PEARL HARBOR (NNS) -- Seabees from the Pearl Harbor-based Construction Battalion Maintenance Unit 303 received a hearty thank you from the Commander, U.S. Pacific Fleet March 21, during an informal ceremony in the backyard of 37 Makalapa Drive just doors down from Commander, U.S. Pacific Fleet (COMPACFLT) headquarters.
Adm. Robert F. Willard and his wife, Donna, thanked the Seabees for refurbishing a garden and relocating a concrete birdbath built for Fleet Adm. Chester W. Nimitz. Nimitz resided at the "The Nimitz House" from December 1941 to November 1945.
"Looking back on the affiliation Fleet Adm. Nimitz had with the Seabees, it couldn't be more special that you moved his birdbath here to his home," Willard said as he spoke with the Seabees. "I can't think of a better place for this historic piece. Donna and I owe you great thanks for helping us to preserve part of naval history. We love it here."
The concrete birdbath, now located in the north yard of the Pearl Harbor Nimitz House, was originally located at Quarters 1 on Yerba Buena Island in San Francisco Bay, Calif. Nimitz enjoyed gardening and nature, and he erected the birdbath in his yard at Quarters 1, also known as the Nimitz House, sometime between 1964 until his death on Feb. 20, 1966. The Department of Defense closed the Yerba Buena Island Naval Training Station in 1993.
During a visit to Yerba Buena Island on Feb. 11, 2007, Capt. Scott Gureck, Pacific Fleet public affairs officer, rediscovered the birdbath sitting exactly where he had last seen it as a high school student nearly 30 years earlier.
"I was relieved it was still there and undamaged," Gureck said. "But, knowing the Naval Training Station has been closed, I became concerned the birdbath was likely to become a lost or forgotten historical artifact."
It was at that time that Gureck set out to save the bird bath, believing that the relic should be moved to the Pearl Harbor Nimitz House. Thus, a plan was launched that became affectionately known around the Pacific Fleet Headquarters as "Operation Birdbath."
"Fleet Adm. Nimitz loved nature. He maintained a thriving garden at his home at Yerba Buena," said Gureck. "Therefore, it's fitting, considering our Navy's commitment to the environment, that we would bring the bird bath to the Nimitz House at Pearl Harbor - both for our feathered friends and for generations to come."
The Seabees engaged in the project were proud to be involved as they looked back on the legendary Pacific Fleet commander and the part he played in their origins.
"Since Adm. Nimitz helped found our Seabees, it felt good doing something for him," said Builder 1st Class (SCW) Michael Holloman, the crew leader who managed the installment at 37 Makalapa. "My team is proud that we could be part of this project."
Holloman and his eight-person crew restored the bird bath in three weeks, after receiving it from their fellow Seabees of the 30th Naval Construction Regiment based in Port Hueneme, Calif. The 30th NCR removed the birdbath from Nimitz' home in Yerba Buena and prepared it for shipment to Hawaii.
"The Seabees here and from California did an awesome job moving the bird bath," said Chief Construction Electrician (SCW) Chris Gwin, the COMPACFLT facilities manager. "It was a great opportunity for the Seabees to preserve history."
According to Seabee history, Rear Adm. Ben Moreell, who served as the chief of the Navy's Bureau of Yards and Docks, believed a construction force was needed - a force that proved crucial to the success of World War II. Nimitz, in his role as chief of the Bureau of Navigation, authorized the establishment of the first Headquarters Construction Company and the enlistment of its men Oct. 31, 1941. In January 1942, nearly a month after the attack on Pearl Harbor, Moreell's wish was granted, and he established the Naval Construction Force. The Seabees were officially founded March 5, 1942.
"The Seabees of the United States Navy were born in the dark days following Pearl Harbor when the task of building victory from defeat seemed almost insurmountable. The Seabees were created in answer to a crucial demand for builders who could fight," reads the introduction to Seabee history at history.navy.mil.
Nimitz forever remembered the Seabees, as he kept on his desk at Pacific Fleet headquarters a three-dimensional model of the Seabee logo, designed by Frank J. Iafrate in January 1942. During World War II, when Nimitz commanded the Pacific Fleet, Seabees built major airstrips, bridges, roads, warehouses, hospitals, gasoline storage tanks and housing. Worldwide, more than 325,000 Seabees fought and built on six continents and more than 300 islands.
"Our Seabees were birthed out of World War II, so back in 1942, and since then our fighting Seabees have been very central to many, many of not only our wartime missions but our peacetime missions, as well, and I couldn't be prouder of the Seabees and the Seabee tradition," Willard said March 12 in his weekly podcast honoring the Seabees.
At the most-recent Seabee birthday celebration held in Hawaii, Willard recognized the contributions of Seabees throughout naval history.
"Through their conception in World War II, what the Seabees have accomplished for our nation currently in Iraq, Afghanistan and North Africa, to what you're doing in our Pacific Partnership activities where you are helping us win the hearts and minds in the Pacific theater, thank you Seabees for everything you do."
The Nimitz House, built in 1941 just before the attack on Pearl Harbor, is one of 18 flag quarters on Oahu maintained by the Navy for its admirals and Marine Corps generals.
For more news from Commander, U.S. Pacific Fleet, visit www.navy.mil/local/cpf/.