The National Navy UDT SEAL Museum in Fort Pierce, Florida
While many divers are drawn to the ‘Treasure Coast’ of Florida to make a dive on an old Spanish shipwreck with hopes of finding a gold doubloon, there’s another site that divers should consider visiting. Located on Hwy A1A, just north of the Fort Pierce inlet is the UDT-Seal Museum. Any veteran will be interested in seeing the display of historical events for very personal reasons. Divers will be interested in seeing the equipment and the story of training that the Navy Sea, Air, and Land (SEAL) and Underwater Demolition Team (UDT) members went through.
The museum commemorates all those who have served our country in the military and focuses on the role that amphibious and underwater tactics played. The story is interesting because it pretty much plays out over recent history with the focus from World War II to present day.
There are so many personal stories to be told, you could spend many hours looking at the displays and reading the documents related to the warfare and the diving aspects. Beyond the actual equipment on display, both inside the museum and outside, you’ll find documentation showing the progression from the original ‘Navy Frogman’ to the highly specialized tactical teams in today’s military. The displays include the weapons used, the specialized deployment equipment and many of the tools of the trade. Outside, there are actual boats, aircraft and submarines used by these Navy teams as well as a display of the beach obstacles used on the Normandy beaches.
Why Fort Pierce? The answer is not so obvious at first, but if you understand that during WWII our troops were being trained to fight a war that was not in a familiar place. The beaches along Fort Pierce offered a simulation of what an amphibious assault would be in Europe. This was the location for the training of the original Navy Frogman and beach assault training. Thousands of US military men trained in Fort Pierce (1943-1946), many before being sent to Normandy for D-Day on June 6, 1944.
The museum building was not designed or built as the Navy UDT-SEAL Museum. I remember when I was attending the Divers Training Academy at Link Port (Now Harbor Branch Foundation) and worked on the weekends for the Real Eight Company (Kip Wagner and Mel Fisher). There were 12 Spanish Ships supposedly wrecked along that coastline from 1715. Five or six of the fleet were located and documented and we were working with the archeologists (modern treasure hunters) to bring up the booty. This site was the location of a Treasure Museum that housed some of the treasure from that 1715 fleet. Interesting enough, on the roof of the original round building are the markers that point to the location and give information about some of the wrecks that are close to the museum site. The building and grounds have transformed now and it’s all about the UDT-SEAL story, but since I have this personal history, I thought it interesting to include. If you visit, be sure to walk up on the roof, as they still have the ramp going up there open for visitors.
Also, when you are inside the museum in the room that houses a large black inflatable boat, take a look up at the ceiling. That funny torpedo looking thing called the “Pegasus” is displayed above. While you might not visualize this thing in use, I can tell you from my first hand experience with this that it is an incredible ride underwater. It’s a towed submersible that a diver ‘drives’ while being towed from above at a speed of up to 10 knots. This is so fast underwater that you are pretty much doing everything you can to keep your gear on. I only had the chance to drive this on one occasion, but it was a real thrill as you can imagine. Going that speed underwater allows a visual search of a large area in a short time frame.
If you find yourself in the Fort Pierce area with several hours, this will be a good place to learn more about the story of the Navy UDT – SEAL teams. The museum is funded from donations and many of the volunteers are Navy veterans willing to share their enthusiasm with you.