Jesse "The Great Pretender" Ventura
Was Jesse a SEAL or a UDT Guy?
by Bill Salisbury
Reprinted from the San Diego Reader
December 2, 1999
Shortly after the 1998 gubernatorial elections, everywhere you looked on TV he seemed to loom from the screen: that great domed head anchored by a linebacker's neck to a professional rassler's torso. And you heard him rattle off one-liners such as, "Sure I can be a good governor for Minnesota! It's not like I'll have to transplant kidneys!"
I first saw Jesse "the Body" Ventura before the election on Comedy Central's The Daily Show. A pert young woman was interviewing him at his horse farm near Minneapolis, asking what he thought, as a former Navy SEAL, about Demi Moore's going through training in G.I. Jane.
"Demi Moore," he replied in that now-famous buzz-saw voice, "has great breasts!"
Well, I thought, Jesse certainly looks and sounds like many SEALs I'd known during my 16 years in the Teams. But I'd never known or even heard of him. Was Jesse for real or was he one of those politicians who sometimes fudge their military affiliation with elite units? I mean, maybe he'd only worked on a staff or been aboard a ship that once participated in an exercise with SEALs.
But Jesse made a comment during the interview that somewhat eased my doubts about his bona fides. "SEALs," he said, "certainly are different. We don't wear skivvies."
Only a Team guy - SEAL or UDT - and those with whom he closely associated would know this verifiable truth. Skivvies - Navy lingo for underwear - were for lesser mortals such as pencil-necked sandcrabs (civilians) or black shoes (ship drivers). Real men didn't wear skivvies. But they did wear massive Rolex diving watches with Tudor movements, just as Jesse wore during his interview.
Jesse's reference to skivvies also suggested he had pulled liberty in Olongapo, aka Po Town: the legendary city in the Philippines that had offered fleshly delights to generations of sailors who passed through the U.S. Navy base at Subic Bay until the base closed a few years ago. Frogmen from underwater demolition teams - but not SEALs - enjoyed six-month deployments to the PI during the Vietnam War and were so prized among the Po Town bargirls that the girls would sometimes "do it for love." And the girls delighted in screaming "skivvie check!," which meant every man jack and mate in the bar would have to drop his pants to verify if he was or was not of UDT. The girls would often follow their skivvie checks with cries of "big watch, little dick, bumf**k UDT!"
The bargirls had no similar slogan for SEALs, who were rarely seen in Olongapo during the war. SEALs from Team One on the Strand and Team Two in Little Creek, Virginia, deployed to detachments (dets) in Vietnam: SEAL Team Two Det Alfa in Binh Thuy (terrorizing the VC and luckless peasants in the delta); SEAL Det Bravo in various places (doing dirty deeds for the CIA); SEAL Team One Det Da Nang (running mercs up north in Nastys); and SEAL Team One Det Golf in Nha Be (helping keep the Long Tau shipping channel more or less open from the South China Sea to Saigon).
I had firsthand knowledge of all these dets, some of which would periodically shift locations, but I was especially familiar with SEAL Team One Det Golf, where I served as officer-in-charge of three SEAL platoons for much of 1967. I also knew a lot about Det Alfa from SEAL Team Two, because I was the executive officer of that Team in 1970. Both SEAL Teams were awarded coveted Presidential Unit Citations. UDTs received none.
I didn't know much about UDTs 11 and 12 then, even though they were homeported on the Strand like SEAL Team One. The UDTs rotated their platoons through a headquarters in Subic Bay, where many of the frogmen relived high school glory days playing football on base and freeballing it through Po Town on liberty. The frogmen in Subic never once lost a sleepless second to the fear of mortar rounds in the perimeter or Charlie on the wire. So was Jesse a SEAL or merely a frogman, that is, a member of an underwater demolition team?
In search of an answer from the horse's mouth, I read Jesse's blockbuster autobiography, I Ain't Got Time to Bleed. The chapter on his Navy career from 1970 until 1974 is entitled: "Navy seals." References to SEALs saturate the 26-page chapter. Here's a sampling:
"[M]y brother, Jan,had joined the Navy SEALs a few years earlier." (p. 60)
"When [Navy recruiters] found out [I was] interested in joining the SEALs, they zeroed in: 'Don't you want to be part of the most elite? The best of the best?' " (p. 62)
"One day [in boot camp] we attended a presentation by the Navy seal
they showed us a film called The Men with Green Faces. In Vietnam, the SEALs were known as the Greenfaces, because they wore camouflage green and black." (p. 64)
Jesse took a screening test at boot camp to qualify for what is called Basic Underwater Demolition/SEAL (BUD/S) training conducted at the Amphib Base. Those who completed BUD/S, when Jesse was in training, were sent to either a SEAL or an underwater demolition team. Graduation did not, however, authorize the trainee to call himself a SEAL or a UDT frogman. He had to first successfully complete a six-month probationary period in the Teams.
What's the difference between SEAL and UDTs? Here's a mini-dump on the distinctive origins and missions of these organizations.
UDTs had their genesis following the U.S. Marine invasion of Tarawa. The invasion beaches were ringed with underwater coral formations hidden from the Marines. Landing craft slammed into the coral and took deadly fire from the Japanese. Many Marines drowned as they attempted to reach shore more than half a mile away.
After Tarawa, the Navy established UDTs to conduct preinvasion, hydrographic reconnaissance from the 3 1/2-fathom curve to the high-water line. The UDTs located and destroyed man-made and natural obstacles that threatened a landing. You may have seen the romanticized version of UDTs at work in films such as The Frogmen, starring Richard Widmark. Jesse says this is one of his favorite movies.
The Navy drew its UDTs from Naval Combat Demolition Units. These units probably had more strategic impact than SEALs and UDTs combined in any war: they cleared Normandy beaches before the invasion and took nearly 80 percent casualties.
SEALs trace their origin to a WWII Navy commando unit called Scouts and Raiders. This unit recruited from college and professional athletic teams. Scouts and Raiders operated primarily in Europe and North Africa collecting beach and hinterland intel. Scouts and Raiders also attacked enemy coastal targets. They were not joined at the hip with the Marines, as were the UDTs.
My first boss in the Navy was Phil Bucklew, the most famous Scout and Raider of them all. Bucklew was a thrice-passed-over commander on the brink of forced retirement when, as a fresh-caught ensign, I reported aboard an obscure amphibious staff to work for him.
At six-four or so and going maybe 250, Bucklew was every bit as scary looking as Jesse. Bucklew had played pro football as a fullback for Cleveland before War Two, as he called it. But I never saw him lift weights or snarl at anyone. The guy used to grin and laugh a lot. Maybe because he saw the humor in having been passed over in favor of midgets. I mean, here's a guy who was drenched in medals like Navy Crosses and Silver Stars and had a Ph.D. in education from Columbia. Passed over in favor of midgets, but absolutely no bitterness or vanity in the man, just lots of charismatic humor.
And, oh, the places he'd gone and the stories he'd tell. Like the intel trek across China, being handed off from one partisan group to another, checking out Japanese fortifications along the way. Owing to his size and inability to speak Chinese, the partisans disguised him as a deaf mute.
Yes, he told magnificent stories, which had much to do with my becoming a SEAL. But Phil Bucklew never wrote a book. Or inhaled steroids.
Bucklew was rescued from forced retirement when President Kennedy championed unconventional warfare to counter communist guerrilla "wars of national liberation." Kennedy resurrected the Army's Special Forces and ordered the Navy to commission a force of commandos called Sea-Air-Land (SEAL) Teams. The acronym represented the elements through which the commandos could assault or recon their targets. Two teams of 10 officers and 50 enlisted were drawn from experienced members of UDTs 11 and 12 stationed in Coronado and UDTs 21 and 22 in Little Creek, Virginia. All the frogmen were volunteers and only the best needed to apply. The SEAL Teams more than doubled in size during the Vietnam War.
The Navy promoted Bucklew to captain and placed him in overall command of SEAL Team One and UDTs 11 and 12. His staff was first designated Naval Operations Support Group One and later became Naval Special Warfare Group One.
Trainees for the SEALs and UDTs completed the same fabled basic course conducted on the Strand; however, during and after the Vietnam War, SEALs underwent specialized training at such places as the U.S. Army Ranger and Special Forces schools. Frogmen never went near Rangers or Snake-eaters.
The difference in training reflected the difference in missions: SEALs in platoons of 12 to 14 men went looking for the VC and NVA in the swamps, paddies, and jungles of Vietnam; UDTs in platoons of 22 men conducted hydrographic recons in advance of actual or anticipated Marine amphibious landings. Most of these recons were "admin," or unopposed by the enemy. UDTs mainly floated around the South China Sea on ships with Marine battalion landing teams as part of what's called an amphibious ready group or ARG.
In recognition of the differing missions, the Navy classified frogmen as "5321s" and SEALs as "5326s." The SEALs and frogmen also had different unit cartoon totems: Freddie the Frog and Sammy the Seal.
These are not distinctions without differences. No one from UDT during the Vietnam War would dare misrepresent himself as a SEAL. Consider this: SEAL Team One, with roughly the same number of men as UDT 12, had 34 killed during the war. I knew many of them. UDT 12 lost but a single man. 34:1.
This is not to say frogmen couldn't acquit themselves just as bravely as SEALs during those very rare times they found themselves in the shit. Although UDTs deployed to Subic and primarily embarked aboard Navy ships as part of the ARG, they would also send small units to operate out of Da Nang and a Navy base on the Ca Mau Peninsula called Sea Float and later Solid Anchor. This base was at the mouth of the Cua Long River near the Nam Can Forest - a very hot area. The few frogs temporarily stationed in Nam had the primary mission of blowing up abandoned enemy bunkers and other fortifications. Much larger Army and Marine forces secured the area while the frogs did their demo work.
On two such operations, however, members of UDT 12 encountered the VC and reacted with stunning courage. On 21 January 1970, Chief Hospital Corpsman Donel Kinnard led an assault that saved his men from being overrun by the VC. He killed an enemy officer in hand-to-hand combat and was awarded the Navy Cross. A week later, Chief Shipfitter Guy Stone assaulted an enemy ambush and killed several VC. He was also awarded the Navy Cross. (Stony had been a SEAL for many years before joining UDT.) You can read about these isolated instances of UDT 12 combat in SEALs: UDT/SEAL Operations in Vietnam, by T. L. Bosiljevac. You can also read many, many more accounts of SEAL combat actions in this fact-packed book written by an active-duty SEAL officer. But don't expect much analysis or critical comment.
So was Jesse a SEAL or a UDT guy? And if a UDT guy, had he been in the shit?
Jesse graduated with BUD/S class 58 in December 1970, about a year after Stony and Kinnard churched those VC in the Nam Can Forest. Jesse predictably dwells on the excruciating pain trainees must endure to prove themselves. He tells an oft-told tale of petty cruelty by an instructor. If a trainee had loose skin from torn blisters on his hands, the instructor would rip the skin away from one hand and order the trainee to do the same to the other. The instructor called this loose skin "flappers."
But Jesse makes no distinction between those trainees who went to SEAL Teams and those who went to UDTs. He claims to have been a SEAL, as in these observations about going to Army Airborne School at Fort Benning immediately after BUD/S.
"[Airborne instructors] make you drop for push-ups whenever they drop one SEAL, we all drop." (p. 73)
"The second night we were [at Fort Benning], we snuck out and climbed up their water tower with a can of spray paint, and painted 'SEAL Team One' on the side." (p. 73)
There it is: Jesse was in SEAL Team One. He speaks of his pride as a SEAL: "We're a proud organization. If anyone tries to pretend they're a SEAL, God help them. You have to earn the right to be a SEAL warrior." (p. 81)
But Jesse confuses things by making a single reference, among all the SEAL prattle, to his service in UDT 12: "[After BUD/S] we were sent to our teams. I was part of Underwater Demolition Team 12." (p. 71)
That's it. Nothing more about UDT. Only SEALs.
Well, maybe he served with both SEAL One and UDT 12. Many of us had been with UDTs before going to SEALs. The Navy, for example, ordered a platoon of UDT 12 men led by Lieutenant Ed Gill, from whom you'll hear later, to turn in their swim trunks for SEAL One field greens. The SEALs needed fresh meat to replace combat losses. None of the men volunteered. Not one had engaged the VC in a firefight, although they had made a tour to Nam with UDT 12. After their first week in Vietnam operating with SEAL Team One Det Golf, most of the men were either dead or wounded.
My own brief experience in UDT before becoming a SEAL shows how some frogs feared a transfer to SEALs - a transfer that was there for the asking.
After I graduated from training with class 38, I was ordered to UDT 11 as the operations officer. I had not been the usual trainee, who in the main was young, dumb, and full of cum. Jesse was probably like that when he entered training at 18.
I was a 26-year-old lieutenant who had served a combat tour in Vietnam assigned to a Marine outfit called First anglico. I'd worked out of Quang Ngai City up in I Corps. I was with Marvin the Arvin (the South Vietnamese) during the futile defense of Ba Gia and more successful ops like Starlight and Piranha. I thought many of my BUD/S instructors, who had never been to Nam and would never go, were muscle-bound "run-for-your-lifers." I didn't see them as the supermen Jesse extols in I Ain't Got Time to Bleed.
I'd been out of training and with UDT 11 for a few weeks when our executive officer called a meeting of all officers. I remember that meeting with the clarity of a Santa Ana-swept sky.
About 15 of us assembled before the XO, who was seated behind a fake mahogany desk flanked by the U.S. and Navy flags. The XO had been an outstanding swimmer for the Naval Academy and looked every inch the frogman: sleek, suntanned, and muscular, with a Kirk Douglas dimple in his chin. Although not a 'rassler, he'd earned the nickname "Gorgeous George." He could have modeled for a cologne called Cock and Balls.
George began with an apologetic tone in his otherwise crisp, military speech: "SEAL One took another hit in Nam. An officer had the top of his head taken off by a B-40 round or something."
George paused and studied us through fierce black eyes set in a bronze face with the skin stretched so tight you could almost divine his skull. George cleared his throat and said: "I know you all volunteered for UDT and not SEALs. But the SEALs are taking so many hits, they're running out of people. I don't blame you for not wanting to go over there. But the writing is on the wall. Bureau of Personnel called and said, 'Send an officer and do it now!' "
Uneasy shifting of feet. Someone coughed. No one spoke. George continued: "I'm asking for a volunteer. I don't want to force anyone. Do I have a volunteer?"
A muttered "f**k" from the group, but nothing else. I gazed at those officers, the absolute cream of American manhood, graduates of the most physically demanding military training the world had to offer. Hairy-chested frogmen able to leap tall buildings in a single bound. But not today. Dyin' time, they all knew just as surely as Jesse would have known, was a hell of a lot closer if you were a seal. 34:1.
So there they stood, mute, playing pocket pool. No one raised a hand; no one stepped forward. I recalled a chant from training:
Hoo Yah, Hoo Yah,
Who are We?
We are the Men
Airborne, Ranger, UDT,
Gonna f**k with Me!
The webfoot warriors filed out. I stayed behind and told George: "Look, I've been to Nam. I don't mind another tour with SEALs. I'm single and don't have any pressing plans for grad school. Don't have to take care of a sick parakeet."
"Hey, Bill, that's great! But I have to check with BUPERS and Captain Anderson at SEAL One to see if they'll waive the six-month probationary period."
"Why not get on the horn with Captain Bucklew too?"
My excellent adventure as a SEAL began that very day before the sun had vanished beyond the Coronados. Fresh meat. Welcome aboard.
Not all men from UDT were run-for-your-lifers. Many frogs later had their own excellent adventures as SEALs, and those who survived love to woof about it for fun and profit. Here's how one woofer, Rad Miller Jr., describes his metamorphosis from frog to SEAL in Whattaya Mean I Can't Kill 'Em?:
"Although our base in Coronado was shared with SEAL Team 1 (they had half, UDT Teams 11 and 12 had the other half separated by a concrete wall), we didn't mix during working hours. We did party together though. Frogs were good. But SEALs were in a class by themselves. They were warriors, and had a mystique about them that said: 'Don't fool with me, I'll tear you a new asshole.'
"I was attracted and impressed. On the one hand being a Frog was fun; on the other, there were also no real challenges ahead.
"Then the clincher occurs that will change my life. I was hanging in the area filling dive tanks when I saw a platoon of SEALs all geared up for a training exercise they were just bristling with weapons. I go to the office and submit a transfer request. They need SEALs for Vietnam and my transfer is immediately approved--God help me now."
Still in search of an answer to the question of whether Jesse had ever been a SEAL or a frogman in the shit, I obtained a roster of UDT 12 that included his name. Looking down the roster, I saw Jesse and I had mutual acquaintances, one of whom was Artie Ruiz. Although Artie had never been a SEAL, he had been one of those rare frogmen who certainly had been in the shit. All you need do was take one look at his back, pockmarked with old shrapnel wounds, to know he'd been there.
Artie had been dinged while single-handedly keeping the VC from swarming his disabled patrol boat. Every soul on board save one had been either killed or seriously wounded in an ambush. Artie, who is about the size of Audie Murphy and as soft-spoken, fought off the enemy with a handheld M-60 machine gun at a range of 25 yards. He got a Bronze Star to go with his Heart. Should have been a Navy Cross, but enlisted guys don't have a strong lobby with the Awards Board like officers do.
I called Artie at his home in National City. "Yes, I knew Jesse and Jan," Artie said. "They were the Janos brothers. Jesse in those days was known as Jim 'the Dirty' Janos and his brother was Jan 'the Clean.' "Jan was a four-oh sailor. Squared away. Jim was a great guy, but
he didn't care much about having a spiffy uniform or regulation haircut. He didn't believe much in showers, either.
"Jim belonged to a motorcycle gang in I.B. The Mongols or Mescaleros or something. I'm not sure. But I remember how he used to come roaring up Highway 75 every morning before quarters, wearing his colors and torn Levi's, reared back on his Harley hog. He'd zoom around the asphalt grinder, do a wheelie or two, then park and shift into the uniform of the day - UDT swim trunks and blue 'n' gold T-shirt."
Changing one set of colors for another?
"You could say that. Then, after a day of fun in the sun, he'd shift again and tear up the road back to I.B. and the In Spot, a tittie-flop bar where he worked as a bouncer. Jim maintained order, but not too much. You had to get really outa line for Jim to toss you. But toss you he could. Jim wasn't as buff then as when he became Jesse 'the Body' Ventura, but he was on his way."
Jesse ever in a SEAL Team?
"Oh, no. Spent his entire time in Team 12. Never had a SEAL NEC."
Could you explain about an NEC, what it means?
"Means Navy enlisted classification. It's a code all enlisted guys have that tells what their warfare specialty is. UDT guys were 5321s and SEALs were 5326s. Had to serve in a SEAL Team for at least six months before you qualified as a 26."
Jesse ever in the shit like you or Stony?
"Oh, no. At least not that I heard of, and I probably would have known if he'd been in anything serious. But I don't hold that against him. He was a good teammate. Just a little loco."
I selected another name from the roster and talked with Gary "Bones" Bonnelli, who is now communications director for the San Diego Association of Governments. Gary was a reluctant interview for a communications director, but at least he returned my call.
Got any good Jim "the Dirty" Janos stories for me?
"C'mon, Bill. I mean, I didn't know Jim as well as his brother, Jan. Jan and I were running mates. Jim didn't report aboard until more than a year after Jan."
No stories, huh?
"I'll tell you this. Jim said more within 15 minutes of crossing the quarterdeck than Jan did his entire time in 12."
Were you in Nam with Jim?
"No. I was in the Nam Can. I think he was floating around with the Marines on the ARG in the South China Sea. Maybe he did some admin recons."
Was he ever in SEAL One?
To get a little more depth and check out my take on Jesse's book, I dropped by the Amphib Base to talk with retired SEAL Master Chief Dick Ray, who had been a legendary BUD/S instructor during the '70s. Before that, Dick had been assigned to my det in Nam as a cover for his work with the CIA in their notorious Phoenix program. I gave Dick his paycheck every month, ran some interference for him with the Plumbers, and wrote the obligatory messages after he was hospitalized with an assfull of VC scrap metal. He got the Silver Star for that op and a one-way ticket home.
We talked in his office, where he's toiled for many years as the assistant athletic director. I showed Dick I Ain't Got Time to Bleed and asked what he knew of Jesse. "I may have put him through training, but not if he graduated in '70. I didn't become an instructor until '71. Now, I knew a guy in UDT 11 or 12 who was named Janos. But this was a scrawny kid whose claim to fame was he could ejaculate while doing one-armed pull-ups."
I asked Dick if he'd ever heard of a "flapper." "A flapper valve? Yeah, that's the rubber valve on an open-circuit regulator. Keeps the water out when you breathe." I said that's not the flapper I meant and told him the story about the instructor ripping the flesh away from a trainee's hand. I asked if he'd ever done that. He laughed and said: "You shittin' me? I left blisters to corpsmen. I never touched a trainee. Hell, you didn't have to. Mostly I just played with their minds. Of course, every once in a while I'd put them in the hurt locker. But all you needed for that was a cold ocean and a beach full of soft sand."
I asked if he knew the instructor and if the instructor had ever been a SEAL in Nam.
"I knew him. He was never in Nam as a SEAL that I heard of."
I showed Dick a photo in Jesse's chapter "Navy SEALs," of men in wet suits about to drop through an opening in the floor of a helicopter. Jesse had captioned the photo: "SEAL operation. That's me on the right."
I asked Dick if this was a SEAL op. "Nope. That's a UDT swimmer cast through the hellhole of an H-46 Sea Knight."
I asked Dick about the different NECs for UDT and SEALs. He didn't pause: "5321 for UDT, 5326 for SEALs. Anyone who'd only served in UDT before the Teams combined in 1983 couldn't truthfully claim to have been a SEAL."
I told Dick that Jesse had left active duty in 1974.
"Couldn't have been a SEAL, then."
I thanked Dick for his time and left.
Although Jesse will talk incessantly about everything else, he is curiously closed-mouthed when it comes to his experience in Nam as either a SEAL or a frog. He usually claims he took a vow when he returned from Southeast Asia never to speak of what he'd done. Sometimes he invokes his dead father's memory to justify his silence. His father was a decorated WWII veteran, but Jesse says he never knew this until after his father had died.
During his controversial Playboy interview - littered with SEAL but not UDT references - Jesse flat stonewalls questions of his wartime experience:
Playboy: You've never talked about what you did as a SEAL overseas. Did you do anything you're ashamed of?
Playboy: Would you like to talk about it?
Playboy: Have you ever killed anyone?
Ventura: You don't ask a question like that - it's inappropriate.
Consider the obvious: Jesse may not talk about what he did as a SEAL in Nam because he doesn't have anything to talk about. Why does the media let Jesse get away with this?
Sycophantic old SEALs and frogs have quite likely thrown the media off the scent. These Team guys attended his inaugural and have appeared on the platform with him at other public events. They speak of his duty as a SEAL, however cautiously, on TV.
I saw an example of how old SEALs cover for Jesse when I recently watched his biography on the Arts and Entertainment Network. One of my contemporaries, inaccurately identified as Jesse's former commanding officer, was practicing the art of the conditional on Jesse's behalf, talking about what Jesse would have done in Vietnam: "When he deployed with his platoon to Vietnam he would have gone out with the intent of doing
grievous harm to the enemy. He would have gone to set ambushes, he would have gone to extract villagers for intelligence purposes, for interrogation."
As Jesse's so-called commanding officer listed all the things Jesse would have done, film footage of SEALs in the bush rolled across the screen, contributing to the misleading impression Jesse had been a "SEAL warrior."
As I watched and listened, I thought: that's right, mate. If Jesse had been a SEAL he would have done those things. But he wasn't a SEAL. He's just a great pretender with the help of sycophants like you.
Time now to hear from Ed Gill, the UDT 12 officer who had his platoon shot out from under him within one week of reporting aboard for duty as a SEAL in Det Golf. Ed and the few remaining SEALs able to function after the VC ambushed their boat on the Vam Sat River cleared the kill zone and lived to fight another day. Ed and Chief Petty Officer Herb Ruth received Silver Stars for their heroism and Hearts for their wounds. As for the rest of the platoon, they had altogether too much time to bleed. Three of Ed's 12 men died.
"I had no idea," Ed said as we talked about the ambush and Jesse not long ago, "of what was going on. We were hardly off the airplane at Tan Son Nhut when an officer who'd been in-country several months told me to jock up for a patrol. I'd played football with the guy at the Academy and knew him then as very aggressive.
"He was in charge of the mike boat and the operation. We inserted about noon along the Vam Sat. On the way to the insertion point, I noticed the river was heavily bunkered, but we didn't draw fire. If we had, we were pretty well armed: machine guns along each side of the boat, a Honeywell 40-millimeter grenade launcher on the coxswain's station, a 60 mortar and a 57 recoilless rifle on the stern. Boat was really slow with all that armament. Could make maybe six knots max.
"We inserted and hadn't patrolled more than 100 yards from the boat before the VC started sniping at us. Officer on the boat said to move forward. We did. Then someone got hit, not bad, and we retreated to the boat.
"We went out the same way we came in, and the VC really slammed it to us from those bunkers. We returned fire. The noise was like nothing I've ever heard before or since.
"We somehow managed to clear the ambush with only a few more wounded. Then my teammate from the Academy decided to go back in and duke it out. That's when we got butchered. I was hit in the chin with shrapnel; the corpsman hauled me down behind the gunwale to stop the bleeding. Dan Mann, my assistant platoon leader, took my place and commenced firing. Next thing I know Dan tumbles down beside me dead. Shot through the ear, it looked like. I used to think he took the bullet meant for me. I don't think about that so much anymore.
"A B-40 or maybe a round from our 60 exploded overhead. I looked up at Herb Ruth on the Honeywell. His face had been scorched raw by flame, but he kept on grinding out the 40 mikemikes.
"We were able to break contact and call in dust-offs. One of my men, Don Boston, was dead and another, Bobby Neal, died a few days later. The rest of us were wounded in one way or another. Those of us who recovered and continued to operate for the next seven months got some payback, but nothing could ever make up for what happened to us on the Vam Sat. We just weren't prepared. I got almost nothing out of UDT training that helped. All the muscles in the world wouldn't have saved us. I felt so frustrated I ordered the Marine Corps platoon leaders correspondence course. Later on, we did some decent SEAL ops, but not in the beginning. Hell, a Marine sergeant knew more about leading a patrol in Nam than I did at the beginning."
The talk turned to Jesse. I asked Ed if he'd heard of "the Body."
"Yeah, I've seen him on TV. Quite a guy. I like his politics and I understand he was a SEAL. I didn't know him. Did you?"
I told him what I knew of Jesse. "I am sorry to hear that. If he was only in UDT 12, he sure as hell wasn't a SEAL. Big difference between being in UDT 12 and SEAL One."
I asked Ed if he thought Jesse could have received a transfer from UDT 12 to SEAL One during the war.
"Sure. Could probably have put his chit in at morning quarters and been standing tall on the SEAL grinder by afternoon quarters."
Quite by chance, I recently happened upon another old SEAL in a downtown deli. We'd been in Nam together and in UDT 11 after the war. He was one of several former SEALs who came to UDT 11 while I commanded the Team during the late '70s. Some of these SEALs referred to themselves as "the Junkyard Dogs." Not a sun-worshiper or bodybuilder in the bunch. But lots of Navy Crosses, Silver and Bronze Stars, and Purple Hearts - none cheap.
My friend, whom I'll call Jake, is active in the retired community and said Jesse had been the main topic of discussion during a recent meeting of an organization called Old Frogs and SEALs.
"Guys are of two minds," Jake said. "Some don't think he should be holding himself out as a SEAL, while others think it's okay. Say it's good publicity."
What do you think?
"I think the Teams got all the publicity they need. Don't need any more. I'm reading a book, Stolen Valor, that exposes men who lie or exaggerate about having fought in Nam with elite units. That's what Jesse's doing when he claims to have been a SEAL. He's trading on the valor of others. He hasn't earned the right to call himself a SEAL."
So there it is. Does Jesse trade on the valor of others when he pretends to have been a SEAL? He styles himself an honest, uncomplicated man: what you see is what you get. He should set the record straight. Hell, nothing to be ashamed of about having been a frog. UDTs have a noble tradition. When Jesse was a frog, they jumped out of airplanes, locked out of submarines, and blew shit up. But frogs didn't often fight and die like SEALs did in Nam.