Admiral, United States Navy
Ben Moreell, the first Chief of the Bureau of Yards and Docks to have not
graduated the Naval Academy, was the founding father of the Navy’s famous
Seabees and largely responsible for overseeing the Bureau’s vast construction
programs, both domestic and overseas, during World War II.
Moreell grew up in St. Louis, Missouri, and graduated from local Washington University. He took a job in the local Engineering Department, then entered the Navy for WWI and became Lieutenant (jg) in the Civil Engineer Corps.
He spent WWI on the Azores, there getting to know Franklin Roosevelt. His talent for engineering was recognized soon and he was sent to the École Nationale des Ponts et Chaussées to study European techniques. Returning in 1933 to the U.S., Moreell, his subsequent service straightly pushed him up and on 1 December 1937, at the rank of Commander, Moreell was hand-picked by President Roosevelt as Chief of the Bureau of Yards and Docks and Chief of the Civil Engineer Corps, advancing him to Rear-Admiral directly without even having been a Captain.
Moreell’s first acts in office were a careful inspection of Navy facilities on both coasts and in all territories, followed by the priority construction of two large graving docks at Pearl Harbor. Anticipating the difficulties that the Orange war plan would pose on the U.S. Navy, Moreell devised the sectional dry dock that would later be used in all advance bases and many of the established harbors. In late 1941, he was granted permission to form a Naval Construction Battalion, on the grounds that in the case of war, contractional civil workers would be unable to complete the construction currently underway, much less that of further bases and other facilities closer to the front line, as well as being concerned that civil workers would be unable to defend themselves lest they expose themselves to the danger of being shot immediately on capture for guerilla warfare (which was against the Geneva convention).
He subsequently appeased labor unions that feared to left out of the loop by a navy-own construction service by announcing to the that the Seabees would serve exclusively overseas, or in Seabee-own training facilities. He convinced the unions that it was in the nation’s best interest to ignore some of peace’s petty agreements (such as restricting workers to jobs within the boundaries of their specialized trade).
It was due to his unrelenting energy that “the fleet received support in degree and kind unprecedented in the history of naval warfare,”as the citation of his Distinguished Service Medal, presented to Moreell in 1945. On 11 June 1946, Moreell became the first staff corps officer to advance to the rank of full Admiral, having successfully managed for President Truman problems both in the oil and the coal industry.
He retired in September 1946, and in subsequent years, was president and chairman of several construction and steel businesses. His public service also included being a member of a board to determine the Naval Academy’s future development of academic facilities.
In his honor, the Naval Academy on 21 September
1980, dedicated a memorial in his name. Among other honors were 12 doctoral
degrees, election to the National Academy of Engineering, and the naming
of his as one of the 10 men contributing most to the advancement of construction
methods in the U.S.
Moreell Medal is named in honor of Adm. Ben Moreell, CEC, U.S. Navy.
Presented for outstanding contribution to military engineering by a civilian or military member of the U.S. Navy's Civil Engineer Corps. This medal was first awarded in 1955.
Criteria: Most outstanding contribution to military engineering through achievement in planning, design, construction, public works, administration, research, or development.
Eligibility: Members of the Civil Engineer Corps of the Navy - regular, reserve, or civilian, on active or inactive duty or retired.
Photo Courtesy of Russell C. Jacobs, July 2007
DATE OF BIRTH: 1892
DATE OF DEATH: 1978
BURIED AT: SECTION 4 SITE 2616
ARLINGTON NATIONAL CEMETERY
MOREELL, CLARA K W/O BEN
Posted: 23 April 2006 Updated: 8 July 2007 Updated: 8 July 2009
Photos By M. R. Patterson, December 2004