SEALs, UDT, Frogmen: Men Under Pressure
21 November 2005
A couple of years ago, after reading his first book, THE ELEMENT OF SURPRISE
, I asked Darryl Young why he didn't write a book about his UDT tour, and if I remember correctly, he said that compared to his tour with SEAL Team One, his UDT tour had been too dull to merit a book. I grumbled a little about how I wanted to read something about frogmen actually doing some operational swimming, and he told me not to worry, he'd get a little of that in his next book.
And with a little help from his friends, in this second book he has. SEALs, UDT, FROGMEN is a compilation of true stories of Navy frogmen, and there's plenty of swimming in this book – including a couple of Young's own stories. More than half the stories are about World War Two operations, and back then, Navy frogmen didn't have much of an across-the-beach mission. I had a general sort of idea what the frogmen did in WWII, but it wasn't until reading this book that I actually got a feel for what life was like in the early NCDUs and UDTs. Here are some of the old frogs telling their stories, and I enjoyed almost every one of them. From one or two of these stories, I got the impression that Hell Week might not have been quite as hellish then as it became later, but that impression might very well be a mistaken one. NCDU and UDT duty in WWII seems to have been every bit as dangerous as anything the UDT and SEAL teams have done since. Judging by casualty figures alone, it was apparently more so.
There are plenty of stories about operations far beyond the beaches in this book – including one very good story about a training mission in the desert and mountains of southern California. The quality of the stories varies because some men are good storytellers and some men aren't. There are a couple of dull stories in this book and the tiresome repetition of Basic UDT training stories began to remind me of the way Marine writers traditionally fall back on boot camp stories to explain what makes them special. Still, there is a good number of exiting stories here. Most of them are interesting, and one or two are downright moving.
The most moving story in the book is the one where Tim Reeves remembers his buddy, Dwight Fisher, who becomes a paraplegic after an accident on the obstacle course, and struggles to live fully and independently, despite his injuries. It is a very sad and moving story about friendship, determination and eventual defeat, and if it doesn't put a lump in your throat, you either don't have a throat, or you don't have a heart.
Not all the stories in this book are about war – and that's good. Special operations types live dangerous, demanding and often exciting lives between wars, and the best military stories aren't always, strictly speaking, war stories. However, there is one thing this book is missing, and that's stories from the Korean War. It was not the formation on the Sea Air Land teams in 1962 that gave Navy Special Warfare its first serious inland missions. It was the Korean War, and it's a big disappointment not to see any Korean War UDT stories in this book. Our military might be headed for a return engagement in Korea before long and there seems to be a lot of interest in the first Korean War among the guys in the service now. I'm not the only guy to read this book and wonder why there aren't any stories about Korea. If I was a Korean War veteran, I imagine I'd be a little offended at having my war overlooked. It's a real shame when you figure the part the Korean War played in expanding the UDT mission in the direction of today's SEAL teams. I know Korea's the “Forgotten War”. But forgotten in the UDT book? Could this be due to some sort of institutional taboo us Army guys wouldn't understand? Recon Marines and Navy frogmen seem to have a weird relationship, a rivalry hinged back and forth with equal measures of polite contempt and grudging admiration, and maybe it embarrasses them both to reflect on the fact that they've done some of their best work tighter. That's the only explanation I can come up with for leaving Korea out of this book.
Buy SEALs, UDT, Frogmen: Men Under Pressure
This article was originally published in Behind The Lines magazine. VietnamGear.com has reproduced this article with the kind permission of Gary Linderer.
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