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JOHN F. KENNEDY AND U.S. NAVY SEALs – A New Commander in Town

Today we commemorate the death of President John F. Kennedy, November 22, 1963. This isn't the celebration it once was. I remember those days, when it was the “Land of Camelot” as they called it, the handsome president and his beautiful wife, someone we looked up to, even if we didn't vote for him initially. It was a different time and era in this country, and one I barely became part of. I was in high school when he was shot. I was in College when Martin Luther King and Robert F. Kennedy were assassinated. It was a horrible time with lots of uncertainty. But we survived as a nation.

How soon we forget these things. I remember watching the funeral, sitting beside my mother, both of us in tears, especially when John-John saluted his father's casket.

Normandy

But most people are surprised to learn that President John F. Kennedy formally recognized and created the U.S. Navy SEALs in 1962. While he didn't invent them, as is sometimes claimed, he was the first to sign into legislation the formal elite branch of the Navy that became the SEALs. Prior to that, SEALs had been known as UDT or “elite frogmen”, since World War II. Learning from some of the heartbreak of earlier beach invasions, under water demolition (UDT) groups were trained to remove some of the land mines and obstacles to future invasion landings. These men were in fact the early SEALs.

In 1962 President Kennedy outlined in his now-famous speech to Congress that he desired to implement an elite fighting force that was well-trained and ready to respond to any “hot spot” or emergency that developed that threatened to destabilize our interests or those of our allies, or American citizens. Most people remember the speech as mentioning “putting a man on the moon,” but he also talked about implementing the birth of the Navy SEALs. Kennedy was controversially interested in restructuring the military to make room for quick, unconventional forms of warfare, to augment and in some cases replace, the massive troop buildup and operations. He didn't create the SEALs, but he was the one who realized their importance and formalized their status and training, and helped gather the funding so the program could go forward and expand into what it is today. He had a vision for us all, some would say.

The two groups formed in 1962 later became 10, with other ancillary teams and crews of special operators from other branches, such that today we have arguably one of the best (not the only) highly trained elite fighting forces the world has ever seen. The gold standard.

You can read more history on the birth of the SEALs here. There is a great quote from Pierre Salinger, the John F. Kennedy biographer, part of the John F. Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum, I found fascinating.

The 1960's were a great time of political turmoil and upheaval in this country. Kennedy's presidency was questioned, frought with problems, and then untimely ended, ushering in another era we all endured: Viet Nam. Those of us who remember those days may find some similarities to events of today. But out of necessity, comes innovation. For a brief time we had Camelot. Kennedy's vision gave us two things: A man on the moon, and the U.S. Navy SEALs.

Click Here to Leave a Comment Below 12 comments
Karen Henderson - November 22, 2015

I've always been interested in the history from JF Kennedy thought it was before my time. My Mom and Dad both remember as they were in high school also. Just think how different our country would be if JFK, RFK and MLK had not been killed. I think in many ways these deaths were the downhilll slide of our country. For one we hopefully would not have had so many both lost souls in Vietman and then so many more lost souls that made it home and were treated like the enemy by the people they were sworn to protect. The time before these losses was one of the times that I would love to have been alive in. I did not know he started the Seals most of the books I've read on him deal more with his death than every great thing he did.
Thank you for the history lesson this cold Sunday here in the south. As always it's a pleasure to read your thoughts and opinions. Have an amazing day. Love your little sister in spirit.

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    Sharon Hamilton - November 22, 2015

    Thanks, Karen. Yes, I actually didn't know Kennedy was responsible for signing that legislation that created the SEALs formally, nor that it was his vision to create another kind of elite fighting unit and was fought at the time by conventional military experts. I'm glad I lived through it, and, had we known what we know now, we'd have done different things. But, we learned, as I hope we continue to. I hope that in the future we will also learn how to take care of and thank our wounded and returning vets, jut as we honored those who did not come home. Love having you here too on Sundays, Karen. Feel free to share!

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J.D. Hart - November 22, 2015

One of my first tv news memories was the assassination of President Kennedy. I was four but I still remember it like it was yesterday. Thank you for sharing your thoughts. Thank God Kennedy gave us the Navy SEAL's. I prefer Camelot and the knights at the round table. I'm afraid we are now in tumultuous times. May the force and SEAL's be with us. Thank you my Princess for another great post! xoxoxoxox

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    Sharon Hamilton - November 22, 2015

    You're so welcome, J.D. My pleasure. And yes, I much prefer Camelot. I guess that makes those special times all that more special, since they are brief and delicate. I think that's why people love living in romances as an alternative to the "real" that is out there. And I'm glad, and don't blame them! Thanks for helping to make it so.

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midsumrnghtdrm - November 22, 2015

I was a teenager and living in Brazil when Kennedy was shot and killed and I remember being scared and praying that WWIII would not start, ironic isn't it, for the present our times are even more dangerous that back then. That he gave us the Seals, am thankful, as JD pointed out, would have been nice to have Camelot that what we have now, but I am sure that as a nation we will come out stronger then before as long as we unite and stand as one., thank you Sharon for sharing this with us………..Jara

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julie beasley - November 22, 2015

Why is it we lose men of vision too soon. People were sad to here in UK but his legacy lives on in the heroic endeavours on the marvellous SEALs

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    Sharon Hamilton - November 22, 2015

    I so agree. He was a man of vision. He wasn't a perfect leader, but there was some magic around the White House when he was there. Something that made us believe in something greater than ourselves.

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Judy - November 22, 2015

I remember my aunt and uncle taking me to visit Runnymede and the acre of land given to the American people as a memorial to JFK, with this quote: "Let every Nation know, whether it wishes us well or ill, that we shall pay any price, bear any burden, meet any hardship, support any friend or oppose any foe, in order to assure the survival and success of liberty." Oh, dear, it still makes me choke up. He left quite a legacy.

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    Sharon Hamilton - November 22, 2015

    It did just choke me up too. He did leave a legacy. He will never be forgotten. It wasn't until later I learned about his connection to the SEALs. I had to learn this slowly. Too slowly. But boy I do remember those times like they were yesterday.

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Jim Harvey - December 20, 2017

Not to disparage anyone; but at the time of JFKs formation of the SEALs we had elite fighting force that were "an elite fighting force that was well-trained and ready to respond to any "hot spot" or emergency that developed that threatened to destabilize our interests or those of our allies, or American citizens." It was the US Marine Corps. Land, Sea nd Air had been the motto of the whole of the Marine Corps since it's inception Nov 10, 1775. At least the land and sea part, Air came later. I have it on good authority that during WWII JFK was intensely jealous of all the press that the USMC received during the war in the pacific. The navy played the biggest part of the war in the pacific, but the marines were getting all the press. This never left JFK's thoughts. So shortly after becoming president he signed this order to convert UDTS/BUDS trained navy demo experts into elite fighting force by adding Marine Corp combat training to their regime. Training that all Marines had been doing for almost 200 years. So like so much government their is much unneeded duplication. Not to diminish the contribution of the Seals. But we have army Delta Force, Marine Raiders and now Seals.

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    Sharon Hamilton - December 24, 2017

    I assume you are right, and thank you for your comments. I appreciate you setting the record straight. I am aware of the in-fighting and jealousy not only amongst the military branches, but the government and policy makers they try to serve, and please. It’s a difficult task.

    The order creating the SEALs, Order No. 5326, which many men wear as tats, was directed by President Kennedy and passed by Congress in 1962.

    But no one can or should diminish the role all the other branches of service, especially the Marines, for their contribution. The Delta Force, Raiders are all just as important. I write what I am most familiar with. My family member is a member of the community.

    Thanks again, and thank you to all those who serve. You have my heart.

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