VFW Magazine — January 2012
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Navy SEALs Got Their Start 50 Years Ago Off Cuba, Vietnam
Tim Dyhouse

SEAL Team One on the West Coast and SEAL Team Two on the East Coast were both established in January 1962. Here’s a brief rundown on their first operations.

From their founding 50 years ago to the dramatic extermination of America’s most wanted terrorist last year, the Navy’s SEALs have had a colorful, yet secretive, history. It all began in 1962 when President John F. Kennedy ordered the establishment of a small, elite force of maritime warriors who could carry out clandestine strikes from the sea, air or land.

Here are two of the SEALs’ earliest operations

COVERTLY CHARTING CUBA Less than five months after forming, the SEALs took on their first real mission in late April and early May 1962. The East Coast-based SEAL Team Two, under command of Navy Lt. Cmdr. Roy Boehm, was called to action in the volatile waters around Cuba.

From April 27-May 6, 1962—a year after the Bay of Pigs incident and five months before the Cuban Missile Crisis—Boehm’s six-man team comprising three SEALs and three sailors (also known as “frogmen”) from an Underwater Demolition Team (UDT) conducted a risky clandestine mission near hostile shores.

“We did a recon of Cuba and I led the team in,” Boehm recalled. “My team went into Cuba, launching from the submarine Threadfin for an underwater swim in.”

Not long after entering the water, Boehm believed the mission’s secrecy had been compromised.

“Two Cuban Komar-class missile boats came into the area at high speed,” Boehm said. “As the boats came out to us, we had to dive under them.”

Adding to the difficulty, one of the SEAL’s underwater breathing apparatus malfunctioned. But despite the hazards, Boehm and his team accomplished their task: swimming to the beach and mapping some two miles of coastline near Havana. They then successfully rendezvoused with the Threadfin.

Boehm’s mission determined that the beach was too steep and therefore not suitable for amphibious landings

SEALS ARRIVE IN VIETNAM

On the other side of the world, frogmen from a West Coast UDT detachment aboard the high-speed transport USS Cook conducted a recon mission in January 1962 along the Vietnamese coast. The frogmen charted beaches near Quang Tri, Da Nang, Nha Trang, Cam Ranh Bay, Vung Tau and Qui Nhon.

SEALs also landed in Vietnam in April 1962 to train and advise South Vietnamese allies. Mobile Training Team (MTT) 10-62, comprising one offi- cer and nine men from both SEAL Teams One and Two, trained Biet Hai (“special sea service”) commandos of the South Vietnamese navy.

The six-month long course from April Through October—which featured frogman- style training—produced 62 graduates.

“Personally, I thought we were doing a bang-up job over there,” said Leonard “Lenny” Waugh, a senior electronics chief, in the book Navy SEALs by Kevin Dockery.

“Eventually, our training helped develop the Vietnamese Junk Force, their Biet Hai. Later, the West Coast SEALs helped train and set up the Vietnamese LDNN, their Lien Doc Nguoi Nhia (“soldiers who fight under the sea”) the South Vietnamese version of the SEALs.”

As part of the training, the SEALs and their pupils accompanied Army Special Forces soldiers in several operations around Da Nang.

“They had wanted to see a little bit of us and we wanted the same of them,” Waugh recalled. “So we kind of crosstrained each other a bit. We knew we had the best group going from SEAL Team Two. We were all handpicked and enjoyed working with each other. What we called a crackerjack group.”

Another SEAL-led training team, MTT 4-63, conducted a course from Sept. 20, 1962, to Jan. 30, 1963. Graduates of that course would go on to instruct other Vietnamese, who would then carry out raids against North Vietnamese targets along the coast. The SEALs, however, were prohibited from advancing north of the demilitarized zone.

One of the earliest incidents of encountering hostile fire for SEAL/UDT teams occurred on March 12, 1963. Some 34 men of Det. Bravo, UDT-12, were operating on the coast at that time. A survey party was attacked by about 12 VC near Vinh Chau in the Mekong Delta, but did not sustain casualties.

Eventually, SEALs would participate in operations throughout the entire Vietnam War theater and become an integral part of nearly all future U.S. military actions.

DEADLY DAYS IN UDT/SEAL HISTORY

June 6, 1944: Battle of Normandy. Naval Combat Demolition Units (NCDU) sustain 31 KIA and 60 WIA on Omaha Beach and 4 KIA, 11 WIA on Utah Beach.

June 14, 1944: Battle of Saipan. 3 Underwater Demolition Team (UDT) members are KIA in a swimmer reconnaissance.

July 9, 1944: Yap Island. 3 UDT members are captured and never heard from again.

October 1944: Battle of Leyete. 4 UDT KIA and 25 WIA.

Jan. 10, 1945: Lingayen Gulf. UDT-9 loses 11 KIA and 15 WIA in a kamikaze attack on its transport.

Feb. 17, 1945: Battle of Iwo Jima. 3 UDT KIA on a recon.

Feb. 18, 1945: Deadliest UDT Loss of W WII. Battle of Iwo Jima. UDT-15 loses 18 KIA and 23 WIA in the Japanese bomb attack on the USS Blessman.

During WWII, 3,500 sailors serve in UDTs and Navy Combat Demolition Units—83 die and 148 are WIA.

Jan. 19, 1951: Korea. Action at Popsongni. 2 members of UDT-1 are KIA by guerrilla snipers during a beach survey.

April 7, 1967: River ambush in the Rung Sat (“Forest of Assassins”) Special Zone. 3 SEALs are KIA.

May 18, 1969: Mortar strike at Kien Giang. 3 SEALs are KIA.

June 23, 1970: Helicopter departing Ca Mau for Can Tho accidentally crashes, killing 5 SEALs of Team One.

In Vietnam, 37 SEALs/UDT are KIA and 12 die accidentally. 39 deaths are from SEAL Team One. Perhaps 500 SEALs serve there. Awards: 3 Presidential Unit Citations, 3 Medals of Honor and 8 Navy Crosses.

Oct. 23-24, 1983: Grenada Invasion. Night drop into stormy seas. 4 SEALs of Team Six drown.

Dec. 20, 1989: Panama Invasion. Firefight at Paitilla Airport. 4 SEALs of Team Four are KIA and 8 WIA.

June 28, 2005: Afghanistan. Operation Redwing rescue mission. 11 members of Delivery Team One and SEAL Team 10 are KIA in a helicopter shoot-down (8) and a firefight (3).

July 6, 2007: Iraq. 3 members of Naval Special Warfare (NSW) Group 2 are KIA by a roadside bomb near Baghdad.

Sept. 21, 2010: 3 SEALs and 2 NSW sailors die in an accidental helicopter crash in the Daychopan District of Afghanistan.

Aug. 6, 2011: Deadliest SEAL Loss in Afghanistan. 17 SEALs (some of Team Six) and 5 special warfare support sailors are KIA in a helicopter shoot-down over the Tangi Valley.

As of Oct. 1, 2011, 48 NSW operators had been killed in Afghanistan and 11 in Iraq. 1 SEAL had been awarded the Medal of Honor and 6 the Navy Cross.

PHOTOS—LEFT: A Navy SEAL in Vietnam returns from a mission with a VC prisoner. CENTER: Members of SEAL Team Four pose just before the invasion in Grenada, 1983. RIGHT: Lt. Michael P. Murphy, SEAL Team 10, earned the Medal of Honor when he was killed on June 28, 2005, in Asadabad, Afghanistan
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