This day in history, December 28, 1941, Rear Admiral Ben Moreell requested authority from the Bureau of Navigation to create a contingent of construction units able to build everything from airfields to roads under battlefield conditions. These units would be known as the “Seabees,” which is a heterograph of the first initials of the words “Construction Battalion,” i.e. CB = “Seabee.”
The need for a militarized Naval Construction Force to build advance bases in the war zone was self-evident.
The men chosen for the battalions were not ordinary inductees or volunteers—they all had construction-work backgrounds. The first batch of recruits had helped build the Boulder Dam, national highways, and urban skyscrapers; had dug subway tunnels; and had worked in mines and quarries. Some had experience building ocean liners and aircraft carriers.
Roughly 325,000 men between the ages of 18-60 from 60 different trades served in the Seabees by the end of World War II.
The officers given the authority to command these men derived from the Civil Engineer Corps. Of the more than 11,000 officers in the Corps all together, almost 8,000 would serve with the construction units.
Although the Seabees were supposed to be support units, they were also trained as infantrymen, and they often found themselves in combat with the enemy in the course of their construction projects.
On December 28, 1941, Moreell requested specific authority to carry out this decision, and on January 5, 1942, he gained authority from the Bureau of Navigation to recruit men from the construction trades for assignment to a Naval Construction Regiment composed of three Naval Construction Battalions.
Admiral Moreell personally furnished them with their official motto: Construimus, Batuimus — “We Build, We Fight.”