Probably no rating in the Constructionman Occupational Field is more closely associated with the word “Seabees” than Equipment Operator (EO). This association is entirely understandable given the Seabees’ origins.
The “island hopping” U.S. military strategy in the Pacific Theater of Operations meant that while the conquest of Japanese strongholds provided locations for new bases of operations, it also required the rapid construction of all types of logistical and operational infrastructure: roads, airfields, housing, medical facilities, warehouses, water and fuel tanks, fortifications, and more. (The same type of projects were undertaken in the European Theater, but not nearly to the same extent as in the Pacific). Even the most casual TV viewer knows that no images convey the concept of construction work like those of bulldozers, backhoes, dumptrucks, graders, and other heavy equipment, and the similarity between these types of machinery and military vehicles such as tanks further cemented the association between the Seabees and the heavy industrial equipment employed by Sailors serving in the EO rating.
This stereotype was further strengthened with the release of The Fighting Seabees in 1944 starring John Wayne. In one scene, a group of Seabees under attack by Japanese forces grab small arms and climb aboard a variety of heavy construction equipment to launch an impromptu counterattack; the movie’s climax features Wayne driving a bulldozer tipped with explosives into an oil storage tank, unleashing a flood of burning petroleum into columns of advancing Japanese troops.
Of course, the contributions of Sailors serving in all seven of the Constructionman ratings are necessary for the successful completion of any building project. But the sheer amount of countryside transformed by Seabees serving as Equipment Operators in World War II (the rating wasn’t officially established until 1958) is undoubtedly one of the reasons that they are so closely associated with the Construction Battalions from which Seabees derive their name.