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American Military Patches, Other Insignia and Decorations of World War Two by Dr. Howard G. Lanham c.2002


United States Navy

Navy Seabees in Marine Corps Service Uniform

CB CB rating
C.P.O. Kenneth C. Thompson
(Courtesy of Patrick Thompson)
Green Carpenter's Mate Rating Badge
used by C.P.O. Thompson
(Courtesy of Patrick Thompson)

It is well known that Navy Medical Corpsmen, attached to units of the U.S. Marine Corps wore Marine Corps uniforms with U.S. Navy insignia. Less well known is that members of U.S. Navy Construction Battalions, attached to Marine units followed the same practice. The result was often a strange mix of Marine and Navy insignia.

Construction Battalions (also called CBs or Seabees) were a new concept within the Navy at the onset of World War Two. For that reason they did not have any tradition of specific insignia. There were many changes in insignia and dress during the war as well as unofficial insignia and unapproved wearing of insignia.

Prior to World War Two the Navy contracted with civilian construction companies to built Navy facilities. Among the Americans captured by the Japanese on Wake Island were a large group of civilian construction workers. These men became slave laborers and were eventually executed by the Japanese. It became clear to the Navy that construction projects were necessary in combat zones and that civilians could not be asked to do the work. At the urging of Admiral Ben Morell the first construction unit was established in January 1942 and deployed in February. By the end of the war some 320,000 men served in some type of Seabee unit.

During the course of the war Seabees established an outstanding "can do" reputation. Whereas, the traditional services were often seen as hide bound and unimaginative the Seabees were innovative and often seemed to accomplish the impossible. They also were extremely well thought of by their fellow sailors and marines. The below quoted remark is typical:

"The Navy Seabees came to our rescue and corrected all the problems. We quickly discovered life was always better near the Seabees because they could make or invent anything we needed from scratch."
-Merritt O. Chance, VMF-312 (Marine Fighter Squadron) appearing in Answering Their Country's Call- Marylanders in World War II, edited by Michael H. Rogers (Baltimore, MD: The Johns Hopkins Press, 2002)

The above photograph is of Kenneth C. Thompson, Chief Carpenter's Mate, 76th U.S. Naval Construction Battalion, 5th Naval Construction Brigade. This unit was assigned to serve with U.S. Marine Corps units and while doing so wore Marine uniforms. C.P.O. Thompson is wearing a Marine winter service uniform with a shirt and tie. His hat is a Marine enlisted man's winter service cap. The hat and lapel insignia are Marine rather than navy. In fact, the only clue that the image is the image of a sailor is the navy rating badge worn on the left arm. During the war Thompson worn either a gray or green colored rating badge on his Marine uniforms.

Thanks to John Stacey and Patrick Thompson for their help with this page.
Patrick Thompson's Site on the 76th Construction Battalion
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