In 1942, at the Naval Air Base in Quonset Point, Frank Iafrate, a native of North Providence, Rhode Island, and a civilian file clerk with a talent for caricature, created an insignia that would make military history. This is his story:
“Early in January 1942, I was working at the Naval Air Station in Quonset Point, RI. I became known around the base for the caricatures I drew of various officers.
“One day a Navy lieutenant came in. He was the officer in charge of some 250 recruits who had been brought in to the newly established Naval Construction Battalions. He had heard of my caricatures and asked me if I could produce a “Disney-type” insignia to represent the CBs. He explained that while they would support the Marines, they would not be an offensive group, but could defend themselves if they had to.
“My first thought was the beaver, a builder. But then I did some research, and found out that when a beaver is threatened it runs away. So, the beaver was out.
“Then I thought of a bee — the busy worker, who doesn’t bother you unless you bother him. But provoked, the bee stings. It seemed like an ideal symbol.
“The rest came easily. I gave the bee a white sailor’s cap, various tools to show his construction talents, and finally a Tommy gun to show his fighting ability. I made the bee a third-class petty officer (E-4) with the 1942 Naval insignia used by the first Seabees on each arm … a machinist’s mate, a carpenter’s mate, and a gunner’s mate.
“l originally put the C.E.C. insignia on each wrist of the bee to show that he was part of the Navy Civil Engineer’s Corps (this was eventually dropped from the design). And I put the letter “Q” for Quonset on the outer circle of the insignia.
“The insignia drawing took me about three hours one Sunday afternoon. The next morning, I showed it to the officer in charge. He showed it to the captain, who sent it off to Admiral Ben Moreell, the chief of civil engineers in Washington. It turned out that Admiral Moreell was about to start a nationwide campaign to create an identity for the new Construction Battalions. When he saw my sketch he requested only one revision: that the “Q” in the insignia be changed to a hawser rope, for national recognition.
“The bee as a symbol for these men who worked together at sea naturally led to the name “Seabees.” That’s how the name was created — in Rhode Island, early in the war. And this is how we recognize that tough and talented group known as the “Seabees” today.
Frank J. Iafrate enlisted in the US Navy later in 1942. During the war he served as a Chief Carpentersmate in a Seabee Construction Battalion Maintenance Unit. After the war he pursued a career in graphic design in Providence, Rhode Island. He passed away on March 30, 2000, after a two month battle with pancreatic cancer.
HOW THE SEABEE CAME TO BE,
Featuring: Edith Iafrate, wife of Frank, and Duke Marcoccio of mylittletown.com.