This article and this video gives us just a little insight into a very long, important and memorable story, both for an individual and for the United States Navy. It is about a man, Bill Dawson, who was a member of the very first SEAL Team ever formed, and is the last surviving member of that unit.
In 1943 the United States Navy formed a new unit of war fighters, a special operations kind of unit. We know these units today as Navy SEALs, but back then, when Dawson became one of the men chosen to form the first team of this now famous and storied fighting force, they were known as the Naval Combat Underwater Demolition Units, or Underwater Demolition Teams (UDT), otherwise known as “Frogmen.”
Dawson was 17 years old when he became of member of that first team.
The primary function of these Frogmen Teams was to recon and destroy enemy defensive obstacles on beaches prior to amphibious landings. Frogmen were part of the D-Day operation. The story of their heroism and sacrifice in that effort is incredibly powerful. Those sacrifices were almost to the man that day, but what they did was instrumental in the successes during WWII. They also prepared the beaches at Okinawa, Borneo, Peleliu, Saipan, Tinian, Guam, and Leyte during that war.
Their motto: “The Only Easy Day Was Yesterday.”
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In later years, frogmen would also see combat in Korea and Vietnam. Frogmen would also be involved in the recovery of our astronauts after their splashdowns in both the Mercury and Apollo space programs.
Dawson was one of the pioneers of what we now call the Navy SEALs. He was one of a very small number of men who led the way. He is now 94 years old. After his time in the Navy with the frogmen, he came home and joined the fire department in his hometown and served 20 years in that service. He is helped in getting around today by a young firefighter, Greg Turnel, who finds Dawson an inspiration in many ways.
At the end of the video you will hear Dawson say this in response to a reporter’s question about his secret to longevity and surviving two very dangerous professions as a frogman and a firefighter: “Somebody was looking out for me over all those years.”
The Veterans Site sends its thanks and deepest respect to Bill Dawson. What he did with his life is an inspiration to all of us. He offered himself in service to the greater good of the nation as a U.S. Navy Frogman and to the greater good of his community as a firefighter.
This is what makes America great, men and women like Bill Dawson who put selfishness aside and essentially sign a contract to serve a cause larger than themselves, even if it may mean their very lives.
We honor you Mr. Dawson. You continue to show us the way.
Dan Doyle is a husband, father, grandfather, Vietnam veteran, and retired professor of Humanities at Seattle University. He taught 13 years at the high school level and 22 years at the university level. He spends his time now babysitting his granddaughter. He is a poet and a blogger as well. Dan holds an AA degree in English Literature, a BA in Comparative Literature, and an MA in Theology, and writes regularly for The Veterans Site Blog.