“It is better to die than to look bad or lose.” —Capt. Ronald Yeaw
There is no more elite fighting force in the world than the esteemed US Navy SEALs. Famous for their rigorous training, fearlessness, and incomparable skills on sea, air, and land, these are the warriors who are routinely charged with carrying out the most dangerous combat assignments, always in secret and under cover of darkness. Much has been written about their remarkable achievements, from the earliest days of the World War II Underwater Demolition Teams through action in the Persian Gulf. But now these courageous men get to speak for themselves, telling their riveting war stories in their own words.
Veteran military author Orr Kelly (Brave Men, Dark Water) has gathered together the stunning recollections of current and former SEALs to present a vivid and breathtaking picture of life and death among the best of the best in US Military Special Operations. These brave men speak openly about their training and their missions, offering the uncensored, inspiring, sometimes shocking truth about their combat triumphs and the rare but devastating failures. They carry the reader along with them on the path to glory and into the blistering heat of the fires of war.
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Never Fight Fair!
Inside the Legendary U. S. Navy SEALsâ"Their Own True Stories
By Orr Kelly
OPEN ROAD INTEGRATED MEDIACopyright © 1995 Orr Kelly
All rights reserved.
William L. "Bill" Dawson, retired after a twenty-five-year career as a fireman in the District of Columbia, now lives in the quiet little town of La Plata a few miles south of Washington, D.C. For two years during World War II, Dawson was one of a tiny group of sailors who helped pave the way for Gen. Douglas MacArthur's campaign northward through the western Pacific toward his return to the Philippines.
While the fabled underwater demolition teams—the "naked warriors"—grew dramatically in size until they were able to put a thousand men in the water in preparation for the landings on Okinawa and were ready to send even more if an invasion of the main Japanese islands had been necessary, the units in which Dawson served totalled a mere dozen men, under the command of Lt. Francis Riley "Frank" Kaine, who became a leader in naval special warfare into the Vietnam War era.
Dawson was seventeen years old when he enlisted in the navy on 14 April 1943 in his hometown of Washington, D.C. While most of the millions of Americans who enlisted or were drafted to serve during World War II signed on for "the duration plus six months," Dawson enlisted for a "minority cruise"—agreeing to serve until he was twenty-one years old.
From the date of his enlistment until his arrival back in Honolulu after nearly two years in the South Pacific, Dawson kept a carefully printed log of his travels. Here is the story of his experience, a view of war from the vantage point of a young and very junior enlisted man, interspersed with entries from his diary:
I joined the navy on April 14, 1943, when I was seventeen, for a minority cruise. You get out when you're twenty-one. I was waiting at Bainbridge, Maryland, to go to submarine school when two officers gave a speech about a new outfit. Another fellow and I figured this was a chance to get out of there [waiting to go to sub school].
We went up to volunteer but they told us the place was closed. They had over five hundred applicants. So we went around back, piled up some crates, climbed in the window, and got at the end of the line. We filled out the applications. The officer asked us a bunch of questions.
One question I asked was, "Is there any chance of getting in submarines after I take this training?" He didn't think so. Well, that's come to pass. The SEALs operate out of submarines all the time now.
They picked forty-two men out of the five hundred that applied and we were two of them.
There were thirty-six Seabees and forty-two of us navy men from Bainbridge, with officers from the Mine Disposal School in Washington, D.C., along with Commander Kauffman.
Draper L. Kauffman, an Annapolis graduate who served with both the French and British in the early days of World War II, before the U.S. became involved, established a bomb disposal school in Washington, D.C., in 1942 and, in June 1943, set up another school at Fort Pierce, Florida, to train members of what became naval combat demolition units and underwater demolition teams.
We went to Fort Pierce in July 1943 and went through training in July and August. We had quite a training. Commander Kauffman trained right along with us when he wasn't in Washington. The men liked him pretty well.
Down there in Florida, they weeded out some of the men in training. Many a time I wanted to lie down and cry but the sand flies and mosquitoes wouldn't let me. Lots of times when we were swimming, the sea nettles were so bad we were pulling guys out of the water. I was a lifeguard on one of the rubber boats. Guys were screaming. They were great big, hard jellyfish, thousands of them. We didn't have any rubber suits or any equipment.
Originally, we came out of Fort Pierce with five men and an officer. Quite a few of the men I trained with in the first class at Fort Pierce went to Normandy. Three units in our group stayed and went to Europe. We were lucky to go to the Pacific.
We went to California and were sent to different places. Lieutenant Kaine was our officer. Our two units—Units Two and Three—stayed together and they sent us to the southwest Pacific. [Dawson's diary lists the members of Unit Two, commanded by Kaine, as himself, William J. Armstrong, Alan H. Pierce, Dillard J. Williams, and Jonny N. Wilhide. Members of Unit Three, commanded by Lt. Lloyd G. Anderson, were Cornelius C. DeVries, Harrison G. Eskridge, Edward A. Messall, Sam Pandopony, and James D. Sandy.]
We went all through New Guinea, the Philippine Islands, and Borneo and made twelve different operations. Some of the other units went to different parts of the Pacific and merged with the UDT teams. They had eighty men and fifteen officers. We stayed individual units—five men and an officer, a total of twelve men. I don't know of any others that stayed individual units.
It's funny, now the SEALs are back to operating in squads. [A SEAL team is made up often platoons of sixteen men, divided into two squads of eight men. However, for certain operations, larger units are employed.]
We were called naval combat demolition units. We never became underwater demolition teams.
We went directly to the Pacific from California. We boarded ship on November 3, 1943, at Port Hueneme with two hundred tons of TNT on board. We left Hueneme on the Frank C. Emerson, a Liberty ship. We crossed the equator, crossed the international date line, and arrived in Brisbane [Australia] on December 26.
I didn't keep track [in the diary] of the various jobs we did because everything was top secret. But I have all the dates of where we went and when we went.
When we left Australia, we went to Milne Bay [New Guinea]. We were under a marine colonel who sent us on a thirty-six-mile hike through the jungles to keep us in training.
The first operation we went on was in the Admiralty Islands [in the South Pacific north of New Guinea]. We went ashore with the army and slept in foxholes for a night or two. We lined the foxholes with bangalore torpedoes, if you want to believe that, to keep the sand from coming in on us. We had what we called "Washing Machine Charlie," who used to come over every night, same time, right on schedule, and drop a couple of bombs. We used to kid, if he hit us, we'd wave as we passed over the States.
Dawson made the following succinct diary entry:
April 22. Arrived at Aitape, saw plenty of action.
Then we went over to the harbor and blasted a coral reef out of the channel coming in to the big harbor there. We had to knock the top off the coral reef so the deeper drafted ships could get in.
We were diving in about twenty feet of water with shallow diving gear.
We had training at Fort Pierce with the Momsen lung, which was used for escaping from a submarine. When we went overseas, we had rebreathers.
The rebreathers were a canvas rig that came down over your head, front, and back, with a full face mask. It was a self-contained breathing apparatus. It had a tank of oxygen and a tank of lime. The lime would help repurify the air. You would give yourself a shot of oxygen every so often as you needed it. We could stay down half an hour, three quarters of an hour, depending on how hard you were breathing.
We also had a mask and hand pump. They could pump air to you from the surface. We used those a couple of times.
We used the rebreathers for diving on those coral reefs in the Admiralty Islands. The coral reef dropped off to sixty fathoms on both sides. Looking down, it got pretty dark down there. The current, coming in and out of the inlet, would kind of move you over to the edge once in a while. It would shake you up a little bit.
We were using a lot of bangalore torpedoes, in boxes. And the rubber hose. We used that to more or less blow everything even. We set like four tons a shot. We'd get these boxes laid on the coral reef and we could step from box to box to keep from sinking into the coral.
A couple of times, I must have been getting low on oxygen, I thought I saw different things under the water, like coral snakes and rays swimming around. But I couldn't swear to it.
Did you see sharks when swimming with lungs?
Not too much. But there were sharks in the water. We threw grenades and everything else trying to run them off. In the water, you could see a hundred feet.
It was beautiful, with the coral reef and the tropical fish. When we got to the Philippines, it started getting murky and hard to see.
I never worried too much about what was in the water, for some reason. We knew there were sharks and octopus and stingrays or manta rays, because we'd see 'em. I never gave too much thought about sharks bothering us. We were very fortunate.
We were swimming off the side of the ship one day. The current was pretty swift. This officer came out and had a pretty blue elastic bathing suit on.
I said, "Why don't you go in?"
He said, "I can't swim."
I said, "Hell, don't worry about it. We'll pull you out."
He dove over and he couldn't swim a stroke. I looked at this other fellow and we both went in at the same time, one on each side. We had a hell of a time getting back to the ship with that current. We got him out and he never so much as thanked us. I don't know what the hell he was thinking about but he took us at our word.
One of our shots didn't go off one day. We went out in the rubber boat. I was one of the better divers, the swimmers. So they gave me the job of making a straight dive with a rope line to go down and wrap the rope around the explosive hose so we could pull it up and recap it. Well, just before I went off the boat, this sea snake came by. He was as big around as the rubber hose and half as long. They were thirty-foot sections if I remember right. He was about half as long as that hose. I looked at that snake and the guys looked at me and I looked at them. Well, I went off and got it done, but I wasn't feeling too easy about it.
We laid our explosive on the coral reef and blew two or three shots in the couple —two or three—days we were out there.
We killed a mess of jewfish [a name given to several species of very large fish found in warm seas]. The first blast we set off, we killed a small one. We took it in to the army. They told us they would take all of them we could get because they were good eating.
So we set off about a four-ton blast. And we killed about a dozen of these jewfish. I understand they are deep sea fish. They looked like a regular scale fish that someone had stuck an air hose in and blew them up. We took three of them in to the beach, lowered the ramp on the landing craft, and pulled them in.
They took an army truck, with an A-frame hoist on the back, and it pulled one of them to the top of the frame. His tail was still on the ground. They told us they fed over nine hundred men with that one fish.
The other two fed the whole Seabee battalion. Everyone was eating rations [packaged C- or K-rations similar to today's meals, ready-to-eat (MREs)]. Those boys were glad to get that fresh fish!
Was your landing opposed by the Japanese?
The Japs still had the island but the landing itself wasn't that bad. There was fighting going on but we were fortunate none of us got hurt.
Did you reconnoiter the beach before the landing?
No. We just went in on the beach in an LST [landing ship, tank]. Later on, we did recon on different jobs.
Did the army know what you were supposed to be doing?
Not really. We operated under secret orders for damn near two years. I guess only the top brass really knew who we were and what our job was supposed to be.
Because when we talked to people, they didn't know what we were or who we were or anything else. It was kept secret pretty well.
Reportedly, Kaine was called to brief General MacArthur personally.
Kaine was called before most of our ops. Where he went and who he went to see, I couldn't tell you. Then he'd come back and he had our orders.
What was your understanding of your job?
We knew exactly what we were supposed to do from our training in Florida.
Our training covered disposing of all obstacles, sand bars, or anything like that.
We even had training in mines and booby traps, disassembling or trying to locate them.
All we wore was trunks and we did have these canvas jungle boots. They even did away with those later on. They had rubber soles. We used them for diving because the coral would cut you. If it was real bad coral, we would wear our pants and tuck 'em in. Sometimes you'd sink in coral up to your knees, laying explosives. The main thing was trunks, boots, and a knife strapped to us was all we had.
We actually didn't run into too many obstacles in the water other than sand bars and coral reefs until later on in the Philippines and Borneo. We ran into obstacles in Borneo and worked with some of the Australian demolition teams.
From the Admiralty Islands, the frogmen moved west to the island of Biak in what is now Indonesia in LCI-448, a large landing ship. The diary records frequent air raids:
May 27. Arrived Biak, 2 air raids, 5 Jap planes.
May 28. Biak, 2 air raids. One Billy Mitchel.
May 29. Biak, 2 air raids, 2 Jap planes, L.C.I. 448 got one.
May 30. Biak, 2 air raids, 1 Jap plane shot down.
May 31. Biak, 2 air raids, 2 Jap planes shot down.
June 1. Finished Blasting Channel, 2 air raids, bombing at night.
June 2. Three air raids, 10 planes shot down, "Jap," L.C.I. 448 got one.
June 3. 2 air raids, dive bombers. Jest missed can. One man killed.
June 4. Jap task force headed this way, Biak, two air raids, night bombing, our force arrived.
June 5. 2 air raids, early morning bombing. Left Biak, ship slightly damaged.
Did you ever see MacArthur?
I took a picture of him and his crew. But when I changed my scrapbook, that picture got away from me.
We were in the Philippines before he was. We went in three or four days before D day and made a recon of the beach, checked the depth of the water.
The frogmen left Hollandia 13 October in a 130-ship convoy, headed toward the Philippines. The diary records the landing there:
Oct. 20. Made reconnaissance of beach. Arrived in San Pedro Bay at dawn, landing made on Leyte, L.C.I. 71 and 72 hit from beach. Philippines.
We were walking up the damn beach after one of our recons—on Leyte—and firing started. Christ, I buried my nose in the sand, I'll tell you. I wanted to dig a hole. When the army hit the beach, they passed by all these pillboxes. And the Japs were still in them. They just went right by them and the Japs opened up. We were walking down the beach after checking the depth of the water. This was about the same time they hit the beach. We were in the water taking soundings and the army hit the beach and we came up out of the water and started walking up the beach and they started shooting.
Did the Japanese fire at you while you were in the water?
Occasionally. There were places where we went in with explosives on our rubber boats—explosive hose, bangalore torpedoes—and snipers fired at us. You could only stay underwater so long. Sometimes we actually hid behind a rubber boat of explosives. There was nowhere else to hide, I tell you.
One operation we were supposed to go on in the Philippines when they were getting ready to invade Manila. We were supposed to take a PT boat down one night. They picked six of us out. We were all ready to go. This PT boat was going to take us in to the harbor in Manila and drop us off. There were some pontoons and cables and buoys and they thought maybe it was a submarine net. And we were going to blow the pontoons and such, drop the cable on the bottom, if that's what it was.
But the PT boat we were supposed to go on made a run on the beach earlier and got all shot up. So they canceled that trip for us.
Were you attacked by enemy planes?
We were attacked a number of times by planes, in convoys and in the harbors, especially in the Philippines. When we got up to the Philippines—all through the Philippines—the Jap suicide planes, the kamikaze, they'd come in and pick out the biggest ship and head straight for it. We knocked a few of them out of the air. I had the job of painting them on the conning tower when we shot a plane down.
The APD [a destroyer converted for use as a small troop carrier] we were on going to Lingayen Gulf had three Jap planes come in, using us as a shield. They came in real low on the water. Just before they got to us, they had to go up to go over us. They were trying to get to the carriers, the bigger ships. They weren't interested in the guys running on the sides of the convoy, like us. But we shot all three of them down and one of them almost got us, almost crash-dived us. In Lingayen Gulf, they were just shooting them down all over the place.
Dawson's diary records a hectic period when the American ships were battered by air attacks, gunfire from the shore, and typhoons:
Oct 24. One air raid after another, (L.C.I. 1065 sunk.) (LCI. 65 crashed by plane.) (Tug sunk.) 29 Jap planes shot down. Think we got one.
Oct. 26. Air raids all day. Bombing and strafing. Big naval battle.
Oct. 27. Seven air raids. Liberty hit by crashdive. Total Jap planes to date 200.
Excerpted from Never Fight Fair! by Orr Kelly. Copyright © 1995 Orr Kelly. Excerpted by permission of OPEN ROAD INTEGRATED MEDIA.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
Table of Contents
Introduction SEALs: What Makes Them Tick?,
PART 1 THE EARLY DAYS,
Chapter 1 MacArthur's Frogmen,
Chapter 2 UDT Sixteen—A Bum Rap?,
Chapter 3 Fishnets in Korea,
Chapter 4 The Iceberg Caper,
Chapter 5 Big War in a Small Place,
PART 2 THE GLORY DAYS,
Chapter 6 Welcome Back for Gemini,
Chapter 7 Alone in the Mid-Atlantic,
Chapter 8 First Men from the Moon,
Chapter 9 Unlucky Thirteen,
PART 3 FROGMEN IN VIETNAM,
Chapter 10 Good Fun in North Vietnam,
Chapter 11 Operation Jackstay,
Chapter 12 "Heaviest Load I've Ever Carried",
PART 4 THE SEALs' WAR,
Chapter 13 A Greek Tragedy,
Chapter 14 A Narrow Escape,
Chapter 15 First Blood for Squad 2-Bravo,
Chapter 16 The Bullfrog,
Chapter 17 More VC than You'll Ever Want,
Chapter 18 "My Worst Disaster",
Chapter 19 The Sting,
Chapter 20 Like a Shooting Gallery,
Chapter 22 Blowing Bunkers,
Chapter 23 "Something's Happened to Mike",
Chapter 24 "I Don't Want You Operating ...",
Chapter 25 They Called It Bright Light,
Chapter 26 A Taste for Ears,
Chapter 27 "Vous les Américains Sont Pires que les Français",
PART 5 SEALs UNDER THE SEAS,
Chapter 28 "Dead Before Sunrise",
Chapter 29 One of Our Dolphins (SDVs) Is Missing,
Chapter 30 Blocking Haiphong Harbor,
Chapter 31 Operation Thunderhead,
Chapter 32 "An Electrical Shock ...",
Chapter 33 Target: Libya,
Chapter 34 Shadowing the Achille Lauro,
Chapter 35 A World-Class Swim,
PART 6 SEALs FROM THE SKIES,
Chapter 36 A Shocking Takeoff,
Chapter 37 "I Started to Black Out",
Chapter 38 "Your Adrenaline Pumps",
Chapter 39 "I'm Going to Jump",
Chapter 40 "I Hated Every One ...",
Chapter 41 When Your Eyes Freeze Shut,
PART 7 SEALs IN ACTION,
Chapter 42 Jump into a Dark Sea,
Chapter 43 A Beautiful Day to Go to War,
PART 8 THE INNOVATORS,
Chapter 44 Birth of the STAB,
Chapter 45 Dogs on Patrol,
Chapter 46 What Do You Wear to War?,
Chapter 47 SEALs: A New Generation,
Chapter 48 Letting Go,
About the Author,