Preserving Their Legacy
A look inside the only museum dedicated to the history of Navy SEALs and their predecessors
Almost four decades ago, retired Navy Capt. (SEAL) Norman Olson spearheaded establishment of the only museum dedicated to the history of Navy SEALs.
In Fort Pierce, Florida - the World War II training grounds for underwater demolition teams (UDTs), or "frogmen," as they are commonly referred to - the retired SEAL turned a 1981 proposal into reality by opening the National Navy UDT-SEAL Museum on Veterans Day in 1985.
"The original building, the World War II section, that was it back in the day," Executive Director and retired Master Chief Boatswain's Mate (SEAL) Rick Kaiser said during an interview. "It was a Mel Fisher Treasure Museum, and it got broken into in the '70s and was vacant. There were a couple team guys that were around, and they talked the county into turning it into a Navy SEAL museum. That's what happened in 1985 and it's been going strong ever since."
Since then, the museum has more than doubled in size and includes outdoor exhibits such as patrol boats, SEAL delivery vehicles and an obstacle course. It has grown so much, in fact, that an act of Congress formally recognized the National Navy UDT-SEAL Museum as a national museum in 2007.
In 2010, it also became home to the Navy SEAL Memorial, which contains more than 300 names and a statue of a modern combat swimmer, and stands as the only memorial dedicated solely to SEALs and frogmen who lost their lives in combat or training. Also in 2012, museum staff established the Trident House Charities Program that provides scholarships for children of the SEAL community, a respite home for families of SEALs killed in the line of duty, a K-9 project that donates service dogs to former SEALs, and assistance with the medical needs of active-duty SEALs, veterans and their families that are not covered by federal funding.
The museum's growth over the last 33 years hasn't come without difficulty. The Navy SEALs are among the most private of any group throughout the Department of Defense. Their missions are highly classified, and only those with a proper security clearance and a need to know are privy to information regarding their training methods, the equipment they use, and their global operations.
"We're not supposed to be a very open group," Kaiser said. "We're supposed to be quiet professionals. But nowadays, between the movies, and the TV shows and the books, it's just all out there. So, I have a very fine line to walk between educating the public, which is my job, and just trying to keep us undercover."
When it comes to both educating the public on the SEAL community and maintaining anonymity, Kaiser feels he and his staff have been very successful. After almost 40 years, the original idea of establishing a museum dedicated to SEALs and the frogmen before them continues to flourish, with more and more visitors making the trek each year to the original training grounds of the World War II-era UTDs.