In December 1941, with an eye on the developing storm clouds across both oceans, Rear Admiral Ben Moreell, Chief of the Navy's Bureau of Yards and Docks, recommended establishing . With the attack on Pearl Harbor and the U.S. entrance into the war, he was given the go-ahead.
The earliest Seabees were recruited from the civilian construction trades and were placed under the leadership of the Navy's Civil Engineer Corps. Because of the emphasis on experience and skill rather than on physical standards, the average age of Seabees during the early days of the war was 37.
More than 325,000 men served with the Seabees in World War II, fighting and building on six continents and more than 300 islands. In the Pacific, where most of the construction work was needed, the Seabees landed soon after the Marines and built major airstrips, bridges, roads, warehouses, hospitals, gasoline storage tanks and housing.
The Korean Conflict saw a call-up of more than 10,000 men. The Seabees landed at Inchon with the assault troops. They fought enormous tides as well as enemy fire and provided causeways within hours of the initial landings. Their action here and at other landings emphasized the role of the Seabees and there was no Seabee demobilization when the truce was declared.
Following Korea, the Seabees embarked on a new mission. From providing much needed assistance in the wake of a devastating earthquake in Greece in 1953 to providing construction work and training to underdeveloped countries, the Seabees became "The Navy's Goodwill Ambassadors". Seabees built or improved many roads, orphanages and public utilities in many remote parts of the world.
These "Civic Action teams" continued into the Vietnam War where Seabees, often fending off enemy forces alongside their Marine and Army counterparts, also built schools and infrastructure and provided health care service. After Vietnam, the Seabees built and repaired Navy bases in Puerto Rico, Japan, Guam, Greece, Sicily, and Spain. Their civic action projects focused on the Trust Territories of the Pacific.
In 1971, the Seabees began their largest peacetime construction on Diego Garcia, a small atoll in the Indian Ocean. This project took 11 years and cost $200 million. The complex accomodates the Navy's largest ships and the biggest military cargo jets. This base proved invaluable when Iraq invaded Kuwait in August 1990 and Operations Desert Shield and Desert Storm were launched.
During the Gulf War, more than 5,000 Seabees (4,000 active and 1,000 reservists) served in the Middlle East. In Saudi Arabia, Seabees built 10 camps for more than 42,000 personnel; 14 galleys capable of feeding 75,000 people; and 6 million square feet of aircraft parking apron.
For more than 60 years the Seabees have repeatedly demonstrated their skills as fighters and builders. From the islands of the Pacific to the jungles of Vietnam, to the mountains of Bosnia and to the sands of Saudi Arabia and Kuwait, they have built and fought for freedom. In peacetime, they have been goodwill ambassadors. In peace and in war, they have lived their motto: "Can Do!"