Tags: navy | seal | bullfrog | boesch

Navy SEALs Reflect on Life of War and Sacrifice

Sunday, 24 May 2009 11:09 AM

By Nat Helms

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Rudy Boesch was a 72-year-old retired Navy SEAL and the former “Bullfrog” of the U.S. Navy when he answered an ad in a local newspaper and ended up on the CBS television show "Survivor: Borneo." Boesch finished third when he forgot to leave his hand on an idol and was eliminated from the competition.

“Doing it wasn’t nothing,” Boesch said. “For about half those people it was the biggest thing they ever did in their life. They hadn’t done anything. But I did that stuff all the time. The toughest thing was putting up with some of the people.”

Boesch, 81, shrugged off the loss. For most of his stellar 45-year career in the Navy he was a SEAL, earning him the revered title of “Bullfrog,” the official designation of the longest continually serving SEAL commando. He rose to the rank of master chief petty officer, the highest enlisted rank, as well as command master chief petty officer of the U.S. Special Operations Command (USSOCOM) before he was honorably discharged in 1990.

Newsmax called upon Boesch to get his take on the meaning of Memorial Day, the most sacred of holidays to honor America’s fallen heroes. He was gearing up for a SEAL Memorial Day ceremony in Virginia Beach, Va., on Monday when he shared his vision.

“I’m not much at saying patriotic things,” he said. “How about, 'Joining the service is a great thing. I think everybody should join the service. It is a great life and we do exciting things'” -- almost none of which Boesch can talk about.

Boesch told Newsmax he joined the Navy at 17, in the waning days of World War II. He was learning to be a frogman in a unit so secret its existence wasn’t revealed until long after the war. Assigned to the Amphibious Scouts and Raiders, Boesch was training to land in China to recruit local guerrilla soldiers fighting the Japanese and use them on clandestine missions inside Japan if the U.S. had invaded the island nation, he said.

“I wanted to join the Marines, but they had too many guys getting killed in Okinawa at the time (1945) so they raised their enlistment age to 18, so I went around the corner and joined the Navy,” Boesch said. “Then they dropped the bomb and the war was over.”

Boesch ended up spending the next two years as a bosun’s mate on a destroyer ported in China. Then he volunteered for underwater demolition team (UDT) training and stayed in special operations the rest of his career.

Currently, Cpt. Pete Wikul holds the title of Bullfrog. In addition to a trophy he gets a lot of notoriety for persevering in an environment that ain't all lily ponds and good bugs, he says. Wikul graduated from SEAL training in 1971, before most of today’s SEALs were born. He earned the Bullfrog distinction in 2006, he says.

Until Wikul retires in October, he is the commanding officer and plank owner (founding member) of the Kennedy Irregular Warfare Center, Office of Naval Intelligence in Washington. He started his career as an enlisted recruit and rose through the ranks. Like all Bullfrogs, Wikul is distinct. He can be identified by a non-regulation mustache and the drumsticks he hopes to retire to as an aspiring jazz musician. He grew up in Harlem and Long Island, N.Y., in hard times and the Navy seemed a good way out, he said.

Next month Wikul will pass the Bullfrog honorific and the trophy to Adm. Eric T. Olson, the commander of USSOCOM, headquartered at MacDill Air Force Base, Florida, and the highest-ranking SEAL to ever earn the honor.

Olson has the distinction of being the only Naval Academy graduate to claim the title Bullfrog. An officer who some claim may one day be chief of naval operations has commanded at every level, from SEAL platoon officer-in-charge to naval special warfare force commander.

Despite their different career paths, every Bullfrog leads an exciting life, Boesch pointed out.

Both Wikul and Olson served operationally in underwater demolition teams, the percurosor to SEALs, as well as SEAL teams, SEAL delivery vehicle (submarine) teams, on special boat squadrons, and as United Nations military observers in South Lebanon.

They also shared the 1988 Nobel Peace Prize with peacekeepers from a number of nations for their efforts during peacekeeping operations.

The Navy’s connotation of the species comes from the days when UDT swimmers were glorified in song and movies as “frogmen.” The team boss was the Bullfrog. The name stuck and eventually was adopted by official order from Rear Adm. Richard Lyon, the first Bullfrog who retired on New Year’s Day 1981, the Navy says.

Although the UDT-SEAL Association has always been the owner of the trophy and sponsor for awarding the Bullfrog title, it wasn’t until 2007 that Rear Adm. Joseph D. Kernan made it offical by means of U.S. Navy instruction, the Navy said.

Wikul likes to point out the egalitarian nature of the award. Rank has its privileges, but tradition trumps them when it comes to the Bullfrog Trophy, he explained. The 12 Bullfrogs have been enlisted men, warrant officers, and commissioned officers. But only two of the 12 designated so far have started out as officers. The common denominator is how successful all of them have been at their chosen craft.

Every SEAL one day faces uncompromising dangers. Most of them say that is what first drew them to the SEALs. Wikul got his turn at Mobile Sea Base (MSB) Hercules in the northern Persian Gulf during the almost forgotten “Tanker Wars” in 1987 during Operation Earnest Will that pitted Western and moderate Arab interests against Iran’s overzealous but miniscule navy. SEALs were sent to take them down a peg.

Trouble arrived on Oct. 8, 1987, when an Iranian patrol boat and two speedboats opened fire at Hercules with machine guns and launched a missile at patrolling U.S. Navy helicopters.

The Iranians met with immediate disaster from the helicopter’s guns and rockets, resulting in the loss of their boats and crews except for six survivors SEALs plucked from the smoking water.

Meanwhile, radar showed approximately 40 blips approaching from about 40 miles away. Iran had launched a strike of 40 gunboats. The Navy immediately dispatched the frigate USS Thach and amphibious ship USS Raleigh to reinforce the Hercules. As crews frantically rearmed the Hercules’ helicopters, three more from the USS Thach arrived.

The Hercules braced for an attack as its commander calmly spoke to the patrol boat’s leader about the situation, giving him the order, “Interdict and engage.” After about 15 minutes, six U.S. helicopters were orbiting in two formations waiting to battle the Iranian gunboats. As the USS Thach approached the area, the Iranian gunboats suddenly retreated. The surprise attack Tehran vowed against the U.S. had failed.

Meanwhile, Olson was on the fast track to high command. But it was in bloody streets of Mogadishu, Somalia, that his leadership and bravery became evident while earning him a Silver Star. During the notorious incident in October 1993, Olson played a key role during the bloody urban battle immortalized in the book and movie "Black Hawk Down."

After a pair of Army Black Hawk helicopters were shot down by enemy fire, Olson helped organize and lead a relief team to the crash sites. The nighttime mission became known as the “Mogadishu Mile,” a reference to the distance covered bringing the wounded and trapped American troops to safety.

“Join the military, there is nothing better,” Boesch concluded. “You get to travel a lot.”

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