Outside the Wire
Korea and Early 1960s
By Tom Hawkins
Although they survived doctrinally, the Navy’s post-World War II manpower reductions resulted in cutting the Underwater Demolition Teams by almost 95 percent. Austere budgets also hindered expanded training and development of new concepts and equipment. The outbreak of the Korean War in June 1950 found the UDTs mission essential, but unprepared for new special operations with which they would quickly be tasked. The underpinning of a SEAL team concept actually began to materialize with UDT operations during the Korean War. Using waterborne entry methods, UDT men conducted numerous direct-action raids, trained and worked with South Korean frogmen, and worked closely with the CIA, British, and U.S. Marine Corps on a menu of special operations and activities.
This expanded tasking took the UDTs beyond the limits of their traditional World War II training, equipment, and doctrine. A 1952 Pacific Fleet study concluded: “UDTs PACFLT are not adequately prepared by training or with equipment for operations more advanced or different from those of World War II.” Perhaps, but not so fast. The major hiccup was that as early as August 1950, Commander, Naval Forces Far East had already committed the UDTs to “more advanced or different” combat operations. The PACFLT study was promulgated 18 months after the fact, while UDT men were still adapting and conducting expanded operations. Clearly, there had been enough time for the Navy to have delegated such “special missions” to others had it chosen to do so; but the Navy didn’t.
In 1951, the U.S. Army published Field Manual 31-21: “Organization and Conduct of Guerilla Warfare,” which established the doctrinal foundation for Special Forces units. The 10th Special Forces Group (Airborne) was activated in June 1952 at Fort Bragg and deployed briefly to Korea in 1953. As with the UDTs after World War II, the army retained their Special Forces (SF) capability after Korea.
After the Korean armistice in July 1953, the remainder of the decade was a relatively calm and somewhat sluggish interlude for the UDTs. The Navy refused to let the UDTs expand beyond their amphibious reconnaissance mission; regardless, they sharpened combat swimming, combat diving, and submarine operational skills; began attending U.S. Army Airborne training: developed parachuting and helicopter water-insertion techniques and experimented extensively with a host of submersible vehicles. Operationally, the UDTs continued routine forward deployments with Amphibious Ready Groups to the Western Pacific, Atlantic-Caribbean, and Mediterranean areas.
UDT men also completed several special-mission deployments to the Antarctic, supported nuclear-bomb experimentations in the Pacific, searched for missing atomic bombs off the coast of Spain and South Carolina, supported placement of the Sound Surveillance System in the Atlantic (classified capability to track Soviet submarines), and trained the original Mercury-seven astronauts to SCUBA dive. They also recovered astronauts returning to earth from the Mercury and Apollo spaceflight missions.
Changing World View
In the late 1950s there was a growing need for military forces with unconventional warfare capabilities, and this included the army’s SF and the navy’s UDTs. Marine Corps units were also considered, but the Marines didn’t want to go in that direction. During his final years in office, President Dwight D. Eisenhower supported planning to assist proactively in small-country struggles. SF teams were deployed to Laos to work with the Royal Laotian Army, and the UDT and SEAL Teams supported operations and activities involving Cuba and the Dominican Republic. Little has been written about Team experiences during this period; primarily because little has actually been documented or preserved. The information presented in this story is the best that I can offer with what I’ve tried to learn.
SEALs and Overseas Deployment
After establishment in January 1962, both SEAL Teams began ambitious training programs largely focused on attending numerous U.S. Army and Marine Corps schools. Early SEAL Team activities included training with Army Special Forces at Fort Bragg; Marine Corps cold-weather survival at Pickle Meadows, California; the Navy’s SERE (Survival, Evasion, Resistance, and Escape) program; Army’s Jungle Warfare School in Panama; Army Ranger school, jump training with Army SF in Okinawa, Army Jump Master training at Fort Bragg, Army Rigger School, HALO training at Yuma, Arizona, and others.
SEAL Team ONE had an early focus on South Vietnam. As early as March 1962, CPO Robert “Sully” Sullivan and Corpsman Don Raymond were sent to support Vietnamese naval commando training with the CIA in Da Nang. A combined Mobile Training Team of men from SEAL Team ONE and TWO arrived in April.
In the summer of 1962, a detachment from both SEAL teams deployed to Europe. The group included Lieutenant John Callahan and Ensigns Robert “Pete” Peterson and Dave Gravison from SEAL Team TWO and LTJG Melvin Person from SEAL Team ONE. These men went to Paris to conduct planning with U.S. Special Forces for Exercise Flintlock. The group included 25 men that went on to train with Norwegian Frogman in Bergen and later with Greek Frogmen: including operations from an American submarine. Here is how the trip was remembered by Dennis McCormack of SEAL Team ONE:
“We jumped into Greece and met up with commandos. Went to a lake and worked on physical conditioning, swimming, diving medicine and physics, demolition training, maritime sabotage techniques, closed-circuit diving, practical work with diving-compass boards, IBS usage, familiarization with AR-15, inland-penetration techniques, and a joint operation with Greek commandos.”
This European training was abruptly halted, when the men were recalled to Little Creek in response to the Cuban Missile Crises. Others from SEAL Teams ONE also converged at Little Creek and began planning and preparation for contingency operations against Cuba.
In the winter of 1963, the whole of SEAL Team TWO deployed to St. Thomas, USVI for traditional diving and demolition training, and focused on new capabilities surrounding unconventional warfare. In the spring of 1963, a detachment deployed to train Turkish sailors as frogmen. The OIC was Ensign William Painter, who later died in a drowning accident and became the first active-duty SEAL causality.
The Bay of Pigs – April 1961
In March 1960, President Dwight D. Eisenhower avowed that: “This nation cannot and will not tolerate the establishment of a Soviet satellite 90 miles off our shores.” This created a pathway for the CIA to train a force of Cuban exiles to overthrow the [communist] government of Fidel Castro. Eisenhower, however, made no decision regarding actual operations; thus, President John F. Kennedy inherited this concept, when he became president in 1961.
Former and current American UDT men worked with the CIA to train hand-selected Cuban exiles in advanced swimming and demolition at Vieques Island, Puerto Rico. They were later moved to an abandon U.S. Navy ammunition depot near New Orleans, where they did pool work, trained in rudimentary patrolling, weapons familiarization, small-boat handling, and maritime infiltration methods. They were subsequently sent to Puerto Cabezas, Nicaragua to join the larger invasion force. The two UDT men involved were Marty Martinez and Chester Stevens. Martinez was on loan to the agency and Stevens had retired and became an agency employee. Neither participated in actual operations.
Cuban Missile Crisis – October 1962
During the Cuban Missile Crisis, the United States and Soviet Union engaged in a tense 13-day political and military standoff, which resulted from nuclear-armed Soviet missiles being installed in Cuba. In a television address, President Kennedy notified the nation about the presence of these missiles and explained his decision to enact a Cuban naval blockade. He made it clear that the United States was, as necessary, prepared to use military force to neutralize this threat to the country’s national security. Soviet leader Nikita Khrushchev elected to remove the missiles if United States promised not to invade Cuba.
Potential SEAL operations included a raid to attack Komar-class Missile Boats in Cienfuegos Harbor and submarine supported swimmer-beach reconnaissance operations. Peaceful resolution of the missile crisis cancelled the boat attack, and any envisioned swimmer-submarine operations became pointless.
What We Think We Know
UDT-21, SEAL Team ONE, and SEAL Team TWO detachments were deployed aboard two submarines for contingency operations. UDT-21 and SEAL Team TWO operators embarked USS Chopper (SS-342) in Mayport, Florida. LT Ron Smith, the executive officer of UDT-21 was the officer in charge (OIC); Joe DeMartino from SEAL Team TWO was the assistant OIC. SEAL Team ONE men embarked USS Sea Lion (SS-315) at Boca Chica Naval Air Station in Key West. Lieutenant Jim Kinney, SEAL Team ONE’s executive officer was OIC, and Jon Stockholm was his assistant.
In a story posted 28 November 2004 “Education Forum,” the writer Tim Gratz observed that: “At the start of the missile crisis, the Chopper went to a naval base in Mayport, Fla. where it picked up members of an underwater demolition team. The Chopper’s mission was to deliver the demolition team to Havana harbor, where the team would swim underwater to sabotage ships. But the missile crisis was resolved before that eventuality, and the Chopper returned to Key West.”
SEAL Lenny Waugh
“I remember an Admiral being on the sub (USS Chopper) with us. We did have a briefing and [the mission was to reconnoiter] a swimming beach right near or in Havana. We were informed that the beach had been [previously] surveyed by UDT-21 [date unknown], and our job was to just see if anything had changed.”
What Chopper Crewmen Observed (paraphrased)
“At Mayport, Florida, we took on a UDT team that was kept relatively isolated in the forward torpedo room. Chopper’s mission, as I understood it, was to deliver the UDT to a place near Havana harbor, where they would swim into, and sabotage ships and facilities should we receive orders to do so.” (Patrick Householder)
“I remember the deal with the rafts as I had to figure out how to secure all that stuff. The ‘guests’ we had in regard to those rafts were confined to the forward torpedo room.” (Dan Hensley)
“We did a lot of practicing off of Sand Key with the team…we successfully let off a team underwater and retrieved them underwater. The missiles [were] turned back and the blockade was over…I feel sure that if things had not worked out…these guys were going to go in and do away with some missiles.” (Michael Whelan)
SEAL William “Red” Cannon
In his ©2011 book: “The U.S. Navy SEALs: From Vietnam to Finding Bin Laden,” the author David Jordan writes: “Eight men, led by Lieutenant William Cannon, swam into the harbor at San Mariel, briefed to discover whether or not it would be possible for the SEALs to attack the boats moored there. Cannon’s team swam carefully toward their target expecting to encounter a variety of obstacles. They found none. They swam into the harbor, counted the number of patrol boats, gained a good layout of the area, and swam back out to the submarine that had delivered them. Cannon reported that there would be little difficulty in knocking out the patrol boats.” Jordan’s book provided no references, the submarine was not identified, and I’ve been unable to corroborate this accounting.
Chief Petty Officer Robert “Sully” Sullivan
Operations and activities outlined by Chief Petty Officer Robert “Sully” Sullivan provide rich detail regarding SEAL Team ONE’s activities: “We went to sea on USS Sea Lion [SS-315] with the intention of doing harm to someone. Just like in Vietnam, every op was not a firefight, but we were always ready for one. We boarded the submarine at Boca Chica Naval Air Station. In the forward room of the boat was an Army Special Forces A-Team, made up of soldiers that were fluent in Spanish. The plan was to get these guys safely ashore on two separate beaches in Cuba. I think they were all Army, but there might have been a couple of spooks in the group (CIA operatives).
“Our job was to take an IBS to around 1,000 yards, send in scout swimmers to recon, and then take them to the beach if it was safe. We would lay off the beach and wait. If they got in trouble, we would retrieve them and return to Sea Lion. We were reluctant about the whole thing, since we had no time for a practice run; and we didn’t even know if these [SF] guys could swim more than a few yards.
“The submarine waited offshore for more than two days for the word to launch; however, the word came to cancel, and we headed back to Key West. The Special Forces guys were quickly gone…we stayed aboard with the intention that we would inspect missile sites to be sure they had vacated those 100%.” (No such missions were assigned.)
As accurately as can be determined, SEAL Team ONE operators aboard USS Sea Lion included: LT Jim Kinney, LTJG Jon Stockholm, CPO “Sully” Sullivan, LPO Jim “Gator” Parks, Ray Abreu, Dennis McCormack, Carl Yuill, Jack Perkins, Del Frederickson, Ted Mathison, Pete Slempa, and Cecil “Doc” Beaver.
Various sources have related that the UDT-21 / SEAL Team TWO detachment aboard USS Chopper headed by OIC Ron Smith and AOIC Joe DeMartino may have included: Ensign Jim Tyrie, Lenny Waugh, Sam Fournier, John Bingler, and others not identified.
Operation Mongoose (1962-1965)
Mongoose was a secret CIA operational plan for the overthrow of the communist regime in Cuba by conducting insurgent operations performed by exiled Cubans from within Cuba.
Late in the summer of 1963, LT John Callahan commanded SEAL Team TWO, and LT Tom Tarbox was the Executive Officer. Tarbox furtively briefed LTJG Pete Peterson on a forthcoming assignment with little detail. Peterson would lead a group that included: Don Stone, Bill Bruhmiller, Jerome “Diz” Cozart, Art Williams, Chuck Jessie, and Bill Green. They traveled to Washington, DC for assignment with the CIA and briefings in route to Miami, where they were met by their point of contact.
The men were to work in and around Miami and the Florida Keys to assist in selecting and training Cuban exiles for combat swimmer/naval commando operations. The SEALs were to have no direct operational involvement. They lived undercover as civilians using pseudo last names and were issued a Florida driver’s license.
The Cubans were supported by two former UDT operators working for the CIA: Bob Simons and Marty Martinez. SEALs provided training in use of inflatable boats, hand-to-hand combat, combat swimmer and diving tactics, first aid/combat medicine, demolitions, navigation, weapons, and small-craft operation and maintenance. The SEALs occasionally transported Cuban operatives to meet a host ship at night outside of U.S. waters.
As Pete Peterson recalled: “The high point of the job was setting-up our own training site on Key Largo, recruiting and screening 12 Cubans, and running them through a complete combat-swimmer training program. They were very good. They trained with closed-circuit oxygen tactical-diving apparatus [U.S Emerson]. I was assigned to the group planning to run small boats into the harbor and attack the Komars with bazookas. Thankfully, JFK stopped all that foolishness.”
Again, Pete Peterson: “After about 10 months, we were replaced by a second group from SEAL Team TWO. During the latter part of the deployment, we were joined by Jim Tipton and John Dearmon. LTJG Gordy Ablitt replaced me in the summer of 1964, and Bill Bruhmuller was replaced by John Redman. They were to finish training the group we started.” According to Bruhmuller: “They remained for six to eight months longer.”
The country was led by a ruthless dictator, Rafael Trujillo, but his strong anti-communism stance provided him continued U.S. support. He was assassinated in 1961, and this led to a reformist government headed by Juan Bosch in 1962. The Dominican military hated Bosch and overthrew him in 1963. Political chaos created a struggle for power. By 1965, those demanding reinstatement of Bosch began attacks against the military-controlled government. The U.S. feared that “another Cuba” was in the making, and suspected that Cuban leader Fidel Castro was behind the violence. To forestall a “communist dictatorship,” President Lyndon B. Johnson sent more than 22,000 American troops to restore order.
A detachment from SEAL Team TWO led by LT “Black Jack” Macoine deployed to the Dominican Republic during April 1965. His men included: Rudy Boesch, Bill Bruhmuller, Mike Boynton, Pierre Birtz, Richard “Hook” Tuure, Bob Gallagher, and Charlie Bump. According to Macoine: “There were government forces on one side, rebels on the other. The United Nations—predominantly the U.S.—had run a corridor between them. It was only a couple of blocks wide. We were supposed to keep the two forces apart.”
Macione outlined that tasking included nightly sniper operations and the need to disable a Dominican radio station. For sniper operations they employed the new and operationally heretofore unused “Starlite Scope” night-vision capability to acquire targets with great success. The radio station was attacked by driving a Dominican National Guard vehicle filled with explosives into the building housing the radio station and “pull fuses and haul ass” in a companion vehicle. The explosion collapsed the 10-story structure.
By September 1965, a provisional Dominican government was established under the auspices of the Organization of American States.
Enduring Early Capabilities
Training anti-Castro Cuban operatives in Florida and naval commandos in South Vietnam with the CIA (later under the Military Assistance Command, Special Operations Group, Vietnam), were the first operations of their type for early SEALs. They often lived under civilian cover and performed extremely well in all they were tasked to accomplish. SEAL Team ONE, and later SEAL Team TWO, continued to train, advise, and assist this kind of training throughout the Vietnam conflict. Such training capabilities have continued globally into the modern day.
Thanks to Pete Peterson, “Diz” Cozart, “Sully” Sullivan, Bill Bruhmuller, Dennis McCormack, “Black Jack” Macoine, and Lenny Waugh – all SEAL Team plank owners. Thanks also “JB” Anderson and Rick Green for their observations. It is unfortunate that this early period could not have been captured more thoroughly; especially since many of the men involved have already passed. Anybody that can contribute to the story, please contact me: firstname.lastname@example.org or through Elaine Ryan the Navy SEAL Museum.
Summer 1959: UDT-21 training the Mercury 7 Astronauts. Foreground: (l-r) LT Norm Ott and Astronauts: Wally Schirra, Gordon Cooper, Alan Shepard, John Glenn, and Scott Carpenter. Behind: (l-r): BMC “Corney” Leyden (in wet suit top), LT Bill Altieri, LT Loughlin, GMG1 Marlow Proctor, GMG1 Tom McAllister, man behind Cooper and Sheppard UKN, LTJG Fred Cook, Doctor Edward Lamphier (NEDU), Astronaut Gus Grissom, George Kirby (facemask on head), USAF Dr. Bill Douglas, and Astronaut Deke Slayton (holding facemask).