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, bumfuck 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[s]…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 pre-invasion, 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.