Last Living Member of Original Navy SEAL Team Turns 94, Shares WWII Stories Only He Can Tell
Surrounded by friends and former colleagues, World War II veteran and retired firefighter William “Bill” Dawson celebrated his 94th birthday with a grin on his face and a story to tell.
Dawson is the last living member of the first-ever U.S. Navy SEAL team, an elite 10-man special operations team that was called to dangerous and top-secret missions.
Dawson and his teammates were known as Frogmen, as the term SEALs had not yet come into play.
“There was no such thing as SEALs, so Frogmen seemed like an appropriate name,” Dawson told CBS News.
Dawson, from Washington, D.C., was only 17 years old when he joined the Navy. He served in the Pacific arena from 1943 to 1945, traveling between Japan, Papua New Guinea, Boreno and other Pacific islands.
In those two years, Dawson and his teammates would experience missions unlike anything else, and while the men were instructed not to keep any record of where they went or what they did, Dawson recorded a bit of information anyway.
Last remaining member of first-ever Navy SEAL team celebrates 94th birthday https://t.co/zLQb5yavnE pic.twitter.com/qHbQPlRQvA
— CBS News (@CBSNews) April 25, 2019
Dawson recalled that he almost was not a part of the Frogmen because he missed the application deadline. But determined, and a bit rebellious, he crawled through a window and quickly filled out an application anyway and turned it in.
His antics worked, and Dawson was eventually chosen to be a part of the elite, 10-man group.
“They couldn’t tell us a whole lot about it. Because everything was top-secret,” Dawson said. “But one thing they did tell us, was that you learned to blow things up.”
Dawson took photos, kept a diary, collected newspaper clippings and old Japanese war propaganda, a rare collection of information from his time in the Pacific arena.
Many of Dawson’s missions were life-threatening, but he and his teammates faced each situation with courage.
“Of course I was scared,” the veteran said. “Anybody tells you they wasn’t scared, I’ll call them a liar.”
Dawson said feeling afraid is natural, but it is how you respond in the face of fear that matters most.
Bill Dawson, One Of The First Ever Navy Seals, Celebrates 94 Years Of Life by Matthew Russell | https://t.co/zUDUvfNti9 pic.twitter.com/S7uXDIOaty
— Veterans Campaign (@vetcampaign) April 25, 2019
Dawson and his fellow frogs shared a tight-knit bond and kept in touch even after their deployment ended. But now, as the last team member alive, Dawson cannot reminisce quite like he used to.
“You have to talk to somebody that was there. And I don’t have anybody that was there,” he said. “They’re all gone.”
After his time in the Navy, Dawson took on another risky job as a firefighter in Washington, D.C. for over 20 years.
He still meets up with his fellow retired colleagues, a group of firefighters he admires much like his frogman counterparts.
“Great group of men,” Dawson said of the retired firefighters. “Same way in the fire department as in the SEALs. It’s teamwork. As long as you got teamwork, you got a company.”
Dawson is also a published author, writing “Before They Were SEALs They Were Frogs,” which was released in 2015.
The book details Dawson’s time in the military, a treasure trove of information for those of us who will never know what it was like to walk in his shoes.
Dawson said he is proud of today’s Navy SEALs and how far they have come.
“There’s nothing they can’t do. No place they won’t go,” Dawson said.
Happy Birthday, Frogman — thank you for your service.
Truth and Accuracy
We are committed to truth and accuracy in all of our journalism. Read our editorial standards.