Seabee History


The Seabee motto "Can Do" is a catchy phrase, but in my later years I realize it is much more than a cute
saying, it is more of a lifelong attitude to live by.

Today's attitude is "It's worn out! Get a new one." or "You can't do that because ... ". When I was in DaNang,
quite often you could NOT do something because there was not the right material, parts, not enough
time, or some other real excuse; But what I saw happen with the Seabees of NSA DaNang where I was
assigned, and with the many Seabee battalions and CBMU's, was very much a "Can Do" attitude with no

No material? If a requisition (never saw one in DaNang) would not work, then "Cum Shaw" or outright theft
would take care of the material shortage. Cum Shaw is actually a real word of Chinese origin. It's in
the Webster's Dictionary, meaning gift or gratuity, but the Navy meaning is: material or objects obtained by
any means, whether you can actually use it or not, to trade for something that you do need or want.

If you need plywood but had cement, you found someone with plywood that needed cement, and then
you had a trade. Quite often it would take several trades to actually get what you wanted. Often some item
was obtained by questionable means. Sometimes it went like this: A pallet of cement for a roll of copper
wire. Copper wire for a set of tires. Tires for stolen beer and a case of steaks. Steaks and beer for
plywood! Bingo! There was no limit to the variety of material traded. The US Marines always seemed to
have what we needed, and a case of steaks for several cases of beer would constitute a good trade.
Those poor jarheads had none of life's niceties out in the jungle, but always had something to trade for
their "Needs".

Not enough time? Now this is where the "Can Do" spirit really shone through!! I give great credit to the US
Navy's wisdom for sending the talented resources to get the job done!! The Seabees - the Civil Engineer
Corps Officers, the Group VIII enlisted and OICC RVN, (the RMK-BRJ civilian Seabees) never balked at
any job and major construction like paving chuck-hole roadways, building/repairing bridges, camp
construction, dredging, building new ports and ramps, piers, seawalls, waterlines, POL storage, aircraft
runways, and much more seemed almost routine. The buildup of the DaNang base was nothing short of
PHENOMENAL!! The amount of construction that most of us saw in our tours of duty was much more than
physically possible and more than I've seen in the rest of my lifetime!

There was a job to be done and the Navy's construction forces got the job done with hard work and long
hours. If that's not a 'Can Do" effort, then I don't know what is. It was not all work however, as the Seabees
always found a way to have a good time ... kind of like ''whistle while you work". Practical jokes abounded
daily. The "Can Do" spirit was not diminished by seeing your work destroyed by enemy rockets or having
co-workers killed or injured because of an underlying foundation of patriotism and pride that overcame the
horrors of war, and after all, this was a real war!

Seeing that a "Can Do" attitude can achieve great things has been a great motivator for me throughout my
Navy (Active and Reserve) and civilian career. I've found almost any task can be achieved and often on a
fast track with hard work and a positive "Can Do" attitude. The words "can't" and "impossible" become a
personal challenge to find a way to prove the doubters wrong and to make it happen. Some things cannot be done as proposed, but it's always fun to find a "Can Do" way to accomplish a job!

"The difficult we do right away, the impossible takes a little longer" is a corollary to "Can Do" but sums it up well.

Editor's Note: Reprinted with the kind permission of Commander Jerry Hubbs.

Ordinary Guys - March 2019

From Can Do, Volume 29, Number 1, Marche 2019
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"We build, We Fight, The Seabees" - Reservist May 1979

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Naval Reservist News - May 1979

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All Hands - April 1978

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Seabee Journal 1977

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Seabee Unit Histories

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Southeast Asia: Building the Navy's Bases
by Richard Tregaskis

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Zippo Lighters - Bottom Stamp Date Codes

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