Navy SEALs in green war paint and wearing blue jeans during the Vietnam War. Photo courtesy of guns.com.
Released in 1969 during the Vietnam War, Men With Green Faces was one of the first documentaries on the then-new training and operations of the Navy SEAL teams. When it was released, it was unlike almost any military documentary that came before it, with cameras diving into the infamous BUD/S training — Basic Underwater Demolition/SEAL school — where candidates run through an obstacle course, carry inflatable boats on their heads, and perform calisthenics.
“These men are members of one of the most unique military organizations in history,” says the narrator in the opening monologue. “Behind these green faces are men who have accepted the challenge of some of the most daring assignments given to American fighting men.”
After the BUD/S footage, the cameras follow candidates through advanced training to learn the skills required to go to war with an elite Navy SEAL unit.
President John F. Kennedy established the SEAL teams on Jan. 1, 1962, and the first volunteers came from the Navy’s Underwater Demolition Teams to organize SEAL Team 1 and SEAL Team 2.
“For years, the existence of these teams was a Defense Department secret,” the narrator says. “Now parts of their story can be told.”
UDT history within Naval Special Warfare dates back to World War II. The UDT frogmen were sometimes referred to as the “naked warriors” for wearing only face masks, swim trunks, and fins on operations to destroy obstacles in preparation for amphibious landings. It was in Vietnam, however, where the frogmen teams evolved into a direct-action commando force.
SEALs wore boonie hats and jungle-camouflage uniforms, and they used green war paint on their hands and faces. They also developed their own swagger, ignoring military uniform regulations by donning Chuck Taylor Converse shoes because they drained well while operating across the wetlands of the Mekong Delta. It wasn’t uncommon to find a 12-man SEAL platoon wearing blue jeans, either.
The men with green faces earned a legendary reputation, which modern-day Navy SEALs carried onward, becoming the “men with green eyes” in wars in Afghanistan and Iraq.
Matt Fratus is a history staff writer for Coffee or Die. He prides himself on uncovering the most fascinating tales of history by sharing them through any means of engaging storytelling. He writes for his micro-blog @LateNightHistory on Instagram, where he shares the story behind the image. He is also the host of the Late Night History podcast. When not writing about history, Matt enjoys volunteering for One More Wave and rooting for Boston sports teams.