The Wild History of Navy SEAL Class Gifts

March 28, 2022Matt Fratus
navy seal class gift

Two wooden "students" holding the infamous logs SEAL candidates carry around for hours on end in soft sand during BUD/S — a gift from class 307. Photo by Matt Fratus/Coffee or Die Magazine.

For decades, as Navy SEALs have graduated from the notoriously rigorous Navy SEAL selection and training, classes have kept a tradition of presenting a class gift to their instructors and staff at the school. Coffee or Die Magazine recently got an inside look at class gifts at the training center on US Naval Amphibious Base Coronado. 

SEAL candidates have always had to complete Basic Underwater Demolition/SEAL, or BUD/S, training and, in recent decades, SEAL Qualification Training before pinning on the trident pin that marks them as a fully qualified Navy SEAL. The process takes over a year, and those who make it are bonded together as a class. And each class leaves a piece of itself behind with a class gift. Most of the gifts include a plaque or etchings with the names of the men who graduated, proof for each member that they completed the legendary rigors of SEAL selection and training.  

The gift from BUD/S class 89 bears the signature Navy SEAL motto “The Only Easy Day Was Yesterday.” Photo by Matt Fratus/Coffee or Die Magazine.

Some are statues, figures ranging from 6 feet tall to a more miniature scale. Others are simply plaques with iconic mantras from SEAL training written across them, sculptures, or even furniture. The school’s infamous bell — which at one time candidates had to ring to quit training — was a class gift. Nearly all carry their class numbers and a class roster, proof for each graduate that they made it. 

I recently met two retired SEAL chiefs at the Basic Training Command on Coronado for a tour and quickly realized that a SEAL class gift is one of the first things you see when you arrive in the parking lot. Two “students” — wooden figures — hold a log in the chest carry position, a notorious evolution at BUD/S known as Log PT. Hanging below the log and attached by chains is a wooden placard that declares: “SOFT SAND MAKES A HARD MAN CLASS 307.”

Inside the center’s class and administrative buildings, numerous SEAL artifacts from World War II to the present fill every room, hallway, and open area. Picture frames cover the walls, displaying team photos and historical artwork. One wall is dedicated to depicting the seven SEALs awarded the Medal of Honor between the Vietnam War and the Global War on Terrorism. 

Navy SEAL gifts
A close-up of one of the unique Navy SEAL class gifts acquired by Naval Special Warfare’s Basic Training Command. “On September 11, 2001, 343 New York City Fire Fighters made the ultimate sacrifice while fighting to save the lives of their fellow Americans,” reads the description on the monument. Most monuments also include corresponding class numbers and the names from each graduating class. Photo by Matt Fratus/Coffee or Die Magazine.

One of the more memorable class gifts was presented in July 2021 by SQT class 343 — a number that matched the number of New York City firefighters whose deaths are officially attributed to the 9/11 attacks. The class left behind a 4-foot-tall monument topped by a metal rendering of the World Trade Center twin towers, a forged SEAL trident emblem, and the class number — dedicated to the 343 FDNY firefighters. The steel for the renderings came from the World Trade Center wreckage.

“SQT class 343 honors their resolve and sacrifice with this monument, forged from the steel from the Twin Towers,” a description on the monument reads. “Their courage and selflessness serve as a humbling reminder: ‘The deed is all, not the glory.’”

Freddy or Freddie the Frog and Sammy the Seal
Freddy or Freddie the Frog and Sammy the Seal are the unofficial mascots of Navy SEALs and are popular gifts of graduating BUD/S and SQT classes. These two are from class 286 and class 287. Photos by Matt Fratus/Coffee or Die Magazine.

Pictures around the facility include many of the “frogmen” of the underwater demolition teams of World War II and the Korean War and the “men with green faces” of Vietnam. 

Hell’s Bell, left, a gift from BUD/S class 58, became symbolic in Navy SEAL lore for how BUD/S students who quit or dropped from training would signal their departure. A gift from BUD/S class 329, right, features a gold trident and Freddy the Frog with a removable wooden cigar. Photo by Matt Fratus/Coffee or Die Magazine.

An oversized movie poster of the 1951 film The Frogman leaned against another wall, tall enough to nearly touch the ceiling. The Hollywood connection between SEALs and combat swimmers is a long one. Many of the SEALs of today and the last 20 years admit they were motivated to join the Navy because of movies like Navy SEALs with Charlie Sheen. But the most notable Hollywood artifact in the BUD/S collection might be a class gift of an original “creature” from the 1954 movie Creature From the Black Lagoon.

“The Creature” traditionally overlooks the infamous “grinder,” where students do PT sessions, though the scaly figure — and most of the other Navy SEAL class gifts — are currently at the Basic Training Command during construction at the BUD/S training center.

Navy SEAL artifacts coffee or die
“The Creature” is one of the most famous artifacts connecting SEAL traditions with Hollywood. Photo by Matt Fratus/Coffee or Die Magazine.

Although Navy SEAL class numbers are now in the mid-300s, gifts remain creative and honorable, with relevant meaning. Shortly after President John F. Kennedy created SEAL Team 1 on the West Coast and SEAL Team 2 on the East Coast in January 1962, the SEALs adopted mascots. The all-green Freddie (sometimes spelled Freddy) the Frog honors predecessor frogmen units and wears a signature sailor’s cap, has a cigar tucked between his lips, and holds a stick of dynamite in his hand. He is also on the logo of the US Navy Parachute Team, the Leap Frogs.”

Navy SEAL gifts coffee or die
Class 245 presented a platform where BUD/S instructors lead PT. Photo by Matt Fratus/Coffee or Die Magazine.

Perhaps the most intimidating gift is one of the simplest. When class 245 graduated, they built a simple platform, with telephone poles for legs, and a short run of steps to climb on top. It is now the platform on which instructors stand as they put students through punishing PT sessions — a class gift that keeps on giving.

Read Next: This SEAL Served 47 Years, Including in Vietnam and the Phoenix Program

Matt Fratus
Matt Fratus

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.

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