The story of how one construction battalion brought a naval icon back to life
The Bee's Knees - Excellent, of Highest Quality. Although there is no hard evidence to prove it, the phrase is said to have come from the process in which bees carry pollen back to the hive in sacs on their legs. The phrase alludes to the concentrated goodness to be found around a bee's knees.
However, the fighting Seabee of the U.S. Naval Construction Battalion Maintenance Unit 303, which stands guard at the entrance to the Seabee Village near pier 13 on Naval Base San Diego, looked neither excellent, nor high quality. This bee's knees were weak.
Sporting an eight-point cover and brandishing a 1919 Thompson machine gun, 24-inch pipe wrench, 22 oz. framing hammer, stick welder with welding rod and an oil filter wrench in his multiple hands, this 7 foot 6 inch iconic form, acquired from CBMU 303 Detachment Fallon, was in dilapidated condition after the detachment was decommissioned in late 2012.
The primary restorer, BU2 Timothy Vandenberg rated the structure "a solid 3 out of 10."
"The restoration of our bee has been a tedious yet rewarding process," said Vandenberg. "The broken and dying monument took copious amounts of body fillers for the dents, scrapes, chips, cracks and rusted holes, which covered 80 percent of its exposed framework, and to sculpt more defined limbs and reconstruct its face."
Vandenberg used a combination of wet sanding, steel wool, and a putty knife to gently remove all loose paint and ensure that the statue itself wasn't damaged. The result was a rather ghostly statue, leaving behind exposed plaster and a bit of the original paint.
The bee overhaul took a crew of five, three months to complete, and all at Vandenberg's suggestion. The bee serves as a symbol for all past, present and future Seabees who have or will serve, said Vandenberg. It represents the conditions that all Seabees can and have endured to keep this country free and the abilities of those Seabees to make it happen.
The bee represents a sense of heritage and belonging to such a great organization," said IT3 Justin Latham, a Sailor attached to CBMU 303. "It represents pride of the Seabees at its very best."
"I am proud to have been given the chance to work on the restoration," said Vandenberg. "I was extremely excited to give this Seabee the much needed TLC it had been lacking for so many years."
"Not only are Vandenberg's builder skills commendable, but also praise worthy," said Chief Steelworker Juan De La Fuente. "His artistic skills with the vast amount of attention to detail were unmistakably displayed in the facial features and the Navy Type III digital pattern of this monument."
"I was nervous when it was finally complete," said Vandenberg. "I wanted everyone to like it and be as proud of it as I am."
"This one of a kind Seabee monument will continue to inspire everyone that works at CBMU 303 as well as all Sailors and visitors alike," said BUCS Hyong Park, CBMU 303 operations chief.
This bee is unique from all others like it because it wears the tactical NWU type III uniform vice the Dixie cover worn by its counterparts across the globe. It's kind of a big deal for these engineers; this bee is finally, the bee's knees.