‘My Seabees need attention. I am the Seabee grandmother on Guam, you know?’
Story by JO1 (SCW) Michael D. Mitchell and Coleen R. San Nicolas-Perez
First published in Seabee Magazine, Special Commemorative Double Issue 2003
She was born Vicenta Chargualaf Peredo, but to the U.S. Navy Seabees, she will be forever remembered as “Seabee Betty.” Born Sept. 10, 1934, in the village of Yona, Guam, Seabee Betty was a surrogate mother for generations of Seabees until her death June 9, 2003.
“She will be fondly remembered by thousands of her Seabee-Sailor shipmates, Marines and Airmen around the world, whom she befriended on Guam over the past 50-plus years,” said RADM Michael R. Johnson, Commander, Naval Facilities Engineering Command.
As a young woman growing up in post-World War II Guam, Seabee Betty was known for her goodwill and love of humanity. Her job on the Navy base at Club Mocambo introduced her to thousands of Soldiers, Sailors, Marines, Airmen and, of course, Seabees.
In 1952, she took a strong interest in the Seabees stationed on or deployed to Guam. Recognizing the sacrifice of being so far from home, Seabee Betty took it upon herself to welcome the hard-working men of the construction battalions and introduce them to the native Chamorro culture of Guam.
“Going to Seabee Betty’s house was always like going home for the holidays,” said CAPT Joe Ludovici, commanding officer of Public Works Center Guam. “Seabee Betty reminded me of my own grandmother, very sweet and engaging, but also the firm matriarch of a large extended family.”
For more than 50 years, Seabee Betty cared for each battalion deployed to Guam by hosting hundreds of fiestas, attending official functions and planning several Chamorro-style weddings over the decades. Every service member she met instantly became a long-lost member of her family and was welcomed with a kiss on the cheek, a friendly hug or a kind word.
What most people now call community service, Seabee Betty called friends helping friends. She worked for decades to bring her “two families” closer together. For her devotion, numerous chiefs of naval operations; U.S. senators; admirals and generals; and Presidents Ronald Reagan and George W. Bush recognized her over the years.
In 1991, he Seabee Museum at Port Hueneme, CA inducted heructed into t, only the second civilian to be bestowed this honor. The first was actor John Wayne, who starred in “The Fighting Seabees.”
As each new group of Seabees arrived in Guam, they were welcomed with the same affection and enthusiasm as the battalion that came before. RADM Charles Kubic, Commander, First Naval Construction Division, discovered this truism when he introduced his son to Seabee Betty.
“When I visited, I took Charlie and [his] photo down to visit Betty — she was absolutely thrilled that yet another generation of Seabees was coming of age,” Kubic said. Seabee Betty wasn’t paid for her many contributions, but she was compensated by the recognition of her good deeds, by military members of all ranks, and that was enough for her, her daughter said.
Vicenta Chargualaf Peredo was laid to rest in the Guam Veterans Cemetery June 20, surrounded by her family, friends and the Seabees she loved. She is survived by nine children, 40 grandchildren, 38 great-grandchildren, and the thousands of Seabees she cared for.
Seabee Betty was and remains an institution in the annals of the Seabees and Civil Engineer Corps. The CEC and the Seabees are soliciting ideas for a Seabee Betty memorial that will seek to capture and commemorate her limitless and selfless contributions to the welfare of Seabees over many decades.
Remembering Seabee Betty
STORY BY JO1 (SCW) ANDREW SCHARNHORST
First published on NMCB-1 Website, 2003:
For decades, whenever U.S. Navy Seabees deployed to the small South Pacific island of Guam, they knew where to find their home far away from home.
In the village of Yona sits a small, singlelevel house on a cramped yard owned by a woman named Vicenta Peredo, but that’s not what most Seabees called her. From the highest-ranking Civil Engineer Corps officers to the youngest constructionmen and equipment operators — to all who have deployed to Guam for 50 years — she was affectionately known as “Seabee Betty.”
Seabee Betty hosted get-togethers for Seabees since 1951. Back then, some particularly heavy storms had damaged her modest wooden house, especially her kitchen. She worked at the Navy Exchange (NEX) then aboard Naval Station Guam and she knew many of the Seabees who were on the island. Upon hearing what happened to the house, Vicenta’s oldest daughter remarked, “I heard your kitchen caved in. Maybe by tomorrow the Seabees will put it up.”
Well, it actually took a little longer than that, Seabee Betty said. “Two days later, my kitchen was back up.” To show her gratitude, Vicenta threw a party for the Seabees, serving all manner of native Chamorro cuisine to her American benefactors. In return, she earned the moniker she held so dear.
Red Jones, then commanding officer of the 30th Naval Construction Regiment, told her, “You may be Vicenta to the rest of Guam, but you’ll always be ‘Seabee Betty’ to the Seabees.”
Since then, Seabee Betty has hosted several parties each year for deployed Seabee battalions.
“I love all my military, but my heart goes for the Seabees more,” she said.
Seabee Betty hosted fiestas coinciding with the birthday of each of the saints to whom she prayed throughout the year. During these periods of fervent prayer, she also began cooking all the food for the fiesta party.
“I say my nine days’ novena, and then I cook, and then I invite my Seabees,” she said. “I invite my Seabees because they are away from home. I pray nine days with my family, and then after the nine days we have all this food.”
More than just hosting fiestas, Seabee Betty offered a place for the Bees to get away from the camp and the Navy for awhile — and she has even been known to help get a Seabee or two out of jail.
“That’s because my Seabees … need attention,” said Seabee Betty, ever the doting matriarch. “I am the Seabee grandmother on Guam, you know?”
CDR Michael L. Blount, commanding officer of Naval Mobile Construction Battalion (NMCB) 1, was a lieutenant with NMCB 40 when he first met Seabee Betty in 1987.
He said that even before arriving in Guam from Gulfport, Miss., he’d heard stories about the legend of Seabee Betty. “Within the first month, I saw Seabee Betty on camp,” Blount remembers, “and within the first three months, we had our first fiesta at Seabee Betty’s house.”
He quickly found the tales he’d previously heard to be no exaggeration. “I had to provide the transportation, and I was dumbfounded that one person was going to host the battalion,” Blount said.
Little changed over the years. When NMCB 1 returned to Guam again, Blount, Executive Officer LCDR Mark Jackson, Command Master Chief CUCM (SCW) Danny Duval and ENS Jeffrey Dupart were invited to her house for “a snack.”
“We arrived and the spread was [amazing],” with enough food for about 50 people, Blount recalled. “I haven’t had the local food before, but everything you can possibly imagine is here, [and] it was really good,” said firsttime visitor CECN Michael Bavlnka, 23, from Dallas. “It’s just outstanding.
Whoever hasn’t shown up, I don’t see why they wouldn’t want to come out here. It’s just nice and relaxed. Good people.”
“Her generosity is known throughout the Seabees, and I’m glad [I was there],” Blount added.
Seabee Betty had no plans to stop caring for her Seabees anytime soon.
She once said, “Until God put me six feet under, I’ll be continuing.”