The Greatest Navy SEAL Stories Ever Told Cover

The Greatest Navy SEAL Stories Ever Told

Laurence J. Yadon

Lyons Press, Guilford, Connecticut, 2018, 240 pages

Book Review published on: September 6, 2019

In The Greatest Navy SEAL Stories Ever Told, Laurence Yadon chronicles SEAL stories from World War II to Operation Enduring Freedom. There are eighteen chapters in the book, each relating different stories about SEAL operations. These stories are arranged chronologically starting with World War II, in which Yadon traces the SEALs’ roots to the Navy’s combat demolition units as well as the scout and raider units that marked and prepared beaches for landings and secured ports and airfields. Such units were key elements in operations in North Africa, the Pacific, and in the landings at Omaha and Utah beaches on D-Day.

The SEALs were formally established in January 1962 following the Bay of Pigs debacle. President John F. Kennedy wanted to strengthen unconventional military capabilities and the SEALs were the Navy’s answer to this call. Formed around two underwater demolition teams, Capt. William Henry Hamilton Jr. and Commander Roy Boehm were instrumental in manning, equipping, and training SEAL Teams One and Two. They purchased Armalite AR-15s, crossbows, and state-of-the-art underwater breathing equipment. While most of the enlisted personnel came from the existing underwater demolition teams, half of the officers recruited were “Mustangs”—former enlisted men. The other half were freshly graduated officers who volunteered for the adventure of parachute or survival training. The Basic Underwater Demolition/SEAL training course became the most rigorous training of its kind in the world with an attrition rate of approximately 70 percent. Upon completion of the course, sailors were awarded the Navy Special Warfare breast insignia, known simply as the “Trident.”

Yadon tells stories of SEALs working with South Vietnamese provincial reconnaissance units to capture or assassinate Vietcong leadership in Vietnam. He details the story of Lt. Joseph “Bob” Kerrey who lost his leg during a raid that captured key Vietcong cadre and prevented a planned attack against U.S. ships and boats in port. Kerrey was awarded the Medal of Honor and went on to become the governor of Nebraska, a U.S. senator, and a candidate for the Democratic presidential nomination in 1992. Yadon also recounts the missions of Lt. Thomas Norris, who was awarded the Medal of Honor for rescuing famed pilot Iceal “Gene” Hambleton, also known as BAT-21 Bravo, in Vietnam. The stories move into modern combat, covering such notable SEALs as Chris Kyle, Marcus Luttrell, and Matt Bissonnette.

Using primary sources to describe key SEAL actions, Yadon’s book is not really a work of military history. Instead, each of the stories is based upon a single book—often a first—person account—and augmented by one or two additional sources. In this sense, it is a collection of synopses from other authors’ works, almost like an in-depth literature review in narrative format. While this provides a collection of good references for SEAL actions, it creates some issues with flow and detail. In synopsizing events, details are left out concerning sequence and context that sometimes make the accounts difficult to follow. Some stories are short and indecisive. The rescue of Jessica Lynch is two pages long, with the first one and a half pages describing Lynch’s ill-fated convoy and the last half page describing the SEAL infiltration into the An Nasiriyah hospital and waking her up from her bed. However, there is no description of the rescue planning or the actions on the objective. Therefore, some of these “greatest stories” are not so great.

The book is noteworthy as a chronicle of major SEAL actions and provides decent background into the establishment of the SEALs as a Special Operations force. It reminds us of little-remembered operations like the rescue of the governor of Grenada in 1982 or the mission to capture the terrorists who took control of MS Achille Lauro in 1985. Yadon’s book is a good source of in-depth references for SEAL operations, especially for those looking to further study them. The Greatest Navy SEAL Stories Ever Told also takes its place as a ready reference for SEAL operations over the last seventy years.

Book Review written by: David S. Pierson, PhD, Fort Leavenworth, Kansas