Author: Dyhouse, Tim
Date published: January 1, 2012
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 B o ehm, 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," B o ehm 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 officer 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 Ave 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 cracker jack 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 D et. 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.