Scenes of honor and sacrifice at SEALs museum – Travel Weekly
“The only easy day was yesterday” is the motto of the U.S. Navy SEALs, and a gate emblazoned with the saying is one of the first things visitors notice as they approach a museum in Fort Pierce, Fla., dedicated to the history of this elite special forces unit.
It’s an apt phrase to describe some of the experiences the SEALs went through in Afghanistan, including the downing of a Chinook C-47 helicopter on a rescue mission 10 years ago that killed 31 military members, 23 of them Navy SEALs.
It remains the biggest single-day loss of American lives in the 20-year U.S. deployment to Afghanistan.
I went to visit the SEALs museum while the chaotic U.S. evacuation was going on in Kabul; it happened to be the day that a suicide bomber killed 13 U.S. service members at an airport entrance. I hoped to gain some perspective on the sacrifices of U.S. military personnel over the years.
Fort Pierce is a fitting location for the museum. During World War II, the Navy established a training site there for units that preceded the SEALs, collectively dubbed Frogmen. The SEALs evolved in the early 1960s, fueled by President Kennedy’s interest in special forces and tapping the skills of Navy underwater demolition experts.
The story of the SEALs is traced in the museum from World War II through Korea, Vietnam, Iraq and a number of one-off missions, such as the 1983 invasion of Grenada.
One of the most moving artifacts on display is the orange lifeboat from the cargo ship Maersk Alabama, which was hijacked by pirates off Somalia. SEAL snipers killed several hijackers to rescue the ship’s captain, portrayed in the hit movie “Captain Phillips” by Tom Hanks. The lifeboat’s shattered windows tell the story.
The museum offers some terrific displays of weaponry and also has some fun interactive elements. Visitors can try on uniforms and heft small arms used by the SEALs. They can try to tie three knots while holding their breath as if underwater. An obstacle course outside the museum replicates much of the SEAL course in Coronado, Calif.
I took the video-screen “Trident Challenge” to outfit my SEAL team with nine weapons, vehicles and other gear on a hypothetical mission. One of the nine, a Claymore mine, was judged “indiscriminate” and likely to produce bystander casualties. I failed the challenge and was sent back to basic training.
Entrance to the Fort Pierce site, formally called the National Navy UDT-SEAL Museum, is $15 for adults, $12 for seniors and $7 for children ages 6 to 12. It is open Tuesdays through Sundays.
The outdoor part of the museum is as compelling as the indoor. Surrounding the museum are a variety of specialized submarines, assault boats, riverine craft and patrol boats used by SEALs over the years. Only one is a replica.
Climb the stairs to board an 82-foot Mark V assault craft capable of being parachute-dropped at sea by a C-17 transport. Or marvel at the minisub in which SEALs lie prone, submersed in seawater, using scuba gear to breathe.
In one corner of the grounds sits a memorial to SEALs who have died in the line of duty. Inscribed on one of the granite plaques is a verse from Isaiah. It reads: “Then I heard the voice of the Lord saying: ‘Whom shall I send? Who will go for Us?’ And I said: ‘Here am I. Send me.'”
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