bill dawsonWorld War II Veteran Bill Dawson

Waldorf, MD – For Washington, D.C. native Bill Dawson, life has been full of challenges and accomplishments.

Yet there is one thing for which he is well known.

It’s not the 25 years as a professional firefighter in the District of Columbia, although those years of service harbor treasured memories.

The Waldorf native’s claim to fame stretches back some 73 years ago.

Dawson is the last surviving member of Class 1 of the Naval Special Warfare Operations, the unit that eventually evolved into the Navy SEALS.

He entered the Navy on what was called a “minority cruise,” meaning he only had to serve until age 21.

“I joined the Navy in 1943,” Dawson explained. “I wanted to volunteer for submarine service but the school was full. Then this corporal came in and gave a speech on a brand new outfit. They wouldn’t tell us anything about it other than you learn to blow things up.

“When we went to apply this very gruff guy told us they had enough applicants and they weren’t going to let anyone else in,” he said. “We really wanted to get in there, so we went around to the back of the building, stacked up some crates and crawled in the window and got in the back of the line. My buddy and I ended up being chosen–42 men out of hundreds.”

Shipped out to Fort Peirce, FL, Dawson joined the Naval Special Warfare Operations for training in underwater demolition.

“They taught us well,” he admitted. “We blew the hell out of stuff.”

“They shipped us out to California and put us on a boat to Hawaii,” the veteran stated. “The next thing we knew we were in New Guinea.”

Dawson said they knew almost immediately that they were different from most naval operations. Many of their operations were conducted in total secrecy.

At first, command didn’t know what to do with them. Then there came a beach head in New Guinea that had to be cleared of coral before reinforcements—which were already on their way—could arrive. It was their first mission and agreed to do it before even knowing if it was feasible or possible. Ultimately, their efforts were successful and no sooner had they cleared the obstacles before they spotted the reinforcements on the distant horizon.

He participated in four invasions in New Guinea, six in the Philippines and two in Borneo.

bill dawson“We had to check out every beach that was involved in the invasion,” he explained. “We had to clear the beach of any object or anything that would stop the landing craft from getting ashore. Other times it was a little of this or that. A lot of it was coral reef. It was beautiful. I hated to blow it up. Sometimes when I had a little time off I would put on shallow diving equipment and snorkel around the coral and look at all the little tropical fish. Some of those fish are beautiful. Some of them are deadly. We were very lucky. There were sharks in the water all the time but they didn’t seem to mind us being there.

“When we came back from Borneo the last time, they sent us back to Hawaii to train for going into Japan,” he said. “We didn’t exactly like hearing that. By then when had been in 12 invasions, but on the way back, they up and shipped us home. We were on 30 days leave when the war ended.”bill dawson

Now the last surviving member of his class, Dawson has written and published a book, “Before They Were SEALS, They Were Frogs,” a detailed account of his service in the unit that would eventually become the Navy SEALS.

Contact Joseph Norris at

(right), Dawson with actor and veteran supporter Gary Senise.