Harry Beal, the first Navy SEAL, passed away in 2021 at 90 years old, leaving behind a legacy of courage, resilience, and dedication. Appointed by President John F. Kennedy in 1962, Beal was a true pioneer in the history of the Navy SEALs.
Early Life and Career
Harry Beal, a Greenville Township resident, was born and raised in Meyersdale, Pennsylvania. His father, a coal miner, initially wanted him to follow in his footsteps, but instead, Beal chose to enlist in the Navy in 1948. He began his military career as a gunner’s mate during the Korean War, and In 1955, he volunteered for the Underwater Demolition Teams (UDT) and served with UDT-21 and UDT-22 for seven years.
Formation of the Navy SEALs
In 1962, President John F. Kennedy established the US Navy SEALs, seeking volunteers to become the founding members of SEAL Team 1 and SEAL Team 2. Harry Beal became the first UDT member to step forward and sign his name to the roster, creating a new chapter in the history of the Navy’s special operations forces. The first SEALs were divided into two teams, each consisting of 50 volunteers. SEAL Team 1 was located on the West Coast (Coronado, California), and SEAL Team 2 on the East Coast (Little Creek, Virginia).
Military Career and Achievements
Despite being only 5 feet tall, Harry Beal proved that physical stature was no obstacle in becoming a legendary SEAL. He served in Vietnam as an M-60 door gunner on a helicopter gunship and helped train South Vietnamese special operations forces underwater demolition and escape tactics. His missions also included working with the CIA.
One of Beal’s most memorable accomplishments was his involvement in the retrieval of astronaut John Glenn from his space capsule after Glenn splashed down into the Atlantic Ocean on his return to Earth from outer space.
Retirement and Legacy
Harry Beal retired from the Navy in 1968 after serving 20 years. He then worked for the Pennsylvania Department of Transportation, retiring in 1990. Beal struggled with post-traumatic stress disorder after his retirement, but through the support of his family and counseling, he managed to cope with the challenges.
Harry Beal’s legacy as the first Navy SEAL serves as an inspiration to many young men and women in Somerset County and beyond who have pursued careers in the Navy or the SEAL program. State Rep. Carl Walker Metzgar described Beal as a pioneer and a true hero, and his sentiments were echoed by others who recognized Beal’s contributions to his country and his community.
The life and career of Harry Beal, the first Navy SEAL, exemplify the courage, determination, and dedication of America’s military personnel. Beal’s legacy continues to inspire future generations to serve their country with honor and pride, and his achievements serve as a testament to the power of human effort and resilience.