|A CURSOR INTERNET EXCLUSIVE
Jesse "The Great Pretender" Ventura?
Page 2: What's the difference
Here's a mini-dump on the distinctive origins and missions of these organizations.
UDTs had their genesis following the U.S. Marine invasion of Tarawa. The invasion beaches were ringed with underwater coral formations hidden from the Marines. Landing craft slammed into the coral and took deadly fire from the Japanese. Many Marines drowned as they attempted to reach shore more than half a mile away.
After Tarawa, the Navy established UDTs to conduct preinvasion, hydrographic reconnaissance from the 3 1/2-fathom curve to the high-water line. The UDTs located and destroyed man-made and natural obstacles that threatened a landing. You may have seen the romanticized version of UDTs at work in films such as The Frogmen, starring Richard Widmark. Jesse says this is one of his favorite movies.
The Navy drew its UDTs from Naval Combat Demolition Units. These units probably had more strategic impact than SEALs and UDTs combined in any war: they cleared Normandy beaches before the invasion and took nearly 80 percent casualties.
SEALs trace their origin to a WWII Navy commando unit called Scouts and Raiders. This unit recruited from college and professional athletic teams. Scouts and Raiders operated primarily in Europe and North Africa collecting beach and hinterland intel. Scouts and Raiders also attacked enemy coastal targets. They were not joined at the hip with the Marines, as were the UDTs.
My first boss in the Navy was Phil Bucklew, the most famous Scout and Raider of them all. Bucklew was a thrice-passed-over commander on the brink of forced retirement when, as a fresh-caught ensign, I reported aboard an obscure amphibious staff to work for him.
At six-four or so and going maybe 250, Bucklew was every bit as scary looking as Jesse. Bucklew had played pro football as a fullback for Cleveland before War Two, as he called it. But I never saw him lift weights or snarl at anyone. The guy used to grin and laugh a lot. Maybe because he saw the humor in having been passed over in favor of midgets. I mean, here's a guy who was drenched in medals like Navy Crosses and Silver Stars and had a Ph.D. in education from Columbia. Passed over in favor of midgets, but absolutely no bitterness or vanity in the man, just lots of charismatic humor.
And, oh, the places he'd gone and the stories he'd tell. Like the intel trek across China, being handed off from one partisan group to another, checking out Japanese fortifications along the way. Owing to his size and inability to speak Chinese, the partisans disguised him as a deaf mute.
Yes, he told magnificent stories, which had much to do with my becoming a SEAL. But Phil Bucklew never wrote a book. Or inhaled steroids.
Bucklew was rescued from forced retirement when President Kennedy championed unconventional warfare to counter communist guerrilla "wars of national liberation." Kennedy resurrected the Army's Special Forces and ordered the Navy to commission a force of commandos called Sea-Air-Land (SEAL) Teams. The acronym represented the elements through which the commandos could assault or recon their targets. Two teams of 10 officers and 50 enlisted were drawn from experienced members of UDTs 11 and 12 stationed in Coronado and UDTs 21 and 22 in Little Creek, Virginia. All the frogmen were volunteers and only the best needed to apply. The SEAL Teams more than doubled in size during the Vietnam War.
The Navy promoted Bucklew to captain and placed him in overall command of SEAL Team One and UDTs 11 and 12. His staff was first designated Naval Operations Support Group One and later became Naval Special Warfare Group One.
Trainees for the SEALs and UDTs completed the same fabled basic course conducted on the Strand; however, during and after the Vietnam War, SEALs underwent specialized training at such places as the U.S. Army Ranger and Special Forces schools. Frogmen never went near Rangers or Snake-eaters.
The difference in training reflected the difference in missions: SEALs in platoons of 12 to 14 men went looking for the VC and NVA in the swamps, paddies, and jungles of Vietnam; UDTs in platoons of 22 men conducted hydrographic recons in advance of actual or anticipated Marine amphibious landings. Most of these recons were "admin," or unopposed by the enemy. UDTs mainly floated around the South China Sea on ships with Marine battalion landing teams as part of what's called an amphibious ready group or ARG.
In recognition of the differing missions, the Navy classified frogmen as "5321s" and SEALs as "5326s." The SEALs and frogmen also had different unit cartoon totems: Freddie the Frog and Sammy the Seal.
These are not distinctions without differences. No one from UDT during the Vietnam War would dare misrepresent himself as a SEAL. Consider this: SEAL Team One, with roughly the same number of men as UDT 12, had 34 killed during the war. I knew many of them. UDT 12 lost but a single man. 34:1.
This is not to say frogmen couldn't acquit themselves just as bravely as SEALs during those very rare times they found themselves in the shit. Although UDTs deployed to Subic and primarily embarked aboard Navy ships as part of the ARG, they would also send small units to operate out of Da Nang and a Navy base on the Ca Mau Peninsula called Sea Float and later Solid Anchor. This base was at the mouth of the Cua Long River near the Nam Can Forest - a very hot area. The few frogs temporarily stationed in Nam had the primary mission of blowing up abandoned enemy bunkers and other fortifications. Much larger Army and Marine forces secured the area while the frogs did their demo work.
On two such operations, however, members of UDT 12 encountered the VC and reacted with stunning courage. On 21 January 1970, Chief Hospital Corpsman Donel Kinnard led an assault that saved his men from being overrun by the VC. He killed an enemy officer in hand-to-hand combat and was awarded the Navy Cross. A week later, Chief Shipfitter Guy Stone assaulted an enemy ambush and killed several VC. He was also awarded the Navy Cross. (Stony had been a SEAL for many years before joining UDT.) You can read about these isolated instances of UDT 12 combat in SEALs: UDT/SEAL Operations in Vietnam, by T. L. Bosiljevac. You can also read many, many more accounts of SEAL combat actions in this fact-packed book written by an active-duty SEAL officer. But don't expect much analysis or critical comment.
So was Jesse a SEAL or a UDT guy? And if a UDT guy, had he been in the shit?
Jesse graduated with BUD/S class 58 in December 1970, about a year after Stony and Kinnard churched those VC in the Nam Can Forest. Jesse predictably dwells on the excruciating pain trainees must endure to prove themselves. He tells an oft-told tale of petty cruelty by an instructor. If a trainee had loose skin from torn blisters on his hands, the instructor would rip the skin away from one hand and order the trainee to do the same to the other. The instructor called this loose skin "flappers."
But Jesse makes no distinction between those trainees who went to SEAL Teams and those who went to UDTs. He claims to have been a SEAL, as in these observations about going to Army Airborne School at Fort Benning immediately after BUD/S.
"[Airborne instructors] make you drop for push-ups whenever they drop one SEAL, we all drop." (p. 73)
"The second night we were [at Fort Benning], we snuck out and climbed up their water tower with a can of spray paint, and painted 'SEAL Team One' on the side." (p. 73)
There it is: Jesse was in SEAL Team One. He speaks of his pride as a SEAL: "We're a proud organization. If anyone tries to pretend they're a SEAL, God help them. You have to earn the right to be a SEAL warrior." (p. 81)
But Jesse confuses things by making a single reference, among all the SEAL prattle, to his service in UDT 12: "[After BUD/S] we were sent to our teams. I was part of Underwater Demolition Team 12." (p. 71)
That's it. Nothing more about UDT. Only SEALs.
Contact Cursor editor for more information on this story.
©Bill Salisbury, used with permission.