From Rear Adm. John Korka, Chief of Civil Engineers
Every year at this time we pause to remember the history of our Navy’s Civil Engineer Corps (CEC) and fighting Seabees; reflect upon our successes; and recommit ourselves to build upon excellence as the nation’s foremost combat and engineering community. On March 2 our corps will celebrate its 152nd anniversary; and on March 5 our Seabees celebrate their 77th birthday!
The Civil Engineer Corps has, from its founding, provided leadership and engineering excellence in service to our naval forces. Our officers have fought nobly and well in conflicts all over the world. In both of these endeavors we celebrate our heroes. One hundred and ten years ago, Rear Adm. Robert E. Peary, CEC, became the first man to reach the North Pole, a triumph he accomplished by dogsled after a decade of planning and frustrated efforts. Seventy-five years ago, Ensign Lawrence S. Karnowski, CEC, led a naval construction demolition unit of five Seabees into the murderous surf of Omaha Beach, tasked to destroy beach obstacles and clear the way for the assault infantry beginning the invasion of France. following world war two, Ensign Karnowski fought again in Korea, then retired from active duty and served with the Bureau of Yards and Docks and Naval Facilities Engineering Command as a civilian, including decorated service in Vietnam. Ten years ago, Lt. j.g. Francis Toner, CEC, was mentoring Afghan forces at Camp Shaheen, Mazar-e Sharif, Afghanistan, when, while running for exercise with several other officers, he was ambushed by automatic weapons fire and then killed while charging unarmed at an enemy infiltrator to save his fellow Americans. The legacy of these three officers is a reminder never to quit, to sharpen our skills as leaders and engineers, and be ready for sudden challenge.
Equally so, the Seabees grew from a mere idea in the aftermath of the first world war, growing to a concept in the interwar years, and arising suddenly to full power in World War II. Since that day, the Seabees have piled triumph upon triumph, building a legacy of excellence for the world to admire. Seventy-five years ago, the Marines were stuck on the problem of Tinian, where steep coral bluffs would prevent assault troops from escaping the deadly beach. Using naught but war salvage and ingenuity, Seabees designed and built the famous doodlebug, a deployable assault ramp fitted to a tracked landing vehicle. The Seabees drove their doodlebugs ashore in the first assault waves and fixed ramps under fire; the Marines went up and over the bluffs, collapsing the Japanese defense. In the months that followed, thousands of Seabees stayed on Tinian, transforming that empty island into a massive strategic bomber airfield. Tinian is merely one place, one titanic effort among many, but we remember it as a shining example of Seabee ingenuity, and an example we strive to live up to today.
For these many years, Civil Engineer Corps officers and Seabees have built and fought side by side wherever the nation has called. Though the jobsites and battlefields have evolved, history has proven that our will, our tenacity, and can-do spirit will prevail against all odds. We inherit a powerful legacy, one which we are duty-bound to uphold, to use to accomplish the nations work, and pass on to our successors even stronger than before.
To our “Can Do” team of Civil Engineer Corps officers and Seabees, I am honored and proud to serve alongside you – Happy Birthday!