Behind the Monument: ‘The Naked Warrior,’ Legendary Predecessor of Navy SEALs

The Naked Warrior in Coronado, California

The Naked Warriors were US Navy frogmen who infiltrated enemy-held waters, often undetected, to set explosive charges on underwater obstacles that prevented amphibious landings. Photo by Matt Fratus/Coffee or Die Magazine.

Photo by Matt Fratus/Coffee or Die Magazine.

It was a beautiful March afternoon in Coronado, California, with no clouds in the sky. I had joined two retired plankowners — or founding members — of SEAL Team 7 at Glorietta Bay Park to view one of Naval Special Warfare’s most sacred monuments. As we left the parking lot, crossed the grassy courtyard, and passed by a row of stone benches, we finally approached The Naked Warrior.

Designed by the artist John Seward Johnson II, The Naked Warrior honors the World War II legacy of the Navy’s Underwater Demolition Teams — the combat swimmer units that eventually evolved into the SEALs.

The Naked Warrior monument at Glorietta Bay Park in Coronado, California

The Naked Warrior is one of four monuments dedicated to the Underwater Demolition Teams. These monuments can be found in Coronado, California; Virginia Beach, Virginia; Oahu, Hawaii; and Fort Pierce, Florida. Photo by Matt Fratus/Coffee or Die Magazine.

Photo by Matt Fratus/Coffee or Die Magazine.

According to the National Navy UDT-SEAL Museum, the name of the statue traces back to a daring mission on the Japanese-held atoll of Kwajalein in January 1944. As the story goes, two UDT frogmen, Ensign Lewis F. Luehrs and Chief Petty Officer Bill Acheson, were tasked with a reconnaissance mission to assess the beaches for a future amphibious assault. When the duo couldn’t get close enough to the shore because their path was blocked by a coral reef, they stripped down to their underwear so they could squeeze over the reef and complete their mission.

As a result of the successful operation, UDTs started to emphasize training in which frogmen wore only face masks, swim trunks, dive fins, and Ka-Bar knives. For the remainder of the war, these elite waterborne commandos lived up to their name, often entering enemy-held waters without fire support, setting explosive charges to destroy underwater obstacles that prevented amphibious landings, and doing it all without being detected.

naked warrior

The Naked Warriors had the mantra of “first ashore” which is carved into the concrete base of the statue to commemorate the dangerous reconnaissance missions frogmen in World War II conducted ahead of amphibious landings. Photo by Matt Fratus/Coffee or Die Magazine.

Photo by Matt Fratus/Coffee or Die Magazine.

The Naked Warrior in Coronado stands approximately 6 feet tall and is mounted on a 2-foot “horned skully” — one of the types of beach obstacles that UDT frogmen often risked their lives to destroy during WWII. The bronze-cast frogman carries a pair of swim fins and wears a dive mask pulled up on his forehead, UDT swim trunks, and a Ka-Bar knife on his tool belt. Slung around his neck is a blank slate board, which combat swimmers use to log depths and measurements while they conduct beach surveys. Since the statue was unveiled on Veterans Day, 2016, it has been common to see the current BUD/S class number written on the Naked Warrior’s slate board.

To date, four Naked Warrior monuments have been erected at Naval Special Warfare sites around the country to honor and preserve the heritage of Navy SEALs. In addition to the one in Glorietta Bay Park in Coronado, there are statues at the National Navy UDT-SEAL Museum in Fort Pierce, Florida, the original training grounds of UDT frogmen; on the Virginia Beach Boardwalk, near the East Coast-based SEAL teams; and in Oahu, Hawaii, where the SEAL Delivery Vehicle Teams reside.

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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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