The very last of the original “frogmen”, the forerunners of the Navy SEAL teams was honored on the date of his 94th birthday amid his family, friends, and family members.
Bill Dawson, who grew up in Washington D.C. was working at the D.C. Shipyard in 1943 and enlisted in the U.S. Navy when he was just 17-years old. Not long after enlisting, he found out about a specialized Navy unit that as he put it, “got to blow things up.” After saying he didn’t quite know how to take that tidbit of information, he and another sailor decided to volunteer. But he almost didn’t even get a chance to attempt the training.
As the two reached the building where the volunteers were assembling, they were told that the class was full, they had 500 volunteers. Undeterred, Dawson and his buddy walked around the back of the building, and climbed thru an open window and took their place in the back of the line. The volunteer class, Class 1 of the famous frogmen was now numbered 502.
Their training whittled down the number of volunteers from over 500 to just 52. And the toughness of the “frogman” course would be every bit as tough as the famed BUDS course for the SEALs is today.
The 3-5 mile runs in the sand, climbing over slippery, barnacle-encrusted rocks in the jetty and the log PT was a tough task for the frogmen as they remain that today. “I can still pick the splinters out of my arms today, Dawson joked in an interview he conducted with the American Veterans Center.
The training was so tough, it reduced the 17-year old to tears at times. “I wanted to quit,” he recalled. But he kept going and persevered, the 94-year old joked again that the sand fleas and mosquitoes, that were so plentiful at the frogmen’s training base kept him going.
But he did graduate and take his place among what the Navy termed, Underwater Demolition Teams (UDT), which became commonly known as “frogmen.” They were also called Naval Combat Demolition Units (NCDU) These men were legendary is clearing beach obstacles for the countless amphibious landings the United States conducted in World War II. The casualty rate for the frogmen at Normandy on D-Day was 53 percent.
Dawson took part in several landings in the Pacific helping the military clear landing beaches for infantry troops of the Army and Marines to get ashore and attack enemy installations on the land.
During his birthday celebration last week, Dawson took great pride in being the first group of sailors who became the Navy SEALs of today. “Knowing today what I helped start developed into what it is today. It’s one of the greatest outfits in the world,” he said.
Dawson’s unit cleared the beach for the return of General Douglas MacArthur to the Philippines. “We got ashore before he did,” Dawson remembered with a smile.
Dawson wrote and published in 2015 “Before They Were SEALs They Were Frogs,” a book about his time during World War II on the Navy’s first special operations team.
After the war was over, Dawson joined the Washington D.C. Fire Department and served there for 25 years and then retired, now 45 years ago. Dawson was a founding member of the US Navy SEAL Museum in Fort Pierce, FL, and contributed many of the key exhibits there. Despite his age, Dawson remains active in supporting Naval Special Warfare history and heritage.
Four years ago, when he was 90 years old, Dawson was honored at the BattleFrog Navy SEALs obstacle course race at Old Bridge Township Raceway Park, in Englishtown, NJ.
The American Veterans Center interview was a long one but worth the time to hear the remembrances of a truly unique special warrior. Happy Birthday to the last of the original frogmen, Mr. Dawson
Photo: US Navy