Thursday, June 7, 2018

Once Again, It's Always About the People



D-Day, June 6, 1944; on the beaches at Normandy (photo in public domain)
Yesterday was the 74th anniversary of the Normandy landings, the offensive to liberate German-occupied northwestern Europe, and the largest seaborne invasion in history. Born just a decade after the war, I grew up with pictures like this. Gripping and iconic as the photo is, though, my real understanding of what was going on here totally changed last year, when we made one particular stop sailing our way north from the Keys. There's a lot beneath the surface.

 I love museums, and while I enjoy the Smithsonian or the Natural History museum or the Guggenheim, what really intrigues me are specialty museums and local museums. I love the stories that small towns tell about themselves, a way to see others the way they wish to be defined. So when I learned that the Navy Seal museum in Fort Pierce, FL was designed by ... a group of Seals, telling their own story, well, I just had to make sure we planned time for a visit.

I'm not sure what I was expecting; military museums tend to be a bit self-congratulatory, but this place was as extraordinary as the Seals themselves.  It would have been so easy to dazzle visitors with examples of futuristic technology and grand missions, and that stuff was there. But really, it was a sidelight. The story they told wasn't about technology, it was about their people.  The most important tool the Seals had, was their mental resolve, their spectacular physical conditioning, and a surprising humility.

That D-Day photo doesn't show the whole story. As if running ashore under fire, with all the heavy gear wasn't enough, gaining those beaches wasn't just mucking through sand. The beaches were fortified with nasty obstacles beneath the surface at high tide that would prevent ships from coming close, and trip unwary running soldiers. They were duplicated for training purposes here.

No landing craft could approach the shore with these in the shallow tidal zone.
The plaque explaining the obstacles.

The most important tool used to clear these obstacles was ... people. Slipping behind enemy lines to recon, wearing only swim fins and mask to plant plastic explosive on the obstacle structures. There's a statue that greets you at the entrance to the museum called "The Naked Warrior."

The text on the plaque explaining this statue reads: "The Naked Warrior statue depicts the elite men of the U.S. Navy's Underwater Demolition Teams of WWII. Nicknamed the "Naked Warrior" for their lack of clothing and equipment, these men were supplied with only shorts, swim fins, dive mask, a knife, a pencil, and a slate board on which to record their findings. These brave men entered enemy waters to recon enemy-held beaches and destroy any natural or manmade obstacles that could impede allied amphibious landings."

I was just in awe. The tools are enhancements, but only as good as the humans that wield them. We often say that the coolest part of adventuring is the people you meet. In cruising, as in with the Navy Seals, it's all about the people.