has embarked on a campaign to raise $12 million for a big new Seabee Museum to replace a cramped and outdated facility in Port Hueneme, California. The museum will take visitors through recruitment and training and then through the theaters of service from World War II to Iraq. Capt. W. B. Hilderbrand, the foundation’s president, hopes to have the museum open by 2007. “We want people to have a better understanding of the breadth and scope of what the Seabees have contributed to their nation in both war and peace,” he says. “And we especially want to inspire younger generations to think about opportunities they might never otherwise consider.” To find out more about the Seabees and the plans for the museum, visit the foundation’s Web site,