Non-SCUBA divers in World War II 5

Elmer Burton Humphrey

Elmer Burton Humphrey

While at Costco recently, I saw a man sitting on a chair, just waiting.  The cap he was wearing said, “World War II Veteran: 1941-1945”.  There are not many veterans of WWII alive anymore, so I stopped to chat with him about his experiences in the War.

His name is Elmer Burton Humphrey and he is 95 years old.  He told me that Tom Brokaw has been asking him to write a book.  Since war stories are interesting to me, I started asking him questions.  His story is very interesting.

Elmer was in the Pacific Theater in the Navy, on a ship which was part of the “Green Dragons”*.  The Green Dragon fleet is made up of very maneuverable four-stackers (as Elmer called them), had a 1200 ton displacement, and could get up to speeds of 35-40 knots.  These ships had been used in WWI, so were old, and were considered expendable.

Online was this information: The island-to-island nature of the Pacific war was a “three-legged stool,” requiring control of land, sea and air.  But where control of the air and sea were contested, as in the Solomon Islands, ponderous transports and cargo ships carrying conventional Navy boats for landing were not a complete solution.  Something more nimble was needed—fast, shallow draft, yet capable of embarking troops in adequate numbers and delivering them with equipment to landing beaches.  To support these special operations, the Marines needed a fast sea-borne transport from the Navy.

This is where the Green Dragons came in.

An underwater demolition team of the U.S. Navy pulling a rubber boat ashore atWŏnsan, North Korea, during a mis- sion to clear a minefield, October 1950. --U.S. Navy

An underwater demolition team of the U.S. Navy pulling a rubber boat ashore at Wŏnsan, North Korea, during a mission to clear a minefield, October 1950. –U.S. Navy

The work Elmer and his crew did was to provide cover to the Marines in the 4th Underwater Demolition Team (UDT) of the Third Marine Raiders.

The UDTs were equivalent to the present-day Navy SEALS. The first two Navy SEAL teams were created well after WWII, in 1962, with personnel taken from existing UDTs.

The UDTs were not SCUBA Divers.  They did not wear wet suits, had no oxygen tanks, and were diving in the cold water off the coast of China.  All they wore were swim trunks, goggles and fins!  Holding their breath was what they did well.

Elmer said he took the Marines from the Green Dragon to the shore in small boats.  The mission of these Marines was to blow up minefields in the waters of enemy-held beaches prior to amphibious landings in Europe and the Pacific.  Elmer mentioned that lying on a black beach looking up at the stars, with black clothes covering his entire body, on a dark night, was scary.  He had to wait until the UDT had completed their mission so he could take them back to the ship.

(The complete story of the Green Dragons is captured in Secretary-Treasurer Curt Clark’s book “The Famed Green Dragons, The Four Stack APD’s of WWII.”

Under Demolition Team in October 1950

* “Green Dragons” was the nickname given to the first flush-deck APDs (fast destroyer-transports) by the Marine raiders they transported.  The name reflected the dark green base-paint with mottled camouflage given to those ships that served in the Pacific.

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5 thoughts on “Non-SCUBA divers in World War II

  • Pam

    Thanks Alice for taking the time to speak with this gentleman and hearing his story. I also appreciate a “non” swim story and hope more of these can be done in the future.

      • Pam

        I would think water related stories about veterans both male and female. The type of training they had to do to prepare for what they did/do. I am not sure you can find out about SEAL vets, but it would be great to find one and interview them.

  • Arlene Delmage

    I love that you stopped and spoke to this man. What a fascinating story, and you are right that WWII vets are disappearing very quickly. Thank you for sharing.