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Lt. Cmdr. Michael J. Walsh: Profile

Republic of Vietnam...Members of U.S. Navy Seal Team One move down the Bassac River in a Seal team Assault Boat (STAB) during operations along the river south of Saigon., 11/1967 (Photo: National Archives)
Republic of Vietnam...Members of U.S. Navy Seal Team One move down the Bassac River in a Seal team Assault Boat (STAB) during operations along the river south of Saigon., 11/1967 (Photo: National Archives)

Young SEAL completed orders without torture.

When most people think of the Navy or of its elite SEAL units, they conjure up images of wind-tossed surf or dangerous ports. However, for retired Lt. Cmdr. Michael J. Walsh, SEAL duty in Vietnam was with the "brownwater Navy," part of what was known as the "riverine forces." On this day in 1966, U.S. forces, including Navy SEALs, moved into the Mekong Delta for the first time.

The 5’4" Walsh went into the rigorous SEAL program when he was just 18. Despite his small physique (he weighed 120 pounds), he succeeded in completing an 18-week (now 26-week) program that leaves many larger and stronger men in the dust. During the training, Walsh discovered within himself the "iron will" that it took to become a SEAL.

Walsh then went in-country, where there were never more than 350 SEALs at one time. The tight-knit community had many members going into the CIA-sponsored Phoenix Program designed to identify and capture or kill Viet Cong members. At age 22, he was "assigned to the CIA in charge of a band of 105 mercenaries." Their goal was to get as much information as possible from their quarry. "But one of my rules was no torture...I never saw or participated in any of that, and I would never allow it... [I learned] you use your brains, your intellect, that’s how you break them down," Walsh said.

Military rules prevented SEALs from remaining in-country for more than 180 days at a time. Walsh, unbeknownst to his commanding officer, kept putting his name up on the board -- and eventually served five tours. Now a veteran of 26 years in operations from Vietnam to Lebanon to Central America, Walsh remains the "outspoken renegade and consummate survivalist" whose SEAL-trained determination taught him to break the will of others without blows.

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