The Men Behind The Trident: SEAL Team One In Vietnam by Dennis Cummings.

Book Review: The Men Behind The Trident: SEAL Team One In Vietnam

19 March 2006

Kenn Miller

Back when BTL was a new publication, I reviewed Daryl Young's The Element of Surprise, and if I remember correctly, I lamented the fact that there were so few books out about the Navy Seals. Things sure have changed since then. The eagle, anchor, flintlock and trident Naval Special Warfare badge, otherwise know as the Budweiser, seems to be appearing on a new book cover every week.

The latest of these is Dennis Cummings' book Men Behind the Trident. Like most books about Vietnam era SEALs, it deals with SEAL Team One, and only mentions SEAL Team Two in passing. Among the SEAL Team One veterans featured in this book are such men as Barry Enoch and “Moki” Martin – and any book with them has to be worth reading. On one hypercritical level, the title is a little misleading because most of the activity recalled in this book took place before the Budweiser trident badge was even designed, much less authorized. That's real nit picking on my part. The Men Behind the Trident is a much better title than The Men Behind the Gold Navy Jump Wings would be better, and more descriptive of the contents.

This is a book about – and to some extent by – men who were members of SEAL Team One during the Vietnam War. What Dennis Cummings has done is break down some of the reticence that has traditionally kept SEALs from talking about their service to outsiders. Each of the chapters is given over to one or another former SEAL, and they are allowed to tell pretty much whatever story they chose to tell. Cummings has edited the stories and mildly rewritten them for the sake of coherence – which all authors of books based upon interviews must do if they intend to produce a readable book – but he does not change the meat of the stories very much, if at all. This is both good and bad. Although the material itself is intrinsically interesting, not all of the stories are. The problem does not seem to be with Cummings' writing (or editing), as much as it is rather mechanical way some of these SEALs remember their experiences. On the other hand, some of the stories are very good. What you're getting here is, the men behind the trident. Some tell their stories well and some not so well. They are still honest stories worth reading. And as an added attraction, there are not too many Buds stories. It used to be that every Marine Corps book had its obligatory boot camp chapter. Now it seems that every SEAL book devotes a section to BUDS. The Men Behind the Trident doesn't ignore the fact that these men went through a serious gut check just earning their way onto the teams, but it doesn't dwell on it, and that's a welcome change.

One of the things that comes through strongly in this book – from the author's dedication to the stated concerns of many of the SEALs themselves – is the need for today's SEALs to know about the lessons learned by earlier generations. One of the SEALs – I've forgotten who – makes it clear that he doesn't expect today's SEALs to do things the way they were done in the past, but he does want the hard learned lessons to be remembered. I think this is important and the stress put on this point in The Men Behind the Trident is admirable.

Still, I've got some complaints. First of all, I've been reading too many SEAL books lately, and not enough of them have the underwater stuff I want. I want to read about submarine lockouts, SDV insertions, and re-breather. Now, I know it's unfair to fault a book about SEAL Team One's operations in Vietnam for not supplying all this, because SEAL Team One wasn't doing much of this in Vietnam, but I'm going to complain about it anyway. Secondly, I am tired of Vietnam books that don't contain any good R&R stories. Sure, I've written two Vietnam War books that don't have any R&R stories, so I'm as guilty as anyone else. But I still reserve the right to complain about it.

And finally, I've got to complain about the fact that BTL Executive Editor Gary Linderer keeps sending me good books, like this one, to read, when what I want is to review bad books that I can gleefully trash. There are supposed to be a few ridiculously bogus Naval Special Operations books out there, absurd fantasies masquerading as truth, but does Gary let me review them? No, damn it! He keeps sending me honest, worthwhile books like Dennis Cummings' The Men Behind the Trident… If BTL had a union, I'd be complaining to the shop steward.

The Men Behind The Trident: SEAL Team One In Vietnam is available from (affiliate link)

This article was originally published in Behind The Lines magazine. has reproduced this article with the kind permission of Gary Linderer.

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