Jackson County Times

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Thursday, December 17, 2009

Local Vet Was Among First “Frogmen”

Marianna Businessman, Richard Hinson, was in early graduating class from Navy’s Underwater Demolition Team School. By Sid Riley
Dick Hinson has always been known around Jackson County as a popular local personality, retired businessman, WWII Veteran, and avowed environmentalist. Perhaps the reason he has always loved the outdoors and local waterways so much is because he spent so much time in the water while serving the U.S. Navy during the “big war”. The following story is his memories from those experiences.

Richard Hinson ….

“How I Became A Frogman”

“The following is a short account of my time as a WWII “Frogman” from 1944-1946…

I enlisted in the U.S. Navy after graduation in 1944, at the age of 18. I was sent to “bootcamp” in Maryland. When I completed bootcamp, my advisors asked me if I might be interested in a brand new Navy option at the Fort Pierce, Florida Amphibious Base on Hutchinson Island. This choice turned out to be volunteering for qualification in the Navy’s new Underwater Demolition Team.

These volunteers were not exactly chosen at random. Their basic records usually indicated athletic skills, and most had been classified as “good to expert” swimmers in the Navy pool testing. Finally, there was this pledge: “At any point in the U.D.T. training, an officer or enlisted candidate could simply elect to resign and return to the regular navy without penalty or question”. At this time, the U.D.T. function did not exist on the Navy organization chart; it only became official after the war was ended.

The training program for ultimate U.D.T. qualification was extremely difficult. The drop out rate for candidates averaged about 40%, usually during the first few weeks. Currently, Navy “Seal” teams use the same training program, and the drop out rate today is still around 40%.

After our class completed qualification in December of 1944, we were shipped to the Pacific where our forces were steadily moving toward the Japanese mainland. Then in August two atomic bombs were dropped and the war came to a sudden and victorious ending. For several months after the war ended our unit worked along the Japanese coastal areas before we were finally returned to San Diego.”

- Richard Hinson

Dick has always been proud of his service as a Navy U.D.T. team member.

Willie Earl Goes To The U.D.T. Museum –

Our impetus for writing this feature story began several months ago after Willie Earl Paramore, retired Marianna pharmacist, came into the offices of the Times, with a bundle of photographs and literature he had collected during a recent tour of the U.D.T. Museum on Hutchinson Island, near Fort Pierce. He knew his friend, Dick Hinson, had been an early graduate of this valuable, proud organization, and he urged publishing of the story.

The Navy recognized the need for beach reconnaissance to assess conditions on enemy beaches prior to the arrival of invasion forces, as well as underwater demolition of mines and barriers, to help clear passage way for these forces. To meet this need, a training school was started in 1942 at Amphibious Training Base, Little Creek, Virginia. The second group to graduate was designated Special Service Unit #1, and entered combat operations in 1943.

The success of these initial underwater forces caused the Navy to proceed with development of a permanent Underwater Demolition Training Unit at Fort Pierce, Florida in June of 1943. The first 34 graduates of this new program were ahead of the invasion forces helping clear the way for landing craft at Normandy on June 6, 1944. They were credited with blowing eight huge gaps in the beach defenses which helped save many lives and fostered a successful attack. In July of 1944, U.D.T. 10 was introduced into the Pacific campaign, under Admiral Nimitz. The UDT’s saw their first Pacific combat that month in the Marshall Islands during Operation Flintlock. After that these ‘Naked Warriors” took key roles during every amphibious assault as the allied forces moved across the Pacific towards homeland Japan.

After the war, the unit was demobilized, leaving only two units on active duty on each coast, with a contingent of seven officers and forty-five enlisted men each. Subsequently, the Navy Seals again were activated into action during the Korean and Viet Nam Wars. In 1983, all U.D.T.’s were re-designated into SEAL units.

So from this history we see that our local “Frogman” was indeed, part of the initial group of specially trained and skilled fighters which evolved into the proud Navy Seals of today’s navy.

We all say, “Thank You For All You Have Done, Dick Hinson.”

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