Here’s why Phil H. Bucklew is the father of special warfare

Mar 30, 2022 8:43 AM PDT
2 minute read
Navy photo


The face of special warfare would look far different today without the influence of Phil Bucklew. Widely known as the…

The face of special warfare would look far different today without the influence of Phil Bucklew. Widely known as the father to special forces/operations – as we know them today – its his influence that greatly shaped the way soldiers train and prep for overt missions. 

Take a look at how one man was able to make such an impact.

A picture of Phil Bucklew during WWII. Image courtesy Wikimedia Commons.

After college, Bucklew gained notoriety as a professional football player, founding and joining the Columbus Bullies in Columbus, Ohio in 1939. Prior to this he played for the Cleveland Rams for two years. 

However, in 1941, he left professional football to serve in the war; he arrived at the recruitment station the day after Pearl Harbor. He joined the Navy as an officer, after previously having served in the reserves during college. While overseas, Bucklew was assigned to one of the first special warfare units, through which he earned two Navy Cross awards. 

Modern sailors taking part in BUD/S training. Image courtesy BUD/S.

He served in Operation Torch, the invasion of North Africa, then commanded a boat through Operation Husky, landing in Sicily. He also earned a Silver Star and Bronze Star during WWII. He went on to participate in the Korean and Vietnam wars during his naval career. 

He then took two years off of active duty when he went on to earn his Ed.D. at Columbia University. He rejoined the field, completing his 20 years, until he was to be forcibly retired, due to cuts within the military.

However, with the creation of the Navy SEALs, Bucklew was drawn in to command the operation. He was handpicked by President John F. Kennedy himself to oversee the operation. This put Bucklew in charge of Naval Special Warfare Group One, or SEAL Team 1, and underwater demolition teams 11 and 12.

During this role, he trained and laid the groundwork for many future SEAL teams and operations. Interestingly enough, Bucklew never underwent SEAL training or qualified at BUD/S. 

Bucklew's headstone in Arlington National Cemetery. Image courtesy Wikimedia Commons.

During the Vietnam war, Bucklew famously predicted that the Vietcong would use waterways to ship their supplies. The idea was dismissed at first, but then allowed for training and budget increases for Navy SEAL units. 

Bucklew retired in 1969 as a captain, when he began working as a shipbuilding consultant. 

Today, the Phil Bucklew Naval Special Warfare Center in California is named for him. The location serves as the Navy’s special warfare command training to this day. 

Bucklew passed away in 1992 after multiple strokes; he was being held at a hospital in Fairfax, Virginia. He was 78 years old. He is buried in Arlington National Cemetery alongside his wife, Helen Nagel, who passed away in 2004.


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