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First Navy SEAL team’s last living member turns 94

Chief of Naval Operations (CNO) Adm. John Richardson talks with Bill Dawson, the last surviving member of the very first Naval Combat Demolition Unit (NCDU) during Navy appreciation night at Nationals Park. NCDUs were the precursor of the Underwater Demolition Teams (UDT) and today's Navy SEALs. Richardson administered the oath of enlistment to future Sailors from Navy Recruiting District (NRD) Richmond, met with the Sailors of the Year and took part in a special salute to military members. (Mass Communication Specialist 1st Class Nathan Laird/U.S. Navy)
April 19, 2019

On Thursday, the last living member of the original Navy SEAL team turned 94-years-old.

Bill Dawson was part of the “frogmen” team in 1943, which was the first team ever of the Naval Combat Demolition Units, known today as the Navy SEALs, NBC 4 reported.

Dawson joined the Navy at the age of 17 during World War II and fought until 1945 when the Japanese surrendered

“Knowing today what I helped start developed into what it is today. It’s one of the greatest outfits in the world,” Dawson said.

The “frogmen” were the swimmers that revolutionized what today’s Navy SEALs have become. Their job was to jump out of small boats and swim along the beaches that were occupied by the enemy. They would observe every single thing and retain it to memory, making sure that nothing was in the way of a safe landing, We Are the Mighty explained.

If there were such obstacles, they had to destroy or dismantle them. The frogmen units were called “Underwater Demolition Teams.” They looked like frogs because all they could wear during these missions was shorts, snorkels, fins, and swim masks.

Dawson wrote a book called “Before They Were SEALs They Were Frogs,” which shares his exclusive experiences during the war.

An account of the book says, “Bill provides a rare first-person look into the training, personalities, and non-classified activities of his unit in the Pacific Theater of Operations from 1943 until the end of his service after the Japanese surrender. The book reproduces photographs Bill took during his service, vintage clippings and rare examples of Japanese propaganda. Retired Navy SEAL Commander and noted Naval Special Warfare historian Tom Hawkins adds historic perspective and detail.”

Once Dawson came home from the war, he made a 20-year-career at the D.C. Fire Department.

Dawson’s granddaughter Sherrie Soos said, “He would talk to you for hours about all of the travels he did, all of the experience he gained, and it just made him really proud of his service.”

Soos was part of Dawson’s 94th birthday celebration. He was also surrounded by other family and friends, including colleagues from the fire department.

Greg Turnell, who helps Dawson with various tasks said, “He’s part of that brotherhood in the fire department for one. He’s done a lot for our country and our community.”

Turnell added that Dawson is an inspiration, adding in jest, “The fact that he’s collected a pension for 45 years — that’s even more inspiring.”