Harry's Last Mission: A Dying SEAL Battles Death to Care for His Wife

In 1966, nobody put the acronym "SEAL" in print. And about half of the two paragraphs about the erstwhile "counterinsurgent" and "Navy parachutist" were a cover story.

We are getting used to tales of heroism from US Navy SEALs. They have become almost mythic in stature in both fictional and non-fictional accounts of covert ops and wartime derring-do.

But perhaps the bravest thing I ever saw was the last mission of Harry Dale, one of the first Navy SEALs, among the first in Vietnam—and it happened nearly a quarter century after his retirement.

I met Harry in the mid-1990s.  The retired Naval officer had called the Flint Public Library because he was looking for a co-author.  The librarians there said it sounded like it was right up the alley of a local book reviewer who liked that kind of stuff—me.

If you scratch a book reviewer, you will find an aspiring novelist.  So when Harry called, I arranged to meet him at his home.  I arrived about 15 minutes early, having misjudged the time the drive would take.

When I pulled in, I saw this wiry old guy climbing out of the lake.  “Hi, Dave!” he greeted me. “Sorry, I thought I had time for a couple before you got here.”

“A couple?” I echoed, impressed. “You swam across and back a couple times?”

“Hell no, I’m an old man.  I don’t go out that deep.  What if I had a heart attack?”

Then it hit me.  He was doing laps.  Now I was impressed.  Harry brushed it off: “Not much compared to my old frogman days.”

Frogman… the age… “Were you a SEAL in the Vietnam era by any chance?” I asked.

“Very good, I think the ladies sent me the right guy.  Have a seat while I get some clothes on.”