Posted: July 30, 2017 in Uncategorized

When a person talks about an American elite fighting force the discussion usually moves to the U.S. Navy’s SEAL teams.  During Viet Nam, the same discussion would have focused on the U.S. Army’s elite team, the Green Berets.  World War II and the American supermen were the Army Rangers and the Marine raiders.  Each period in American history seems to have its’ special elite military units and while every man and woman that puts on any uniform in defense of the United States equally deserve our appreciation and respect, it is the Navy SEALS that are in vogue today. 

The birth of the forerunner to the SEAL teams was during World War II.  The naval amphibious scout and raider training began in 1942 in Little Creek, Virginia.  The unit was first used in Operation Torch, the first landing of American Forces during World War II in North Africa.  Purpose of the unit was to evaluate the landing zones and pick routes for landings prior to an amphibious landing.  During the landing they would help guide landing craft through the invasion route.  Other scout and raider units were deployed in the South Pacific and a third unit was deployed to China.

In 1943 a new unit was formed that focused on demolition training.  Purpose was to not only reconnoitrer and provide safe routes but to also remove obstacles and blast routes for the amphibious invasion teams.  The unit was made up of volunteers with the majority coming from the naval construction battalion units, the SEABEES.  It was realized that the mission of this new unit would be demanding so the training was also demanding.  By the time of D-Day, thirty-four naval combat demolition units were deployed and blew openings for the landing troops.  At Omaha Beach the demolition forces took 51% casualities.

On the Pacific side of the war it was determined that the Marines needed a specialized unit to perform surveys to find the best routes for the marine landings and then blast obstructions much as the Atlantic teams were doing.  The slaughter at Tarawa prompted this unit’s formation.  The teams were officially named UDTs or Underwater Demolition Teams and following their first combat in 1944, they spearheaded landings across the Pacific.  These men wore mask, fins and swimming trunks and were thus dubbed the “naked warriors”.  By the end of the war thirty-four UDT Teams were deployed and had been given the name “frogmen”.  After the war the UDT teams were reduced to 4 teams with seven officers and forty-men total enlisted men.

During the Korean conflict, the UDT family grew to 111.    Nontraditional tactics were used by the frogmen during this campaign.  Some units went into North Korea and destroyed rail tunnels.  UDT teams also helped to get Korean spies into the North.  The mission of the UDT teams was transitioning to more than providing landing zones for amphibious landings.  In 1950 the UDT teams continued its mission transformation as a team rescued 25 sailors that abandoned their ship after hitting a Korean mine. 

In 1961 President John Kennedy gave a patriotic and broad-ranged speech when he declared that America would place a man on the moon within the next ten years.  What was lost in the speech was his announcement that he would provide an additional one hundred million dollars for development and training of non-traditional military forces.    Kennedy, himself a lieutenant in the PTO fleet, knew that the need for a special operation teams was needed in the new warfare scenarios.

The first SEAL teams were formed in 1962 and took their name from the three environments they operated in; SEa, Air, Land.  SEAL units were active in Viet Nam and 48 SEALs lost their lives while claiming as many as 2,000 enemy dead.  Since Viet Nam, the navy SEALS have been a part of every American military campaign and countless unknown missions.  The most famous of these missions was the killing of Osama Bin Laden.  These men have gained so much notoriety and popularity that the History Channel had a mini-series about these warriors and a major network will have a SEAL weekly show this fall.   These shows are the best recruiting tools for the “frogmen”.  During Desert Storm I asked a SEAL commander why he went into the SEALS after leaving the Naval Academy.  The answer was simple.  As a child he had watched Loyd Bridges play Mike Nelson on the TV show “Sea Hunt”.

As a very  young Navy Seabee I had the opportunity to pull duty with a SEAL Senior Chief by the name of John “Pappy” Reynolds.  He told me that he was about to retire after 30 years of active duty.  He joined the SEABEES during World War II and then volunteered for the UDT Teams.  He remained in and eventually when the SEAL teams were formed, he was a member of the first  teams.  He was a Viet Nam vet but was looking forward to his subsequent retirement.  He was a true warrior and excelled in defending our nation.  What he wasn’t, was ready to become a civilian.  After retirement Reynolds did what the enemy could do as he took his own life.


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