By Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Paul Coover
The United States Navy is famously based in history and tradition. Indeed, many Naval customs date back to the service’s formation in 1775, predating even the creation of the country. Yet in the case of Naval Special Warfare, the first men to be called Navy SEALs crafted their own traditions in the early 1960s – traditions that have become as sacrosanct as any in the modern military.
Gary Fraser was an original member, or plank owner, of SEAL Team 1. During his SEAL training, Fraser established the tradition of maintaining a meticulously clean helmet throughout the course, which became a hallmark of hundreds of Basic Underwater Demolition/SEAL classes thereafter. More significantly, SEAL Team 1, the first West Coast-based SEAL Team, helped shape the legacy of warriors capable of operating from the sea, air and land that continues in NSW today. Fraser passed away Nov. 18, 2015 in San Diego, his longtime home.
Gary Fraser was born June 10, 1938 near Bremerton, Washington, and grew up in and around the water. By the time he was 10 years old, he owned his own boat. By 15, he was a qualified official for hydroplane races. In college, Fraser was part of Navy Reserve Officers’ Training Corps during his education at the University of Washington, and reported to Officer Candidate School in Newport, Rhode Island in 1961. He earned his qualification as a Navy SEAL in the training that followed.
At SEAL Team 1, Fraser designed the command’s first logo, a graphic representation of an attack on a target from land, air and sea. It helped serve as a SEAL identifying badge until the implementation of the SEAL Trident in 1970. Operationally, Fraser deployed to Taiwan, Japan, the Philippines and Vietnam. But as the first Naval Special Warfare operators, there was no blueprint for the Team’s training.
“We were on a very steep learning curve,” said Dennis McCormack, a teammate of Fraser’s at SEAL Team 1. Fraser was instrumental in designing realistic training scenarios that mimicked combat environments to quickly and effectively prepare the newly-formed commando teams for war.
“Every person, to a man, gave his utmost,” McCormack said. The emphasis on realistic training remains a centerpiece of SEALs’ preparations for deployments around the world.
After leaving the military service, Fraser lived and worked in San Diego, owning his own screen printing business while continuing life as a waterman as a boat owner and member of the San Diego Yacht Club.
Following a memorial service aboard Naval Amphibious Base Coronado, Fraser’s remains were spread at sea, one of the world’s oldest maritime traditions. Fellow members of Naval Special Warfare carried out the ceremony aboard a rigid-hull inflatable boat – a modern slant on the time-honored custom. It was a fitting blend of traditions, and a reminder of NSW’s role as the world’s preeminent maritime special operations force, from its beginnings during Fraser’s service to today.