The term “Navy SEALs” is a household phrase in America today — one that brings forth images of America’s finest breaching Osama bin Laden’s compound in Zero Dark Thirty, or training in iconic green face paint. Because of the anti-terror unit’s lethal combat skills incredible military record, many people forget that the SEALs actually came from very humble beginnings. The PBS documentary “Navy Seals: The Untold Story,” details the history of this iconic military force that many civilians — and even military veterans — know little about, despite their popularity in film, literature and pop culture today.
Only about 2,000 men serve today on active-duty as Navy SEALs. All are volunteers.
But long before they earn the title, they need to make it through Hell Week, “a non-stop, grueling set of obstacles that pushes the human body — and spirit — to the breaking point.”
Retired UDT/SEAL Vice Admiral Joe Maguire says of Hell Week: “We do hell week, first and foremost, so you can have confidence in yourself. You stay up for 120 hours during the week , and you get about three or four hours of sleep. The reason you get three or four hours of sleep is because we’ve done studies and we’ve found that if you don’t get that amount of sleep, you’ll die if you’re up for 120 hours.”
Their elite status among special ops is very elite: Less than 10,000 men in history have ever been Navy SEALs.
And especially in a post-9/11 world, small groups of SEALs have taken on terrorist enemies like the Taliban, Iraqi insurgents, Al Quada, and Osama bin Laden.
But how’d they start? Their forefathers were naval special warfare swimmers, better known as frogmen.
The nickname apparently comes from their British colleagues, and how they “looked in their newly fashioned green wet suits.”
SEAL is an acronym, meaning SEA, AIR, and LAND, which “is how and where they operate,” the narrator says.
He continues: “The SEALs were born in World War II, of two oceans, for two kinds of demolition work. In the Pacific, their predecessors swam in in advance of US Marines and Army troops, removing underwater obstacles to make amphibious landings possible. In the Atlantic teams were needed on the beaches of France to blow open the gateway to Europe for D-Day.”
After the NCDU’s success at D-Day, the Underwater Demolition Team (UDT) was created in the Pacific. These men would work entirely underwater, and were dubbed the “Naked Warriors.”
UDT men would swim to the beach wearing only swim trunks, a K-bar knife, a slate, and a pencil to take reconnaissance and depth soundings of the beach. They would then swim back to their watercraft and relay the information they obtained. These men made a huge impact on the success of missions such as Iwo Jima and Okinawa.
News of the heroic and daring “Frog Men” soon reached civilian ears, and Hollywood was quick to create lighthearted propaganda films such as “The Frogmen”, shown above, which in turn encouraged hundreds of young men to pursue a life of service with this elite new American squadron.
To learn more about the formation of this legendary military force, watch the full documentary below: