Week of March 10
On March 10, 1962, members of the newly formed Navy Sea-Air-Land (SEAL) Team 1 arrived in Sài Gòn. From 1962 to 1964, before American combat troops officially deployed to Vietnam, the SEAL team’s mission was to train South Vietnamese naval commandos in covert maritime operations and counterinsurgency warfare.
The United States Navy officially established the SEALs in January 1962, just two months before it sent them to Vietnam. The Navy assigned SEAL Team 1 to the Pacific Fleet, while SEAL Team 2 initially operated with the Atlantic Fleet. The SEALs were the Navy’s experts in special warfare—sabotage, demolition, and other clandestine activities conducted in enemy-controlled areas—and the corps emerged from the World War II- and Korean War-era Underwater Demolition Teams, also known as “Frogmen.”
In the early 1960s, President John F. Kennedy instructed each armed service to develop and enhance their own elite counterinsurgency units in preparation for the “hot” wars of the Cold War era. In his administration’s thinking, these elite special warfare units would be critical in fighting so-called proxy wars, in which U.S. leaders expected the United States and its allies to face off against international communism in non-nuclear, limited conflicts around the world. Along with the Army’s Special Forces, the Air Force’s Air Commandos, and others, the SEALs became the Navy’s answer to the Kennedy administration’s call.
The men of SEAL Team 1 worked with South Vietnamese “frogmen” (known as the LDNN or Lien Doc Nguoi Nhia) and other commando forces, as well as American advisers, throughout the rest of 1962, 1963, and 1964. As the war escalated after 1965, SEALs took on more and more combat missions. SEAL Team 1, based in Coronado, California, generally had 5 of its 12 platoons deployed to Vietnam at any one time. They supported special operations out of Đà Nẵng, in northern South Vietnam, as well as from Nhà Bè, assisting with Operation GAME WARDEN and the pursuit of Việt Cộng forces in the Rừng Sác swamp. Platoons from SEAL Team 2, which deployed to Vietnam in 1967, conducted counterinsurgency warfare missions primarily in the paddies, canals, and marshes of the Đồng bằng Sông Cửu Long (Mekong Delta).
SEALs conducted both day and night operations, consisting mostly of ambushes, long-range reconnaissance patrols (LRRPs), hit-and-run raids, and salvage missions—usually in squads of six men. They operated on foot and from helicopters and river patrol boats, but were perhaps most associated with the small, maneuverable, shallow-draft SEAL Team Assault Boats, or STABs.1
1Edward J. Marolda, By Sea, Land, and Air: An Illustrated History of the U.S. Navy and the War in Southeast Asia (Washington, D.C.: Naval Historical Center, 1994), 31–32, 169–70, 375; Edward J. Marolda, The Approaching Storm: Conflict in Asia, 1945–1965 (Washington, D.C.: Naval History and Heritage Command, 2009), 49–50, 169–170; Edward J. Marolda and Oscar P. Fitzgerald, The United States Navy in the Vietnam Conflict, Volume II: From Military Assistance to Combat, 1959–1965 (Washington, D.C.: Naval Historical Center, 1986), 189–90; Tucker, ed., The Encyclopedia of the Vietnam War: A Political, Social, and Military History (2nd edition; Santa Barbara, Ca.: ABC-CLIO, 2011), 639–40.