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Seabee Pioneer Celebrates 100th Birthday

08/27/13 12:00 AM

By Don Rochon, Naval Facilities Engineering Command

WASHINGTON (NNS) -- The Navy and the state of North Carolina honored one of the original Navy Seabees from World War II, Jerry Smith of Durham, N.C., who celebrated his 100th birthday at the North Carolina Executive Mansion Aug. 27.

Rear Adm. Doug Morton, commander, Naval Facilities Engineering Command (NAVFAC) Atlantic, presented Smith with a framed congratulatory letter from NAVFAC Commander Rear Admiral Kate Gregory, a Seabee coin, and a Seabee flag that was flown at the Pentagon and Navy Memorial, and then draped over the iconic "helping hand" statute at the Seabee Memorial.

"It was my honor and distinct pleasure to represent the Seabees and NAVFAC in honoring Jerry on his 100th birthday," said Morton. "Seabees past and present take pride in our shared history, heritage and legacy. I know that our 'Bees stationed around the world will be delighted to know that one of their own - one of the original Seabees - has reached this important milestone."

Also honoring Smith at the Governor's mansion was North Carolina Lt. Gov. Dan Forest, U.S. Senator Richard Burr, Cmdr. Ron Ross, commanding officer of Navy Recruiting District Raleigh, Army Maj. Gen. Greg Lusk, adjutant general of North Carolina, and representatives from various veterans' organizations.

Smith is a "plank owner" in the First Naval Construction Battalion, which was commissioned March 15, 1942. He served in the Navy from January 1942 to September 1945. (A Navy plank owner is an individual who was a member of the crew when the ship or command was placed in commission.)

World War II Seabees have a storied history. Convinced that war was coming, the Navy realized that fighting in theaters halfway around the world would present new challenges in logistics and would require a vast infrastructure. Beginning in 1940, the Navy began a program of building bases on far-flung Pacific islands using civilian contractors.

When the United States officially entered the war, the use of civilian labor had to stop. Under international law, civilians were not permitted to resist enemy military attack. If they did, they could be executed as guerrillas.

The need then for a militarized Naval Construction Force to build advance bases in a war zone became self-evident. Rear Admiral Ben Moreell, "Father of the Seabees," was determined to activate, organize, and man Navy construction units.

On Jan. 5, 1942, he gained authority to recruit men from the construction trades for assignment into a Naval Construction Regiment composed of three Naval Construction Battalions. This is the actual beginning of the renowned Seabees, who obtained their designation from the initial letters of Construction Battalion. Admiral Moreell personally furnished them with their official motto: Construimus, Batuimus - "We Build, We Fight."


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