Due to their clandestine nature, few know how the U.S. Navy SEALs (Sea, Air, and Land) became the widely known and feared warriors they are today. This famous cadre grew from humble beginnings
on the beaches of Fort Pierce, Florida, to warriors tasked with some of the most high-risk missions known in history.
The Vietnam War
-President John F. Kennedy sent helicopters and Special Forces to South Vietnam and authorized secret operations against the Viet Cong (VC) guerillas in May 1961.
The following year, SEAL Team ONE deployed Chief Petty Officer Robert Sullivan and Chief Petty Officer Charles Raymond to South Vietnam to take initial surveys and prepare to train South Vietnamese in the tactics, techniques and procedures of maritime commandos
-By mid-1968, SEALs carried out both day and night ambushes, reconnaissance patrols and special intelligence collection operations. The VC feared and put bounties on the heads of the “men with green faces,” so called because of their face camouflage.
-Fifteen U.S. Navy personnel, including three SEALs, received Medals of Honor for gallantry and bravery above and beyond the call of duty during the Vietnam War, including Petty Officer 2nd Class Michael E. Thornton.
On his last tour in Vietnam, in Oct. 1972, Thornton saved the life of his senior officer during an intelligence gathering and prisoner capture operation. His small team, including two other SEALs and three South Vietnamese commandos, was discovered by a North Vietnamese Army force and came under heavy fire. During the firefight that followed, he was badly wounded. Thornton ran into enemy fire to retrieve SEAL Lt. Thomas Norris and dragged him to a beach, inflated his life vest, and swam with Norris down a river for two hours before they were rescued by a comrade in a support craft.
-SEALs developed hit-and-run air-assault tactics using Army and Navy helicopters. In fact, Helicopter Attack (Light) Squadron THREE (HAL-3) — “Seawolves”
— was the only rapid reaction armed helicopter squadron ever commissioned in the U.S. Navy. The squadron provided quick reaction close-air support to Navy craft, as well as armed reconnaissance and fire support for the SEALs.
-SEALs also supported riverine patrols, which grew into three specialized Navy task forces
—Task Force 115 (Coastal Surveillance), Task Force 116 (River Patrol), and Task Force 117 (River Assault) — totaling more than 700 craft and 38,000 men.
-By the time they left Vietnam, SEALs had been credited with some 600 VC kills, as well as hundreds of captures and detentions. SEALs gained reputations as both fearsome and extraordinary warriors, morphing from a reactive force to elite warfare experts.
-Between 1965 and 1972, 46 SEALs
were killed in Vietnam.