“We Build, We Fight” is the motto and the legacy of this specialized group of the United States Navy. Known originally as Construction Battalions (“CBs” which later became the sound-alike “Seabees”) when they were formed in World War II, today’s U.S. Naval Construction Force encompasses everything from amphibious and underwater construction to mobile construction of entire military bases. Their logo was designed in 1949 by then-civilian Frank Iafrate, who would later join the Seabees. He created both the logo and the snappy name, using a bee because it “works all day, but it doesn’t bother you, but if you bother it, it has a way of stinging you.” With a Navy hat, submachine gun, hammer, pipe wrench, and the appropriate insignia, his logo sprang to life. While incredibly diverse projects have been a hallmark of the Seabees, extending to goodwill assistance in underdeveloped countries or help in the wake of natural disasters, we would do well to remember the second part of their motto.
Often Seabees have landed with assault troops and demonstrated the type of heroism that characterized Construction Mechanic Third Class Marvin Shields. He was posthumously awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor for his actions in Vietnam. Although wounded when his compound came under attack, he continued to resupply fellow soldiers, returned fire for three hours, carried a more critically wounded man to safety, returned fire for another four hours, and then volunteered for a mission in which an enemy machine gun placement was destroyed but in which he was mortally wounded while returning. Tattoos of the Seabee logo are used by these proud builders and fighters to memorialize their participation in this unique group. Like all memorial tattoos, however, they also serve to remind others of their deep commitment.