The elite fighting force known as Navy SEALs have been around for longer than you may know. The first-ever SEAL team has only one living member left, and last month, he turned 94.
Bill Dawson, from Washington, D.C., belonged to the team before they were even called Navy SEALs. The top-secret force he belonged to was called “Frogmen” in his day.
— CBS News (@CBSNews) April 25, 2019
Now, pushing 100, Dawson has no more ex-team members left to talk to.
“You have to talk to somebody that was there. And I don’t have anybody that was there,” he told CBS News. “They’re all gone.”
He had enlisted in the Navy many decades ago, at the young age of 17. He and his team served in the Pacific Theater from 1943 to 1945, until the Japanese eventually surrendered. They were deployed on dangerous and highly secretive missions that were undocumented.
Although he was forbidden to record his deployment, he took many photographs and put together a massive scrapbook, which he keeps to this day in a three-ring binder. It tells the story during his time around Japan and other Pacific islands.
“Everything we did was top-secret,” said Dawson. “You weren’t supposed to keep a log of any information. But I managed to keep my scrapbook.
“I’ve got some pretty good pictures. It tells a story.”
Dawson became part of a Naval Combat Demolition Unit that specializes in explosives. However, they had no idea what sort of missions they would be going on, as they were deemed “top-secret,” Dawson said. And there was danger involved.
“Of course, I was scared,” he told CBS News. “Anybody tells you they wasn’t scared, I’ll call them a liar.”
Serving together, the Frogmen became close, and after the war ended, they kept in touch and visited one another all across the United States. After returning state-side, Dawson joined the Washington D.C. Fire Department, where he was a fireman for 20 years. He still keeps in touch with his ex-firefighter friends.
The only living member of the original Navy SEAL team — and a longtime D.C. firefighter — just turned 94. Happy birthday, Bill Dawson. https://t.co/ZQID0WgQ4g
— NBCWashington (@nbcwashington) April 21, 2019
Yet even Dawson’s former colleagues weren’t all made privy to his past service.
“I didn’t know about his past in the Pacific,” said 90-year-old Al Hurley, who worked with Dawson as a firefighter. “That’s the kind of guy Bill was—a very humble, well-liked guy.”
In 2015, Dawson compiled his experiences as a Frogman into a book titled “Before they were SEALs, they were Frogs.” Dawson’s vast records proved invaluable to some family members of ex-Frogmen, as there were no other records remaining. They reached out to Dawson to thank him.
Former firefighters and friends helped Dawson to celebrate his recent birthday last month.