US Navy Seabees

Navy sailor band, including Seabee trumpet player Wallace Colcord, performing a Sunday concert while other soldiers look on. Tarawa Atoll, Gilbert Islands, March 1944.
Photo by J.R. Eyerman, from the LIFE Archives.

A T-shirt made by Pike Brothers caught my eye when I saw an image of it posted on Rivet Head’s blog.  Printed on the front is a graphic of a helmeted sailor, bayoneted firearm  in hand and cigarette in mouth, operating a bulldozer.  Above the drawing is the word “Seabees” and below is the word “Tarawa.”  The 1940s-esque design intrigued me and reminded me of the graphic style of the pinup girls painted on the side of aircraft in World War II.

I also wanted to know exactly what a “Seabee” was.  I correctly assumed that Tarawa was a location in the Pacific theater, where a large battle took place.  The Pike Brothers Web site also says the design is an authentic one, original to the 1940s, and that it appeared in many newspapers.

After doing a search on Seabees, Wikipedia told me that the word is an adaptation of the military abbreviation “C.B.,” for “construction battalion.”  These construction battalions were formed because it was too dangerous for civilian contractors to operate in these war zones.  If they were attacked, civilian workers couldn’t fight back without being deemed guerrilla fighters suitable for execution, so the armed forces needed a militarized construction force that could build the necessary infrastructure for the war fighters, with the ability to fight back when attacked.

The first Seabees were men who were construction workers, welders, machinists, carpenters and other workers in their civilian lives who could quickly adapt their professions to the war effort.

US Navy Seabees building quonset huts. Guam, June 1945.
Photo by J.R. Eyerman, from the LIFE Archives

Could this next photo very well be the inspiration for the original graphic on the T-shirt?

US Navy Seabee Rober H. Sellers of Eugene, OR operating a caterpillar. Guam, June 1945.
Photo by J.R. Eyerman, from the LIFE Archives

**Edit**: The above photo can’t be the inspiration for the T-shirt, because I have found an earlier photo from 1944 of a sailor wearing one of the original T-shirts!  I have replaced the first photo in the post with this new find.

US Navy Seabees building wooden water tanks. Guam, June 1945.
Photo by J.R. Eyerman, from the LIFE Archives

A recruitment poster for the Seabees, via Wikipedia.



Filed under Armed Forces, Clothing, History, Industry Fabrication and Manufacturing, World War II

3 responses to “US Navy Seabees

  1. Pingback: Rust n’ Dust « Jantelagom

  2. Joanne Pellham

    I have come across a scrapbook of Frank Jacob Arnold Flc V-6 USNR that served in the US Navy. He was a Seabee. He was ordered to duty on 20 Nov 1942 from Los Angeles, CA. He was stationed in Hawaii. Some of the names mentioned are Ballard, Zawder, Hatchman, Brown, Brayton, Burgess, Farrar, Knight, Leeke, Loyd, Linson, Vookhees, Martin, Schmidt, Earl, Barkley, Clements, Aiello, Friegel, Eaton, Yelle, Schmerbay, Holt, and Webster. Would love to get this back to the family. Do you have any suggestions?

  3. Hi, Joanne. That’s interesting. A quick search on for a Frank Jacob Arnold with the search parameters of military service in California in 1942 does come up with some results. Unfortunately, I don’t have a paid account to see the draft cards. A local history center has full access to, so if I’m there anytime soon, I’ll give it another search and see if it comes up with anything. Thanks for reading!

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