We recently made a brief stop in Fort Pierce along Florida’s Treasure Coast. The Treasure Coast was aptly named due to the large number of trading ships that sank off the coast and took their booty to the bottom of the sea. (Maybe it should have been named the “Booty Coast”, they might get more visitors!)
|Creative sign welcoming visitors to Fort Pierce.|
The lure of lost treasure was not strong enough to pull us into the water so we decided to stay on land and do some sightseeing. One of the tourist gems we found was the National Navy UDT-SEAL Museum, also known as the Birthplace of the “Frogman.” World War II brought forth the idea that new naval tactics, such as underwater demolition and hydro-reconnaissance, were needed for amphibious landings that would be crucial in defeating the Axis powers. The need for these tactics was solidified after the U.S. Marine landing at Tarawa (in the Pacific) when natural obstacles prevented landing craft and soldiers from reaching the beach.
|A statue of a "Frogman" stands proudly in front of the museum.|
|First class exhibits explain the importance and challenges faced by these elite forces and the|
crucial role they played in World War II.
|Early "Frogmen" did not have the luxury of SCUBA equipment that was so commonly used by later troops.|
Fort Pierce was designated as the training location responsible for developing three elements of what is collectively known as Naval Special Warfare. These elements were the Scouts and Raiders, Naval Combat Demolition Units (NCDU) and Underwater Demolition Teams (UDT). Brave men volunteered for training to become part of this elite group that later evolved into the exclusive combat force known as the U.S. Navy SEALs. Compared to the SEALs today, these early frogmen where sparsely outfitted with crude equipment. They wore only cloth shorts (as wet/dry suits had not been invented yet), mask, snorkel, fins, cloth shoes to protect their feet from coral, a knife strapped to their sides, a writing board for note taking, and a weighted string with graduated knots to measure depth.
|UDT's played a vital role in recovering astronauts|
and capsules from the Gemini and Apollo missions.
Vietnam was the arena that transformed members of the UDT to Sea, Air, and Land Teams (a.k.a. SEALs) in 1961. These elite Navy Commandos were send into the jungles to engage in guerrilla warfare, gather intelligence, conduct raids, and train their Vietnamese counterparts. SEALs were highly decorated for their early efforts in Vietnam and continue the reputation of elite, secretive, highly trained and specialized fighting men. Recent news about the SEALs was highlighted in the death of Osama Bin Laden and the raid to free hostages in Somalia.
|One of the highlights of the museum is the lifeboat from the Maersk Alabama the ship hijacked by|
Somalia pirates in 2009. The captain protected his crew by entering the lifeboat with the captors.
|After being adrift for 4 days and attmpting one daring but unsuccessful escape, Navy SEALs snipers fatally wounded all captors and freed the captain. A look inside the cabin shows just how accurate the snipers had to be.|
The museum is a myriad of displays, videos, equipment, and dioramas displaying the history and evolution from UDT to SEALS and covers every conflict from WWII to Iraq/Afghanistan. The day I was there, I was greeted by a gentleman who was one of the first Frogmen to train at Fort Pierce and serve in WWII. He walked us through the main gallery entitled “Fort Pierce: Birth of the Underwater Warrior” and opened my eyes to the world of a young man nobly fighting in a pioneering program during WWII. I am appreciative to him for sharing his stories and his service to our country.
|The outside of the A. E. Backus Museum |
and Gallery is adorned with a manatee
Since I am still succumbing to my new found interest in art museums, we decided to make a quick stop at the A.E. Backus Museum and Gallery. Backus is a 20th century American landscape artists from the area who really captures the look and “feel” of the Florida coast. The museum houses nearly 100 original paintings and sketches from Backus and other well-known artists. During our visit there was an exhibit by Charles Walker a member of the “Florida Highwaymen.” When the lady at the museum asked if I had ever heard of the Highwaymen I indicated that I had and thoughts of a musical group came to my mind. However, that was not what she was referring to. The storied Highwaymen were a group of 26 African American artists from the Fort Pierce area that sold paintings out of the back of cars and along the roads of Florida during the 1950’s through the 80’s. Selling from their cars was a necessity during segregation when local galleries refused to display their work. These self-taught men (and one woman) were inventive and painted on inexpensive Upson board instead of expensive canvas and used discarded crown molding for frames. Today, artwork by the Florida Highwaymen is highly sought after and a prized collection to those who own a piece.
|The fishing and boating industry still plays|
a major role in Fort Pierces economy.
|Dugout canoe used by early Native American Indians to fish and trade goods.|
Our destiny was luring us farther down the Atlantic Coast with a stop in Jupiter and on to Key Largo. Sorry for the slack in postings….seems like even a Verizon 4G phone and free WiFi at McDonalds can’t rescue us from internet woes at times.