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Biloxi Sun Herald January 11, 2006

A monumental military week

By Michael Newsom

Seabees were born in December

The close of December often makes one reflect on the year, but this week the notebook will look into some pivotal events in military history that happened between Dec. 26 and Jan. 1.

That week in military history was an interesting one, with the birth of the Seabees and the German bombing of London during World War II, as well as the birth of a key figure in Japanese history.

Seabees: On Dec. 28, 1941, Navy Rear Adm. Ben Moreell saw a need for units that could build airfields and roads in war zones, the History Channel's Web site said. He got permission to start Naval Construction Battalions.

The unit became known as the Seabees, because the initials of construction battalion are "C.B."

The first group chosen to be Seabees all came from construction backgrounds, according to the Web site. They were chosen for national highway projects and also helped build the Boulder Dam, among many others.

By the end of World War II, 325,000 men from 60 different trades served in the Seabees.

The first Seabee officers came from the Civil Engineer Corps.

"Of the more than 11,000 officers in the corps all together, almost 8,000 would serve with the construction units," the Web site said.

The Seabee base in Gulfport was established as an Advanced Base Depot in June 1942, according to globalsecurity.org, and became the Naval Construction Battalion Center in 1966. The last battalion stationed at Davisville, R.I., the former Atlantic Fleet homeport, left there to become homeported in Gulfport in 1974.

Four Naval Construction Battalions and the 22nd Naval Construction Regiment are based in Gulfport at the end of Pass Road. The Pacific Fleet battalions are homeported at Port Hueneme, Calif.

Seabees often are deployed from one end of the globe to the other, working in places like Iraq, Africa, Guam and Japan.

The Seabee motto is "We build. We fight," and its logo is a bee with a sailor's cap and a machine gun in its front hands, and the tools of the Seabee trade in its legs.

WWII: Also that week in World War II history, the Germans bombed London, killing more than 3,600 civilians and setting the city ablaze.

The raid was part of a continuing German offensive known as The London Blitz that began that August. And one day in September, 1940, Germans dropped 337 tons of bombs onto the city and those bombs caused 15,000 separate fires. The fires were difficult to fight because there was a low tide, which made it hard to draw water.

The German offensive on London was payback for attacks on Berlin earlier that year.

Also in WWII history, Hideki Tojo, prime minister of Japan during the war, was born on Dec. 30, 1884. At the war's end, Tojo tried to kill himself with a .38-caliber pistol, but an American doctor saved him with a blood transfusion, the History Channel's Web site said.

Vietnam War: That week in 1968 marked the end of the bloodiest year in the Vietnam War. At the end of 1968, 536,040 American military personnel were stationed in Vietnam. That year, 14,584 Americans were killed, which was a 56 percent increase over the year before. Up to the end of 1968, some 31,000 Americans had been killed in Vietnam since 1961, and about 200,000 had been wounded, according to the History Channel's Web Site.

The Tet Offensive in January contributed to the high casualties on both sides in 1968.

Copyright 2006, Biloxi Sun Herald