Thursday, February 9, 2012


In January of this year, 2012,  the U.S. Navy SEALs (SEa, Air, Land) had their 50th anniversary. While the commemorations were mostly low-key, a variety of recent events have made for much news coverage and a plethora of books and movies being produced about the legendary SEAL Teams.

Image from Act of Valor

Before the establishment of the SEALs, the Navy developed UDT (Underwater Demolition Teams) as a means of special warfare. As explained in an article by Lieutenant James J. Ritter:

"Early in 1943, the U. S. Navy not only lacked hydrographic information on enemy beaches from the three-fathom curve inshore, but it also had no knowledge of heavy fortifications which had been built by both the Germans and Japanese in and near the beaches suitable for amphibious operations.  The necessity of breaching these fortifications resulted in the formation of Naval Combat Demolition Units—NCDUs.  Their primary mission was to demolish any obstacle that would hazard landing craft.  It was initially envisioned that this job could be done almost completely by working on the beach during low tide with covering naval gunfire support overhead.  In practice, however, there was not sufficient time to complete the assigned tasks.  Worse, the personnel were often exposed to devastating small arms fire from the beach defenses.  After D-Day at Normandy, the NCDUs were reformed into larger Underwater Demolition Teams and transferred to the Pacific to assist in the island invasions against Japan."

Members of the Navy's Underwater Demolition Teams are shown above
off the coast of Borneo during the WWII Battle of Balikpapan in 1945

UDT in Korea, 1950.

The establishment of the SEALs came later, as explained by the Naval Special Warfare Command Public Affairs Office:

"In response to the demand for a maritime special operator, Chief of Naval Operations, Adm. Arleigh A. Burke authorized the creation of the first two SEAL teams Jan, 1, 1962. SEAL Team 1 was established in San Diego, Calif. to support the Pacific Fleet. The team was established under the command of Lt. David Del Giudice. SEAL Team 2 was established in Little Creek, Va., to support the Atlantic Fleet. SEAL 2 was under the command of Lt. John Callahan. These first two SEAL teams were commissioned with a complement of 10 officers and 50 enlisted men taken from the ranks of the Navy's Underwater Demolition teams who made their mark in World War II and Korea investigating and removing all obstacles, both natural and manmade from beach landing locations."

Shortly after establishment of the teams, the inaugural class of Navy SEALs took to the jungles of Vietnam for reconnaissance, ambush, captures, raids, POW recovery, and other innovative and offensive efforts to disrupt Viet Cong and North Vietnamese Army operations and infrastructure. The teams were among the most decorated units in the Vietnam War."

The modern world has seen ever-increasing uses for the techniques of special operations, and the SEALs in particular, from hostage rescues to the elimination of terrorist leaders. Many books have been written over the last few decades about special warfare. The Coronado Public Library has been working jointly with retired Navy SEAL and Special Warfare historian Roger Clapp to develop a special collection of books about special operations and the Navy UDT and SEAL teams in particular. Because of the SEAL training facilities in Coronado, this has been deemed to be of particular relevance. New acquisitions for this collection have been funded by the Friends of the Coronado Public Library. Currently the Coronado Library has some 145 books on special operations covering various branches and time-periods. See the book list here.

Author and retired Navy Captain George Galdorisi.

Co-author of the book novelization of Act of Valor, George Galdorisi, spoke at the Coronado Library on Friday evening, February 17, 2012. Capt. Galdorisi, USN ret'd, talked about the book and his involvement along with Dick Couch, author and former SEAL in this project. He has previously spoken at the Coronado Library on combat search and rescue and his book, Leave No Man Behind. This will be a very special occasion and should be a very popular event.

A Special Warfare Combatant-Craft Crewman (SWCC) assigned to Special Boat Team (SBT) 20 navigates a rigid-hull inflatable boat while SEALs from a West Coast based SEAL team board a yacht for a scene in the upcoming film Act of Valor. U.S. Navy photo by Chief Mass Communication Specialist Kathryn Whittenberger
The movie Act of Valor has been four years in the making, which included documentary style film-making with Navy SEAL training operations. The film was produced and directed by the "Bandito Brothers," Mike “Mouse” McCoy and Scott Waugh, and distributed by Relativity Media.   Several scenes were filmed in Coronado and North Island. as well as in many other locales. Nine active duty SEALs were used along with actors. Written publicity about the movie, states: "An unprecedented blend of real-life heroism and original filmmaking, “Act of Valor” stars a group of active-duty Navy SEALs in a powerful story of contemporary global anti-terrorism. Inspired by true events, the film combines stunning combat sequences, up-to-the minute battlefield technology and heart-pumping emotion for the ultimate action adventure."

Having seen the movie, I can attest that it is a very emotional and heart-pumping experience. It also is rare in a "Hollywood" movie to frame the action based on how the SEALs involved would actually have conducted themselves in a real operation. And the scenes are filmed on location rather than in front of a blue screen with backgrounds filled in by computer graphics. It's a unique movie and one that truly conveys acts of valor.

Scenes from Act of Valor above and below.

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