CBS News – Bill Dawson, the last living member of the first-ever U.S. Navy SEAL team, celebrated his 94th birthday earlier this month, and CBS News visited him to hear stories that only he can tell.
Dawson is now in a wheelchair and he uses oxygen, but he was once part of an elite special operations team. The veteran from Washington, D.C. was just 17 years old when he enlisted in the Navy and he and his teammates were deployed on top-secret and often life-threatening missions.
Before they were known as Navy SEALs, they were Frogmen. “There was no such thing as SEALs, so Frogmen seemed like an appropriate name,” Dawson told CBS News.
Dawson served in the Pacific arena from 1943 to 1945, when the Japanese surrendered.
As the last living Frogman, he doesn’t have anyone to relate to. But he does have “the book” — a three-ring binder that is so stuffed with information, it’s about six inches thick.
“Everything we did was top-secret,” Dawson said. “You weren’t supposed to keep a log of any information. But I managed to keep my scrapbook.”
He kept a diary and took countless photos while traveling between Japan, Papua New Guinea, Borneo, and other Pacific islands.
“I’ve got some pretty good pictures. It tells a story,” he said of his thick binder.
“You learned to blow things up”
From the beginning, Dawson was a bit rebellious. When he missed the deadline to apply for the unit, he snuck through a window to add his application was in the pile.
He was eventually chosen to be a part of the team of 10, specializing in explosives.
As part of the new Naval Combat Demolition Unit, Dawson didn’t know much about what his job would entail.
“They couldn’t tell us a whole lot about it. Because everything was top-secret,” he said. “But one thing they did tell us, was that you learned to blow things up.” Read more.