Frank Goerlich

Frank Erwin Goerlich BM1.

UDT/SEALS are made up of people from all walks of life. Many were born in large cities and some were from the country and urban areas. They all have one thing in common. They are achievers, with a lust for excitement whether it be on the beach, battlefield, or in the area of innovation of new tactics, techniques and equipment. The Underwater Demolition Teams (UDT'S) were born out of necessity during World War II, and were called upon again during the Korean conflict. Their history is paved with heroic deeds and achievements. After the Korean conflict, actions were being taken to do away with the UDT'S, but Commander Francis Douglas Fane made a trip to Washington D.C. to fight for their existence. When he returned, the decision had been made to keep one team on the East Coast (UDT 21) and two teams on the West Coast (UDT 11 & 12). As time passed, the experience level in the Teams was eroding away due to two major factors: (l) lack of a career program for both officers and enlisted and (2) short tours for most of the men, approximately two years.

There was a small nucleus of men who put up with the lack of advancements as they had to compete with the fleet sailors who were working in their rates daily and also many of the rates were frozen with no opportunity for advancement if they did pass exams. This small nucleus of men was faced with many extra duties besides those outlined in the Naval Warfare Publications such as lifeguard duties, cable jobs and many demonstrations for the public. Even though it was mundane, these jobs did provide experience in coordination with other Units, and the demolition and underwater work on the cable jobs provided invaluable experience. This small nucleus of men who stayed in the Teams was subjected to hardships as mentioned, but they also provided experience and knowledge to impart on the new trainees that reported on board. Without their expertise, the Teams would not have been able to function. As previously stated most Officers and Men were on board for a short duration and had to rely on the "old timers" who had some WW II or Korean combat experience. Of this nucleus CDR Fane had a specialized group called SUBOPS, or the Submersible Operations Platoon. These men were his pride and joy and were the ones he presented to visiting dignitaries for show. They were also the envy of the rest of the men in the Teams. The SUBOPS men were involved in Research, Development, Test and Evaluation (RDT&E), specifically working with the forerunner of the Submersible Diving Vehicle of today.

This small group of men consisted of Frank Goerlich, Walter Otte, George Giannotti, Jerry Darrah, Lou De Lara, Leonard McLarty, Bear Track Allen and a few others that escape my memory; these men were assigned for their expertise with equipment and their water capabilities, not necessarily their behavior on the beach. In the Teams, Harry Tindall, Lou Wagner, Steve Bourecksky, Clarence Betz, Melvin Christensen, Tom Spence, Bugs Bolin, Bud Juric, Bill Wettenkamp, Tex Modesett, Ben Supplee, Leo Hamel, Ken Specht, Harry Miller, Charlie Niergarth, Gator Parks, Lonnie Price, George Rush, Finns Foley, Al Huey, Rusty Campbell, Ray Abreu, Tizz Morrison, Don Rose and a few others made up the glue that kept the Teams functional.

One has to think about all of the exotic equipment and weapons that are being used by the SEALS and how it came about. Who were the inventors or the men who tried it out and gave it thumbs up or down and made further recommendations and modifications to improve the equipment and weaponry? Many of these men risked their lives on a daily basis in perfecting the weapons and equipment that we are using today.

One of these men of special note is Frank Erwin Goerlich BM1. Frank Goerlich was born on December 7, l931 in Long Island, New York. He enlisted in the U.S. NAVY on December 9, l948, at the age of 17. After completing boot camp, he was stationed aboard the USS WASHBURN (AKA 104). He volunteered for Underwater Demolition Training in l955 and graduated with Class 14 on 29 August l955. Incidentally, he was married to Arlene on the 28th of August, just before he graduated from Training. He was only on board a short time and he went to 2nd Class Divers School, graduating on 2 December l955. Frank made a deployment to the Western Pacific and upon his return was assigned to CDR Fane's elite SUBOPS Group. While in SUBOPS, he was involved in all phases of development and experimenting with new equipment. They had paddleboards that were to be developed for carrying equipment for insertion (they looked like overgrown surf boards) and the most innovative was an Underwater Submersible (it was the forerunner of our current SDV's), but they always had problems with the batteries.

During this period, CDR Fane was busy writing his book, NAKED WARRIORS, and getting involved in movies. CDR Fane took his elite group over to Hawaii to film "CRY FOR HAPPY" and later "UNDERWATER WARRIORS". Frank was involved in these movies. About this time, CDR Fane was relieved and LCDR John Roe reported on board as Commanding Officer of UDT-11, and LCDR Ted Fielding took over as Commander Underwater Demolition Unit ONE (UDUONE) and CO of UDT-12. The SUBOPS Group was disestablished and this elite group of men returned to the teams from which they had been temporarily assigned. Frank returned to UDT-11, was assigned to the diving locker, and while there designed and fabricated a multi-unit charging system that was able to charge several units at one time.

Frank Goerlich

Water World Magazine, Aug. 1955

A little more background on Frank Goerlich before going on. Frank was a real hunk of a man; he was about 5'10" tall and weighed in at 220 lbs. The calves of his legs measured 21 inches. His strength was unknown as he could lift with the best of them and he was what I called a Gentle Giant. He was easy-going and always had a twinkle in his eyes. His first son, Frank, was born in l957 and he was a proud and devoted father and husband.

In l959, UDT-11 sent a detachment to Wake Island for a cable job. Frank was part of the detachment. This was a tough job because it was being conducted in the sea approach to the airport. They had to notify and get permission before each blast went off. One day 1500 lbs. were planted and the men anchored the IBS while waiting for permission to detonate. Ironically, they had anchored up current and by the time permission was received to detonate, they had drifted over the shot. When they detonated the charge, the IBS (still anchored) went up in the air and flipped. All personnel were thrown out. There was a lot of foam on the surface and you couldn't see anybody. Finally they all surfaced and came ashore. They were covered in the foam almost like coming out of the mud flats. Frank had a big grin on his face and his comment was "that was really a big thump." Harry Miller said he thought he had grabbed the thwart tube, but when his ears started popping, realized he had grabbed a sand bag and was really dropping.

This job also required blasting through a coral reef. When on the inland side of the reef it was quite easy, but once through the reef, all the water washed back out through the channel. It was difficult to maintain your position when planting explosives. They finally banded the 50 lb. blocks on a board. Carrying this load of explosives through the surf wasn't easy and Frank always took the lead. Next, the sand bags were placed on top of the explosives. The men were having difficulties in the channel one day when Capt. Roe said to just relax and it will roll you through the channel. Well, that afternoon Capt. Roe and Phil Potter (Western Electric Engineer) went out and got caught in the wash and they relaxed. The end result was that Potter's watch was cut off his wrist and Capt. Roe received massive coral cuts on his thighs. He was good-natured, and grinned saying, " that channel really is rough". He placed toilet paper around his leg and said " You didn't know it's good for more than wiping with, did you?" He went to the base dispensary and they couldn't get the paper off; they had to roll it and take it off with tweezers. The men all grinned and said, "You didn't know TP was just for wiping did you?" Capt. Roe, being a Master Diver, they were not sure of his reaction, but he grinned took it well. The group ended up with lots of coral cuts and have scars to this day. They took the opportunity in 1997 at the SEAL reunion to compare scars.

Wake Island was a challenging operation as there was heavy surf, the airport, sharks and tons of protectors to put on the cable. Diving the protectors down to 80-l00 feet was exciting, as they couldn't be turned loose or they would sashay back and forth and become a hazard to other swimmers. Frank excelled in this area. In fact, on many occasions while working, and he was standby diver, he would free dive down to over l00 feet and leisurely look you in the eye and then go back to the surface.

Upon returning to Coronado, Frank was TAD to the Training Unit and was an excellent Instructor. After six months he returned to the team and the diving department. In July 1960, he had a second son, Kenneth. Shortly thereafter, Charlie Steinmetz said to check on Frank in the diving locker as he was kicking the trashcan and muttering to himself. Upon going down, I saw Frank walking back and forth with his head down and he was muttering, "I'll cut it off, I'll cut it off." I asked what was wrong and he looked up and said "Arlene went to the doctor for her six-week checkup, and she's pregnant!" That evening when Arlene came in to pick up Frank, I mention the episode to her. She grinned and said, "Yes, I know. This morning he threw his nightclothes into the commode instead of the clothes hamper." At the l997 SEAL reunion we reminisced with Frank about it, and he smiled and said, "That was one of the best mistakes I ever made," David was born on 15 July l96l.

To support the Training Unit and Naval Operations Support Group (NOSG), men were temporarily assigned from the operational Teams for a six-month period. Frank was in an operational platoon, in the Training Unit on numerous occasions, and later was TAD to NOSG to work with Ken Specht in RDT&E. Frank was a dedicated instructor and he took a special interest in the trainees to ensure that they were properly motivated to make a good team member. I had temporarily assigned three outstanding men in SEALs to the Training Unit for two reasons: I had anticipated having to get men directly from the Training Unit and I wanted the very best instructors to ensure the trainees were motivated, and two, I wanted inside information on who to select. I sent Frank Goerlich, A. J. Smith and Racheck. Of special note is Senator Robert Kerry who came through Class 42 in December of l967. This was the first class that trainees were selected to go directly to SEAL Teams without a six-month probation period in the Teams.

Upon Frank's return from the Training Unit, Ken Specht requested Frank's help in the development of the Swimmer Delivery Vehicle (SDV) Program that he was conducting in NOSG. Frank was working in this program when he retired on 2 December l968. He continued working on Special Warfare Projects (SDV) at OPI in San Diego for Ken Specht. In 1970 the project was transferred to Naval Ordnance Test Station (NOTS) China Lake. Frank was involved with the development and testing of the Mark 8 and Mark 9 SDV's. He relished this kind of work and was an excellent pilot to the craft.


Frogman Visit - Inter-American Defense Board Representatives Brigadier General Marco A. Villamizar, left, chief of Delegation, Columbia, and Major General Jose A. Cortese, right, Chief of Delegation, Uruguay, pose with Frogman Frank E. Goerlich, BM2, during an Underwater Demolition Team Demonstration at the Amphibious Base July 24.

Friday, August 9, 1957

Frank was also a prankster. I remember one time when I was the project manager at OPNAV and made a trip to inspect the SDV. Frank had been driving the SDV for over an hour. He asked if I wanted to take a test-run. They rounded up a wet suit for me (several sizes too large) and we took off. The water was extremely cold and I was glad when the test-run was over, as my teeth were chattering. Frank just grinned. I understand that he had done the same thing to Tom Hawkins at a later date.

Another time they were testing the MK 8 at Haiwee Reservoir in the winter and some of the other SEALs were complaining about the cold. Frank said, "It's not that bad." He pealed off his clothes and jumped in. When he started dressing it was all he could do to button his clothes as his fingers were so numb, but he wouldn't admit how cold it was. Another time Frank was the pilot and James Fillmore was the co-pilot where the test was for maximum angle diving (MK8) to a depth of l00 feet. Fillmore was navigating and reading the depth gauges, and sounding off every ten feet. When they got to 80 feet, Fillmore told Frank to level off - it was too late - because of the length of the SDV they were already on the bottom and they tore off part of the bow. Instead of surfacing, they continued testing without any problem, even with the bow off. After they surfaced, they were asked why they didn't surface. Frank said, "When we start a job, we always finish it." On another test in which they were required to run six hours at X knots, they were running patterns at 40-50 feet. After two hours and it was time to switch positions, Frank had to wake up Fillmore. He said he didn't know how anyone could go to sleep underwater. They made the switch and when it was time to switch again Fillmore had to wake up Frank - needless to say Frank was a little sheepish.

Frank was involved with some phase of SDV development from the early SUBOPS time frame and continued intermittently until l976. From late l970 until l976 he worked for Naval Weapons Center, China Lake with Ken Specht, Frank Flynn, Lonnie Price, Gator Parks, Jim Fillmore, Whizzer White, Tank Childress and Rusty Campbell. Frank helped custom build many of the craft's configurations and he designed and built the RDS catcher for the MK 8 and MK 9's.

Frank transferred to Sky Top, the ballistic missile test site in l976 where he helped with the testing of the Polaris and Trident Missiles' first and second stage motors. He retired again in 1986 and continued to live in Ridgecrest, CA until his death on 30 April l998.

Frank will be remembered for his dedication to his wife and sons, and as an example to others. He would take his sons fishing and to the Strand to watch training exercises and Hell Week. Frank had been selected as the Command's most outstanding enlisted man in l963 and l967. It was a sad day when Frank passed away from a massive heart attack. He had suffered three previous attacks. Frank's contributions in the field of Special Warfare will be used for many years to come and has greatly enhanced the capabilities of the Navy and the defense of the United States of America.

Arlene and Frank

Arlene and Frank Goerlich, UDT-11, 1962

As mentioned earlier, Senator J. Robert Kerry (D Neb.) was in Class 42 when Frank was his instructor. Senator Kerry on 15 May l998 wrote, "To the family of Frank Goerlich, Frank was one of my instructors and teammates many years ago when I served with him in the Navy. I wanted you to know how sad I am to learn of his passing. He made a deep and lasting impression on me as a man of strength, integrity, and character. He taught me I could do far more than I believed possible. A lesson I have used almost every day since. Life without him will be difficult, but please know you are in my thoughts and prayers. Sincerely J. Robert Kerry." Another excerpt from Bob Forrester who was division Head of the Naval Weapon Center wrote, "Frank was a powerful man, and a gentle man capable of the very fine and delicate work required to make SDV models. Frank was one of my favorite people, a friend and one of the very finest that I had the opportunity to know and work with. I share your sorrow. Bob Forrester."

These tributes to Frank could be echoed from just about everybody that Frank worked for, and worked with. He was always an example for others to follow. He was a leader of men and always strived to give his utmost time and devotion to the job at hand. A true hero in every respect, it was an honor to know and work with Frank Erwin Goerlich.

Frank is survived by his wife of 43 years, Arlene, their sons Frank Jr., Kenneth, and David. He was the proud grandfather of five grandchildren: Frank Mathew, Heather, Kimberly, Tiffany, and Daniel. Frank Goerlich is listed on the original program for the l985 Veterans Day as a Sponsor and firmly believe in the museum.


Franklin W. Anderson CDR/USN Ret. (e-mail)


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