NAVAL PENTATHLON

 

by Richard Nickelson

                                     © 2003 Richard G. Nickelson

 

 

 

This story deals with a very select group of men who served in both UDT and SEAL Teams. These men were not only proficient Team operatives; they were also tremendous athletes. In the early sixties they brought prominence and recognition to the Teams in a venue not previously exploited by Team members. There numbers may have been small but their accomplishments were huge. This is their story. 

In 1962, for the first time, the United States sent representatives to compete in the International Council of Military Sports (CISM). This competition would see America’s best naval athletes compete against the best naval athletes of other nations. And, while 1962 may not have been a banner year for the United States, with regard to overall CISM accomplishments, 1963 would produce much different results.

CISM is comprised of thirty nations who compete yearly. The program includes events taken from the Olympics as well as specialty events such as the Naval Pentathlon. The CISM general council, at their annual meeting, determines which country will host the event the following year. Athens, Greece hosted the 1962 event and Stockholm, Sweden served as host in 1963.

In early June 1963, West Coast athletes began training, under Coach EMC, Don Rose of UDT-11. Chief Rose, SM3, Ron Gauthier, and AN, Frank Watton, all PhibPac Frogmen, had represented the United States, at CISM, in 1962. Chief Rose was therefore familiar with the CISM process, a disciplinarian, a gifted athlete, and well qualified to train these men for the 1963 event.

Training for CISM was to be conducted in a limited timeframe and would therefore be very demanding. In less than six weeks the West Coast finalists would be required to participate in a pre-CISM trial, which would be conducted at Little Creek, Virginia in July. At this event, ten men from the East Coast would compete against ten men from the West Coast. However, three-quarters of these competitors would leave the event empty handed; the primary purpose of this dual meet was to select the five best athletes to represent the United States during “Sea Week” which was scheduled to begin August 27, in Stockholm Sweden.

On the West Coast, of the original twenty-seven men selected to engage in the competition, seventeen were Navy PhibPac Frogmen while the remaining ten came from the fleet. It didn’t take long before sixty percent of the original field had been eliminated leaving ten men, including Chief Rose, to make the trip to Little Creek. The final ten consisted of eight men from the Teams and two from the fleet.

Before I go much further, I should tell you that the Naval Pentathlon consists of five events. They include lifesaving, seamanship, a cross-country race, an obstacle course and a utility swim. Each man competes in all five events and his time, in each event, is compared to that of each of the other competitors. Doing well in the swimming events and poorly in the running events, or vice versa, would not send you home a winner; you had to show good and consistent times in all events. I think that you can now see why men from the Teams fared much better than those from the regular Navy. Because of their superb conditioning, proven ability in the water, daily swimming and running, familiarity with the obstacle course, and basic overall strength, the men from the Teams held a consistent edge over most other competitors.

Then, on July 22, 1963 the much anticipated Atlantic Coast versus Pacific Coast competition began at Little Creek, Virginia. As with the West Coast, the ten East Coast finalists came primarily from the ranks of the UDT/SEAL Teams. Therefore, not only would the five finalists’ be selected from this field of twenty men, also at stake were “bragging rights” that would go to the Teams to which these finalists belonged. While we were all brothers, there remained strong feelings as to which Coast produced the best Frogmen and this competition, in some small way, would help answer that question.

Going into this competition, the East Coast Team had the home court advantage, which provided a sizeable edge over their West Coast counterparts. In addition, the West Coast Team had been given only one day to practice on and become familiar with the Little Creek course that had been the training ground for the East Coast Team. Also, the humid weather in Virginia, during the month of July, was nothing like the much cooler Southern California climate that the West Coast competitors had been acclimated to. The only question, could the Pacific Coast athletes make the needed adjustment in time?

It didn’t take long to dispel any concerns surrounding the West Coast athletes and their ability to participate. On the morning of July 22, the competition began with a fury but by the end of the first day, the Pacific Team had won both the obstacle course and lifesaving events. On the obstacle course, the Pacific Team placed eight men in the top ten positions. First place went to BT2, Wayne Fowler and second place to SN, Mike Dorfi, both from UDT-12. With regard to lifesaving, LTJG George Worthington, who would later join the Teams, won the event while second place went to SN, Jim Foley also of UDT-12. By the close of the first day of competition, the Pacific Coast Team had taken a demanding early lead, 73 – 137.

The three remaining events would be held on consecutive days. On day three, Chief Don Rose won the seamanship event. Then on Thursday, the forth day of competition, the West Coast Team showed their superiority by taking the first four places of the cross-country run. On Friday, the final day of the event, Jim Foley of UDT-12 won the utility swim, which provided the West Coast with a clean sweep of all events. George Worthington finished first and Mike Dorfi second in the overall point standings. Yes, when all was said and done the West Coast Team had soundly defeated the East Coast Team 198 – 329. The only thing that remained was to identify the five men who would represent the United States at Stockholm.

With all of the times now computed, five finalists and two alternates had emerged from the twenty competitors. EMC Don Rose, UDT-11: SN Mike Dorfi, UDT-12: SN Jim Foley, UDT-12: LTJG George Worthington, CruDesFlot Seven: and Marine Second Lieutenant L. Gordon Collet, Quantico, Virginia had won the right to represent the United States. In addition, BT2, Wayne Fowler, UDT-12 and Ensign, James T. Wooten, UDT-11 had earned the right to serve as alternates. The field had been identified and it looked as though the United States would be well represented.

In reality, it takes many years of hard training before men can compete competitively in world competition such as CISM. I didn’t include compete successfully in such competition, that takes even longer. The United States would be going up against Countries that had competed in CISM for years and therefore, the U.S. was viewed as a Country that came to engage in the learning process, that time consuming process all Countries are required to go through. The men from the United States were there to pay their dues and nothing more. Anyway, this is how those other twenty-nine countries viewed it. And besides, the athletes chosen to represent the USA would be competing against the very athletes that represent those other Countries during the Summer Olympics. And, for those men, their primary purpose in life was training to compete in either the Navy Pentathlon or the Summer Olympics, nothing else. Life for those competitors meant training three hundred sixty-five days a year in preparation for this yearly event. On the other hand, the five representatives of the United States had trained for roughly eight weeks in five events that they were seeing for the very first time, so how could they possibly be a factor in these games?

There is one thing the competition had overlooked. They were dealing with a select group of individuals, not ordinary men; most had completed Basic Underwater Demolition SEAL Training (BUDS) and were therefore instilled with the desire to win at any cost, and win they would do. When the five events that comprise the Naval Pentathlon had concluded, the United States had done the impossible and finished third overall behind Sweden and Norway. In only its second competition, the United States would walk away with the Bronze Medal. This group of five men had made history. The fledgling United States had bested countries such as Greece, Netherlands, Turkey, Italy, Belgium, France, and Denmark, plus twenty others that had been competing at CISM for years. This was an achievement that had never been accomplished before. And, equally impressive; of the roughly one hundred and fifty athletes to compete, Mike Dorfi, UDT-12, had finished eighth overall. To this day, I marvel at this single most significant accomplishment. For their efforts, the novice athletes who represented the United States had gained the praise, recognition, and respect of every country and from each of the athletes who participated in CISM, 1963.

Three of the individuals, from UDT-12, who participated in the 1963 Naval Pentathlon, were my close friends at that time and they remain my friends to this day. For their above-mentioned accomplishments they have left a lasting impression but I remember each of these men for other attributes as well.

Wayne Fowler – On the Obstacle Course Wayne was unequalled. That aside, he was an extraordinary self-taught gymnast.  Wayne would sit flat on the ground with his legs stretched in front of him and spread wide. He would then put one hand between his legs, push his body about three inches off of the ground, and then go into a handstand and on one arm, do pushups while his body and legs were parallel to the ground. I was so impressed by the things Wayne could do, that after seeing this for the first time, I immediately went over to a wall and did a hand stand; then with my feet against the wall did two armed pushups. I knew that I could never accomplish the many feats that Wayne was capable of, but he inspired me to try.

Jim Foley – Jim was a fantastic swimmer and all around natural athlete. We both graduated from the West Coast BUDS Class-28, in July 1962. We then went together to UDT-12. The thing that impressed me most about Jim wasn’t his athleticism but his ability to accept responsibility for his actions and his willingness to give one hundred percent, one hundred percent of the time. What ever Jim did, he did to the best of his ability and no matter what Jim did, when he completed a task, even trivial tasks, he was proud of what he had accomplished.

Mike Dorfi – Mike is a man unto himself. While he was always the life of a party, he was also an exceptional Team Operative, a “Meat Eater”, and a person you wanted with you when things got tough. Mike is one of two people that I know capable of doing sit-ups with two fifty pound barbell weights behind his head. If you have a great stomach, have someone hold your feet and try doing sit-ups like that. Mike was also a natural athlete and the only man to repeat at the 1965 Naval Pentathlon. There had been no 1964 CISM because the majority of those countries, who normally participate, sent their athletes to the Summer Olympics. Mike was a friend of mine and a friend to many. I will always be proud to say that Mike is my friend.

In closing I can only say that I have the deepest respect and admiration for all those men who represented the United States and competed in the 1963 Naval Pentathlon. These men truly defied the odds and define the measure of men who comprise the ranks of UDT/SEAL Teams. With only eight weeks, to prepare and train for CISM, they defeated those who had spent a lifetime in preparation. Can you imagine what the results might have been had they spent sixteen weeks in preparation for that competition? 

 

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