Home / COVER FEATURE / Harbor-Base-Neighbors: When the Navy Came to Port Hueneme, 1942-1945, and Beyond

Harbor-Base-Neighbors: When the Navy Came to Port Hueneme, 1942-1945, and Beyond

Dr. Frank A. Blazich Jr., Historian, U.S. Navy Seabee Museum

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Photos courtesy of the U.S. Navy Seabee Museum

Hueneme. The name remains confusing to newcomers to Ventura County. “Who-nee-me?” “Who-nay-may?” “Hu-en-e-my,” or “way-nay-me?” Hueneme is the Spanish spelling for the Chumash Indian name for the location, translating as “resting place,” and the present-day name has changed from Point Wynema to Hueneme to Port Hueneme. One constant for more recent generations of residents, however, has been the U.S. Navy and the naval base at the port. Envisioned as a temporary, wartime base for one of the Navy’s newest forces in the first months of 1942, Naval Base Ventura County instead remains an institution in the Naval Construction Force and the local community. (By the way, the most used pronunciation is “Why-nee-me.”)

An Underwater Canyon

To understand the base’s history and establishment in 1942, it is essential to know how a landlocked, deep-water harbor came to exist between San Diego and San Francisco. Around 1857, the U.S. Coast and Geodetic Survey first learned of the existence of a submarine canyon off Point Hueneme. This natural valley or deep gash in the continental shelf extends about nine miles offshore from its head at the shore and dampens the intensity of the waves, allowing them to break intact upon the beach. Conditions posed a potential financial windfall: if one could construct a wharf extending out into the deep, calmer waters, then large ships could tie up to load and discharge cargo. Eight years later, Thomas Robert Bard arrived in California as the personal representative of Thomas A. Scott, president of the Pennsylvania Railroad, the California and Philadelphia Petroleum Company, and also President Abraham Lincoln’s Assistant Secretary of War. Scott owned large tracts of land in California, and through Bard he sought to develop the oil resources in what is today Ventura County.

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The People’s Harbor – July 1940

Bard would prove a visionary, able to transform ideas and knowledge into personal fortune. In late February 1867, Captain William E. Greenwell of the Coast and Geodetic Survey, camped with Bard at Point Hueneme. Around the camp fire, the captain explained to Bard the possibilities of building a wharf at the site to profit from the natural advantages of the canyon. That May, Bard wrote to Scott, stressing the need for a wharf at the point to serve the area residents and tap into the lucrative trade of grain and oil from the region to markets in San Francisco and elsewhere. The following year, on Oct. 31, 1868, Bard purchased Scott’s land interests in the Rancho El Rio de Santa Clara ó la Colonia totaling 21,375 acres for $150,000 in gold coin. A former Mexican Land Grant dating to May 22, 1837, the land included the area around Point Hueneme.

Years later, Bard was able to pursue his wharf. On Feb. 20, 1871, he incorporated the Hueneme Wharf and Lighter Company and then headed to San Francisco to procure supplies and learn everything he could about wharf construction. With his supplies, knowledge and corporation in place, Bard secured his wharf site at the beach area at what is today the end of Market Street and succeeded in staking his claim to the land on May 16, 1871. Wharf construction commenced a week later. From June to July the piles pounded into the sand and on Aug. 1, 1871 the steamer SS Kalorama discharged a cargo of lumber and merchandise at the 900-foot-long wharf.

From Wheat to Sheep

As the first true wharf between Santa Cruz and San Pedro, Bard’s investment was successful. From 1871 to 1895, Hueneme was the second largest port on the Pacific coast for grain shipments of barley, wheat and corn. Sheep, hogs and cattle joined loads of grain sailing to San Francisco as cargoes of lumber and general merchandise flowed into the county. Warehouses joined the wharf to store grain until demand became advantageous to sell to buyers in San Francisco and Liverpool, England. As shipments increased, a lighthouse to improve navigation was erected and began shining 40 miles out to sea on Dec. 15, 1874. The wharf itself grew to accommodate greater traffic and larger vessels, being extended in 1897 to 1,500 feet and then 1,700 feet by 1912. Prior to the arrival of the railroad in Ventura County in 1887, and later Oxnard in 1898, the wharf provided the principal transportation route to and from the county south of the Santa Clara River during this period.

Shipping, via the wharf, provided a growth mechanism for Hueneme, Oxnard and Ventura. The opening of the Panama Canal in 1914 and American entry in to World War I in 1917 both provided sources of increased activity at the wharf for the agricultural products of the county. Some 114 ships made Hueneme a port of call in the late teens. Perhaps in response to the increased traffic, the Navy established a naval radio compass station at Point Hueneme on Sept. 15, 1920, near the lighthouse. The station transmitted and received messages within a 50-mile radius, and by 1927 the Navy transformed the site into a direction-finding station before closing the station effective Oct. 1, 1931.

A Port Opens

The wharf served the community well during this time, but competition from a wharf in San Pedro began to cut into profits. A grander vision emerged – constructing a county harbor. In September 1927, the Ventura County Harbor Commission met to discuss the possibility of constructing a port at either Mugu Lagoon, Hueneme or Ventura, on the argument that with an essentially agricultural and oil-producing county, the movement of product by water would be the most profitable endeavor. Studies requested by the commission advocated a Hueneme harbor, arguing that it “is the most economical to construct, maintain and operate and is the most advantageously enlargeable when conditions so require.” The commission report, however, remained dormant in part to the onset of the Great Depression. In 1933, the Hueneme Dock Corporation, a private entity including Richard A. Bard, Thomas’s son, submitted a Public Works Administration application seeking $1.6 million in federal money to construct a harbor. Bard and the county’s farmers argued that a deep water commercial port would be the most economical way to transport rich harvests of sugar beets, lima beans, almonds, cotton, oil and mineral products to markets at home and abroad rather than trucking everything to the Port of Los Angeles. Unfortunately, on June 11, 1935, PWA director Harold L. Ickes vetoed the loan after federal surveys concluded the port would not be “economically viable.”

Undeterred, the citizens of Ventura County decided to act independently. On April 29, 1937, citizens voted to create the Oxnard Harbor District and the following year an election on May 5, 1938, approved a $1.75 million bond referendum to construct a harbor. A second attempt at obtaining federal aid from the PWA failed. The first dredging began on Jan. 31, 1939, and the official groundbreaking took place on Feb. 4, as Richard A. Bard moved the first shovel of dirt. In April, dredging of the harbor entrance channel commenced and by years’ end work focused on constructing piers and warehousing. On July 4, 1940, work on the port was officially complete and the new Port Hueneme was officially dedicated two days later. The port channel was 35 feet deep and 1,300 feet wide. The turning basin had a low tide depth of 31 feet, and measured 1,100 feet wide and 1,250 feet long. Overall, the harbor comprised a total of 319.4 acres, 67 of which were water. Two wharfs, No.1 and No. 3, provided berths for loading and unloading ships. The future looked bright.

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Port Hueneme, Feb. 10, 1942

Birth of the ‘Bees

Unfortunately, the advent of war changed the status of the port in its relative infancy. The Imperial Japanese Navy’s attack on American military installations in Hawaii, together with attacks on other military installations in the Pacific thrust the nation into war. During the 1930s, the American military establishment had undertaken preparatory planning for a variety of scenarios. For the Navy, the Bureau of Yards and Docks (BuDocks) bore responsibility for the construction and maintenance of overseas advance naval bases. The overseas construction then involved the use of private construction firms and civilian personnel. Under international law, however, civilian workers could not resist military action, and if engaged in conflict could be treated as guerrillas and summarily executed. The war therefore required uniformed, armed construction workers, men trained and able to build, fight and defend their work. On Dec. 28, 1941, Rear Adm. Ben Moreell, BuDocks chief, wrote the Bureau of Navigation (BuNav), requesting authority to activate, organize and train a naval construction regiment, comprised of three construction battalions numbering 1,073 enlisted men and 34 officers. It is from the acronym for the construction battalions, CB, where the phonetic “Seabee” originates. BuNav subsequently approved Moreell’s request on Jan. 5, 1942.

With approval secure, Moreell and BuDocks began to immediately recruit and build up a massive naval construction force. BuNav allowed trained tradesmen to enlist in the construction battalions; the men came from professional trades such as carpenters, electricians, plumbers, drafters, steelworkers, welders, wharf builders, longshoremen, mechanics and dozens of other skilled trades. With demand immediate, more so in 1942, the Navy did not have time to train men in construction and engineering skills, and recruits from 60 different trades were offered petty officer classifications based on their civilian construction experience and their age at higher-than-average pay rates. The physical standards were less rigid and the age range for enlistment was 18 – 50, allowing necessary qualified tradesmen to comprise their ranks, although men in their 60s did slip into several construction battalions early in the war. With advance bases in various stages of construction overseas in both theaters of war, BuDocks had to immediately ship out construction battalions to replace civilian workforces. The first battalion shipped out from the Charleston Navy Yard, SC, on Jan. 27, 1942, for Bora Bora in the Society Islands, with some of the men having only three weeks of military training.

Initially, BuDocks officials deemed it essential that the construction forces be commanded and trained by officers of the Civil Engineer Corps (CEC), themselves trained in the skills these units were to perform. Prior to this, by navy regulations, military command of naval personnel was limited to line officers. The question was placed before Secretary of the Navy Frank Knox, who on March 19, 1942, gave authority for CEC officers to exercise military authority over all officers and enlisted men assigned to their respective unit. It therefore became immediately necessary for the procurement of competent civil engineers to meet the battalion requirements of the Seabee program. Eventually, more than 11,500 CEC officers, almost 10 times the number of pre-war CEC officers, served in the conflict, most in duty with Seabee units. As with the Seabees, many of the officers came straight from the civilian construction and engineering communities, with rank often based on requisite years of experience in the private sector.

“We Build, We Fight”

These CEC officers joined approximately 325,000 enlisted Seabees in World War II, constructing and maintaining advance bases for the Navy, Army and Marine Corps in the Atlantic and Pacific theaters. Seabees built airfields, supply depots, advance base depots, staging areas for men and materials, training areas, repair bases and bridges often under enemy fire and in record time. In the Atlantic theater, Seabees constructed a series of air and naval bases in Newfoundland, Iceland, and throughout the Caribbean. Bases in Great Britain staged the forces of Operation OVERLORD for the invasion of France and helped construct the artificial Mulberry Harbor at Omaha Beach. Other Seabee units landed in North Africa during Operation TORCH and enabled the landings at Sicily (Operation HUSKY) and Salerno, Italy (Operation AVALANCHE). In the Pacific, Seabees were practically everywhere, from the frozen tundra of Alaska and the Aleutians, to the sweltering jungles of the South Pacific islands. They helped salvage Battleship Row at Pearl Harbor, maintained and defended Henderson Field on Guadalcanal, supported Marine invasions of Tarawa, Saipan, Peleliu, Iwo Jima and Okinawa, and constructed the massive airbases on Tinian for the B-29 bombers which leveled Japan. By war’s end, “Seabee” became a household word to all Americans as representative of miracle workers, able to overcome any obstacle.

But the Seabee work force posed only one half of the equation necessary to construct America’s advance bases overseas. Building materials, construction equipment, tools, food, fuel and the seemingly limitless number of items required for base construction and operation had to be centrally organized and shipped together with the work force from the United States to destinations overseas. To meet the requirement for peacetime advance base construction in the Atlantic theater, at Quonset Point Naval Air Station near Davisville, R.I., on March 30, 1941, workers broke ground for the first Advance Base Depot (ABD). At ABD Davisville, the Navy initially manufactured the war’s ubiquitous Quonset huts, and later used the base to ship all the supplies used in the construction of bases in Newfoundland, Iceland, Great Britain, France, the Mediterranean and North Africa.

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Port Hueneme, March 1942

Port Hueneme Named Advance Base Depot

With war now extended to the Pacific, the demand for a West Coast advance base depot grew exponentially with each passing day and every Japanese success. On Jan. 29, 1942, Moreell wrote to the commandant of the 12th Naval District expressing his desire to establish an advance base depot in the “San Francisco Bay area” with the following requirements: located between rail and water to deliver men and material by rail, then ship overseas by water; possess at least 2,000 to 3,000 linear footage of waterfront; measure approximately 350 acres of land suitable for immediate construction of storehouses, barracks and other structures; and preferably separate from any existing naval establishment to avoid further congestion of present facilities.

Weeks later on Feb. 16, Moreell wrote to the Chief of Naval Operations Adm. Harold R. Stark, and reported having found no suitable site in the San Francisco Bay area to serve as a depot. Instead, he reported a site at Hueneme, Calif., with conditions ideal for an immediate commencement of construction.

“Unless there are important strategic considerations, my recommendation is that we acquire the site at Hueneme immediately and establish such facilities thereon as may be needed,” concluded Moreell. On March 7, 1942, the BuDocks chief received official approval from Secretary of the Navy Knox to proceed with establishing an advance base depot at Port Hueneme.

Residents in Ventura County could not have anticipated the speed of development in the ensuing weeks. The county and the port’s history would forever change. An extra edition of the Oxnard Press Courier for March 9 blared the headline “U.S. NAVY TO TAKE OVER ENTIRE OXNARD HARBOR,” announcing that at 3:30 p.m. that day Cmdr. H.W. Johnson, officer in charge of construction for the 11th Naval District had met with the commissioners of the Oxnard Harbor District and served official notice of the Navy’s intention to take over Port Hueneme. Johnson explained that the Navy would acquire 1,500 acres, including the entire port, and invest $4.5 million on top of the purchase price of the land and port to improve facilities, hiring 2,500 laborers and bringing in 5,000 new county residents. The Guy F. Atkinson Company and George Pollock Company of San Pedro received the contract to build the base. Concurrently, as Johnson met with the commissioners, surveyors were already at work on the property. By March 12, the first construction supplies arrived by rail at the port and bulldozers were hard at work leveling out areas of dredged material to construct Quonset huts and other base structures.

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Port Hueneme, Sept. 22, 1944

Initially, the Navy thought of the base as a temporary, emergency facility. First discussions with the harbor commissioners sought to lease the location for $185,000 annually. After surveyors and appraisers closely examined the property, the Navy decided that outright acquisition of the land, due to the “character of the improvements that must be made at this site and in consideration of the probable duration of the war,” would be a better decision legally and financially. Noted Moreell in a memorandum of March 16, 1942, to then Under Secretary of the Navy James Forrestal, “After the war, this development will undoubtedly be disposed of by the Government, as there is no intention of establishing a permanent station at this point. The chances are that during the war, the need for this small harbor for commercial purposes will disappear completely, thus ownership by the Government will constitute no hardship on the local community.”

That same day in the U.S. Federal Court in Los Angeles, the Navy filed condemnation suits for 1,573 acres of land and water. The district judge authorized the Navy right to take immediate possession of all properties. The condemnation proceedings would conclude by May 18, with the Navy ultimately purchasing the land and harbor for $2.2 million, below the appraised market value of $3.6 million. For the farmers previously denied federal funds to construct a harbor once more had to truck their wares to Los Angeles for overseas markets.

Construction from March to May 1942 proceeded at breakneck speed. Fields of lima beans, lemon trees and alfalfa succumbed to a mechanized army of bulldozers. On March 15, the Navy recalled retired Capt. Louis F. Thibault, a 1907 U.S. Naval Academy graduate and veteran of World War I, to active duty to serve as officer in charge of construction of the advance base depot. Throughout April, the base began to take form as workers erected Quonset huts, strong back tents and warehouses; laid rail lines; paved roads; erected fencing; and improved some of the wharf and port facilities. On April 21, 1942, the Navy officially placed Advance Base Depot Hueneme, CA, under the command of the Commander, Naval Operating Base San Pedro, CA. Several weeks later on May 18, Thibault formally assumed command of the established base. During this period, the first battalion of Seabees, the 3rd Naval Construction Battalion (NCB), began to arrive by rail. These men immediately went to work assisting in the base construction, “which, incidentally, serves excellently for their own training,” remarked Thibault in a letter to Moreell.

Open for Business

Initially, the base suffered from shortages of building supplies, equipment and even security. Not until June did small arms even arrive to arm the perimeter! Nonetheless, the pace of the war, notably in the Pacific, only accelerated ABD Port Hueneme’s growth. By July, the 7th NCB arrived at the base to train and prepare for its first Pacific deployment, and the first ships embarked for overseas bases from the harbor. The first battalion to leave Port Hueneme by sea was the 11th NCB, which sailed for Tutuila in the Samoa group on Aug. 12, 1942. Meanwhile at the northeast corner of the base, by the intersection of Ventura and Oxnard roads, an array of Quonset huts organized as an Advance Base Receiving Barracks rose from the former alfalfa fields. Officially established on Oct. 23, 1942, as Camp Rousseau in honor of Rear Adm. Henry H. Rousseau, CEC, USN, the barracks encompassed 725 acres. In addition to barracks, the camp featured messing, outfitting and training locations for Seabees embarking on overseas duty. In October, five line officers arrived at the depot to begin establishing a 10-acre ARGUS Assembly and Training Detachment. Codenamed ARGUS in homage to the 100-eyed giant in Greek mythology, the program assembled, trained and deployed specialized radar – radio tracking, direction finding, plotting and fighter direction teams of officers and enlisted men for advance base airfields in the Pacific War. The first ARGUS unit shipped out in April 1943, followed by 30 more before the detachment was disestablished on Aug. 12, 1944.

In addition to the ARGUS program, in the fall of 1942 another specialized training unit became a base tenant. An ACORN Assembly and Training Detachment set up shop to the northwest of the harbor adjacent to Silver Strand Beach, covering approximately 141 acres with a capacity of 3,080 personnel. An ACORN was an airfield assembly unit designed to accomplish the rapid construction and operation of a landplane and seaplane advance base, or in conjunction with amphibious operations, the quick repair and operation of captured enemy airfields. Every ACORN had a Seabee construction battalion attached to it to build and/or repair the airfield and necessary structures, as well as a Construction Battalion Maintenance Unit to maintain the base after the withdrawal of the construction battalion. Commissioned on Feb. 6, 1943, concurrent with the Argus unit, the ACORN detachment operated under the jurisdiction of Training Command, Amphibious Forces, Pacific Fleet. At Camp Bedilion, named in honor of the late Cmdr. Robert Bedilion, a man instrumental in the development of the ACORN program, the detachment also administered two additional training sites: Camp Oak, 21 miles east of Ventura and 32 miles northeast of ABD Port Hueneme; and Camp Mugu, which featured a 150-foot wide, 5,450-foot long airstrip of Marston matting built by the Seabees.

On Dec. 15, 1942, Capt. Henry P. Needham, CEC, assumed command of ABD Port Hueneme from Thibault, beginning a period of CEC command of the depot for the remainder of the war. Needham oversaw the massive transformation of the port facilities and the growth of the base, the construction of which the Atkinson and Pollock companies declared complete on June 28, 1943. For the efficient work on constructing the facilities, the companies earned the Army-Navy “E” Award. Needham oversaw further additions to the base at Camp Rousseau, all culminating with the establishment of U.S. Naval Base Port Hueneme, CA on Jan. 12, 1944, placed under the command of Capt. Hubert E. Paddock, USN. During the late 1944-45 period, the commanding personnel of the base changed considerably. On Aug. 1, 1944, Needham was relieved by Capt. Algert D. Alexis, CEC, USN, himself relieved in July 1945 by Capt. Horace P. Jones, CEC, USN. The overall naval base command changed hands in February 1945, when Commodore William M. Quigley, USN, relieved Paddock.

“Most Efficient Harbor”

From July 1942 until November 1945, ADB Port Hueneme earned the moniker as “probably the most efficient harbor in the world,” shipping more Navy cargo overseas than any other port in the entire United States. By February 1944, the Navy completed its enlargement of the harbor, which grew from two to nine deep water berths able to service Liberty-type cargo ships, two slips for Landing Ship, Tank (LST) and others areas for small watercraft. On a wharf near the harbor, a specially constructed mock-up of a Liberty Ship trained Seabees in stevedore work, personnel later organized into “Special” construction battalions specifically organized to handle cargo at advance bases. The pace of work at the harbor often provided hands-on training opportunities. A total of 1,018 ships made port at the harbor, lifting 6,965,400 Measurement Tons and embarking 176,476 officers and men. From January to November 1945 alone, the port handled 406 ships lifting 2,911,000 Measurement Tons and embarked 55,648 Seabees and other military personnel.

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“Most efficient harbor in the world”

The depot portion of the base comprised the majority of the land acreage of the installation. Statistically speaking, it consisted of 19,025,000 square feet of uncovered storage area, 719,000 square feet of covered storage, 117 acres of industrial and waterfront shipping area, 413 buildings with 2,165,000 square feet of floor area, a 90,000 barrel oil storage tank, 65 miles of paved and unpaved roads, and 33 miles of railroad spur lines and sidings with a capacity of 1,997 boxcars. Overall, the base’s barracks and messing facilities could accommodate 21,000 military personnel. At its peak, the base employed 10,740 civilian personnel plus 1,000 longshoremen and associated waterfront personnel.

And the base continued to grow. In 1944, the Anti-Aircraft Training Center set up shop 7 miles south of Oxnard under the jurisdiction of the Commander, Fleet Operational Training Command, Pacific Fleet, to train Seabee advance base personnel and officers, and men from fleet units in anti-aircraft gunnery. Men fired .30 caliber, .50 caliber, 20mm, and 40mm antiaircraft machine guns and cannons out over the ocean or at specially constructed target ranges. That same year, the Naval Training School (Port Director Organization) moved into ABD Port Hueneme’s Maritime Building to provide officers with 12 weeks of instruction for duty as port directors for advance bases. On May 23, 1944, the Navy leased Berylwood, the 62.45-acre estate of the Bard family, and turned Thomas R. Bard’s mansion into the base officers club and bachelor officer quarters. The Navy later purchased the estate outright on Feb. 28, 1951.

 

Ventura County Population Spike

The constant influx in visitors to Ventura County had dramatic impact on the infrastructure and demographics. Housing more than anything became the first headache for residents, with every spare room soon occupied by naval personnel or their families, first in Port Hueneme, and next in Oxnard. By the late summer of 1942, both communities held surveys to locate every spare room and bed in the area to shelter the hundreds and thousands of newcomers to Ventura County. To alleviate the housing shortages, the Federal Public Housing Authority in 1944 alone constructed almost 1,000 new housing units, while private builders erected another 215 units. The San Miguel Homes project, another federal housing initiative, provided room for 2,100 persons by September 1944. Private construction filled other gaps in the housing shortages, and in 1943 Oxnard for the first time in its history issued over half a million dollars in building permits. The town’s population by late 1943 had grown to an estimated 15,000 residents, and Port Hueneme also grew to almost 2,800. To place the impact of the war on the county in perspective, by the 1950 U.S. Census, the county had added 44,962 new residents, an increase of 64.5 percent.

Outside the base perimeter, relations between the Navy and the local communities began to take shape. With thousands of men in uniform constantly arriving and embarking from Port Hueneme, one might think that the Seabees would remain enigmatic, but this never came to pass. The Seabees recruited locally within months of arriving at Port Hueneme, and repeatedly answered calls for help in the communities, either helping with scrap metal drives, rescuing sacks of lima beans from storm-damaged warehouses, rescuing swimmers off the beaches, or holding musical performances in Port Hueneme, Oxnard and Ventura. Oxnard earned the reputation as a “darn good liberty town” for its hospitality to the Seabees, and soon romance bloomed between those uniformed bachelors and the young ladies of the county. The USO Club in Oxnard opened on Dec. 12, 1942, and welcomed over 2 million servicemen by the end of 1944. Located on 125 West Fifth St., it served over 36,000 dozen cookies and 180,000 cups of coffee from its small canteen. Seabee parades and annual county Navy Day celebrations further cemented the bonds of affection between the Seabees and Ventura County.

Naval Base Ventura County

After the Japanese surrender on Sept. 2, 1945, BuDocks began to decommission and consolidate Seabee-oriented bases. Moreell changed his earlier stance on disposing of the Port Hueneme base and instead requested and received approval to establish a Naval Construction Battalion Center (CBC) at Port Hueneme which would include ADB Port Hueneme and Camp Rousseau, the transfer of the Advance Base Proving Grounds from Davisville, R.I., and the inactivation of the Construction Battalion Replacement Depot, Camp Parks, Shoemaker, CA. Its functions would instead be handled by a new Naval Training and Distribution Center at CBC Port Hueneme. ACORN’s Camp Bedilion itself disestablished on Nov. 30, 1945, and its facilities transferred to the CBC. Finally, on Dec. 14, 1945, Secretary of the Navy Forrestal re-designated the U.S. Naval Base, Port Hueneme, CA, as U.S. Naval Station, Port Hueneme, CA, with the subordinate unit of CBC, Port Hueneme comprised of the Advance Base Depot and a Naval Training and Distribution Center. The base now found itself as the main location for all Seabee support activities in the entire United States. CBC Port Hueneme continued to operate under this title until Oct. 11, 2000, when it merged with Naval Air Station Point Mugu to create Naval Base Ventura County.

With the changes in the base, the end of the war witnessed one last feat of port efficiency. Beginning in October 1945, military personnel overseas began to flood back home in a concerted effort by the federal government to return as many men to their families as possible by Christmas. Operation Magic Carpet, from October to December, witnessed over 22,000 personnel pass through the port. At one point, 28 ships called at the port within an 18-hour period. Many of these men, notably Seabees, in the race to out process and return home, opted to leave their assorted souvenirs at the base. Much of the U.S. Navy Seabee Museum’s collection owes it origins to these discarded spoils of war.

Can Do…Always

But what of the community who invested its money to build a harbor only to see the government seize it for the war? After negotiations with the Navy, the Oxnard Harbor District in October 1947 secured a lease on 17 acres of Wharf No. 1 and Wharf F to enable county farmers to once more ship their produce to markets worldwide. Successive leases and purchases of land at the port accompanied expansions in imports and exports. In the 1970s, the influx of Asian automakers saw Port Hueneme secure a niche in auto imports. Today, thousands of vehicles can be seen either stored on acres of the port area, or being loaded and shipped out to dealers across the country. Bard’s vision for economic opportunity continues to flourish, to the mutual benefit of the residents of Ventura County and to the defense of the American people at home and abroad.

Today, the Seabees remain a fixture in the county, both those in uniform and those who have returned to civilian life. The unofficial Seabee motto is “Can Do,” but perhaps it might also include a touch of “thank you.” Every state in the county and naturalized Americans from countless nations have passed through Port Hueneme, and many decided to finish their military career and remain in Ventura County. Throughout city and county government, private industry and service organizations can be found veterans of the Naval Construction Force, men and women who continue to give back to the community for the betterment of all residents.

Every day of the week, visitors at the U.S. Navy Seabee Museum can find retired Seabees or CEC officers manning the visitor’s desk, sharing sea stories, answering questions and educating museum patrons on the legacy of the Seabees. But the next time you greet your neighbors or wait in a queue at a restaurant, theater or checkout line, stop and take a gander at those around you. Odds are there is a Seabee or military veteran nearby, the unsung assets of this community and a source of its immense vitality and future.


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