In the days leading up to America's entry into the Second World War, the U.S. Navy began constructing a series of forward bases across the Pacific. These bases -- and the ones that would follow them as the war progressed -- would become the logistical backbone of the effort, moving men and material into the fight.
The actual outbreak of war, however, caused the Navy to rethink how it was supplying the skilled tradesmen doing that construction. Up until the bombing of Pearl Harbor, most of the work was done by civilian contractors. But under international law, civilians taking up arms to resist enemy attack could be summarily executed as guerrillas.
In response, Rear Admiral Ben Moreell determined to activate, organize, and man Navy Construction Battalions or CBs, which soon became famous the world over as the Seabees. The Admiral also furnished the new battalions with their motto: Construimus, Batuimus -- "We Build, We Fight."
The first Seabees were not raw recruits. They were volunteers chosen especially for their skills. The age range for enlistment was 18-50, but after the formation of the initial battalions, it was discovered that several men past 60 had managed to join up. After December 1942 voluntary enlistments were halted by orders of President Franklin D. Roosevelt, and men for the construction battalions had to be obtained through the Selective Service System.
Those first Seabees were the men who had helped to build Boulder Dam, the national highways, New York's skyscrapers; who had worked in shipyards and built docks and wharfs, many who had served in the New Deal's Works Progress Administration. By the end of the war, 325,000 such men encompassing more than 60 skilled trades -- everything from machinists to plumbers to electricians and carpenters had enlisted in the Seabees. Together they build the road to victory (often, literal roads) in both the Pacific and the European theaters of war.
And their tradition continues to this day. From Korea and Vietnam to Iraq and Afghanistan, the Seabees have lived up to their motto and astounded friend and foe alike with their ingenuity, bravery and can-do attitude.