Admiral Ben Moreell, CEC, USN
Born: September 1892, Salt Lake City, Utah
Died: July 30, 1978, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania
The father of the US Navy Seabees
"The King Bee"
Admiral Ben Moreell, the first Chief of the Bureau of Yards and Docks not to have graduated from the Naval Academy, was the founding father of the Navy's famous Seabees and was largely responsible for overseeing the Bureau’s vast construction programs, both domestic and overseas, during the Second World War. Admiral Ben Moreell's life spanned eight decades, two world wars, a great depression and the evolution of the United States as a superpower.
He was a distinguished Naval Officer, a brilliant engineer, an industrial giant and articulate national spokesman
Ben Moreell was born in Salt Lake City in 1892. When he was two years old his family moved to New York City. Four years later they settled permanently in St. Louis, Missouri. Moreell graduated from Washington University, St Louis in 1913, with a bachelor of science degree in civil engineering. He took a job in a local engineering department, but soon entered the Navy during the First World War. In June, 1917, he was commissioned a Lieutenant (junior grade). During the war, he was stationed in the Azores and afterwards served at Navy yards and installations in Massachusetts, Haiti, Virginia, and Washington
His talent for engineering was recognized and after the war he was sent as a Lieutenant Commander to the École Nationale des Ponts et Chaussées to study European engineering techniques. Returning to the United States in 1933, he supervised the planning of what would eventually be called the David W. Taylor Model Basin in Carderock, Maryland.
On 1 December 1937, President Franklin D. Roosevelt personally selected Commander Moreell to be the Chief of the Bureau of Yards and Docks and the Chief of Civil Engineers of the Navy, and advanced him to the rank of Rear Admiral (without having ever been a Captain). Ben Moreell became the US Navy’s youngest Rear Admiral.
His first acts in office were a careful inspection of Navy facilities on both coasts and in all territories, followed by priority construction of two large drydocks at Pearl Harbor (the docks were completed in time to repair battleships damaged at Pearl Harbor) and construction projects on Midway and Wake Island. Anticipating the difficulties that the the Joint Chef's War Plan Orange would pose on the U.S. Navy, Moreell devised the sectional drydock that would later be used in all advance bases and many of the established harbors.
In late 1941, concerned that in the event of war civilian workers at advanced bases in the Pacific would be unable to defend themselves lest they expose themselves to the danger of being shot as a guerilla, Moreell requested and was granted permission to form Naval Construction Battalions. These would be composed of skilled workers trained to be able to drop their tools and take up weapons at a moment's notice. Moreell's Civil Engineer Corps were to command what would become a 250,000 man outfit that built $10 billion worth of facilities to support he war effort.
He subsequently appeased labor unions that feared loss of jobs to a Navy construction service by announcing to the that the Seabees would serve exclusively overseas, or in Seabee training facilities. He convinced the unions that it was in the nation’s best interest. For his outstanding service during World War II, Admiral Moreell received the Distinguished Service Medal and the Legion of Merit
In 1943, Admiral Moreell became the Chief of the Navy's Material Division; and at the request of President Truman, negotiated a settlement to the national strike of oil refinery workers. When the government seized the nation's strikebound bituminous coal industry a year later, Admiral Moreell was designated the Coal Mines Administrator. Late in 1945 he was appointed Chief of Materiels, Division of the Office of the Assistant Secretary of the Navy, with the express mission to coordinate all materiel procurement for the Navy. On June 11, 1946, Moreell became the first staff corps officer to advance to the rank of full Admiral and transferred to the retired list three months later.
Following his retirement from the Navy in 1946 at age 54, Admiral Moreell was elected president of the Turner Construction Company. In March, 1947, he became chairman of the board and president of Jones and Laughlin Steel Corporation. During his service to that corporation the company poured $680 million into new plants, boosted its capacity 64 per cent and more than doubled its sales to $838 million.
In his honor, the Naval Academy on September 21, 1980 dedicated a memorial in his name. During his lifetime he received degrees from 10 universities, including Princeton and New York; he was elected to the National Academy of Engineering; and was named as one of the 10 men who contributed the most to the advancement of construction methods in the United States.