Santa Monica local and Journalist Andrew Dubbins has published his first non-fiction book, “Into Enemy Waters.”

The book tells the story of the World War II “frogmen” who became the Navy SEALs, and has a local connection in that several were Santa Monica ocean lifeguards before being recruited into the elite unit.

Dubbins interviewed one of the unit’s last surviving veterans, and detailed his epic odyssey from bullet-swept Omaha Beach, to the black sands of Iwo Jima, to the shark-infested reefs of Okinawa, to the cold waters of Tokyo Bay.

Dubbins answered several questions from the Daily Press about his work. 

Who were the Navy frogmen and what was their job in the war? How did the Navy frogmen become what we know now as Navy SEALS? 

During World War II, “frogmen” was a nickname for members of the Navy’s Underwater Demolition Teams (UDT) — an elite top-secret unit of combat swimmers who deployed ahead of Allied invasion forces to scout enemy-held Pacific islands and blow up coastal defenses. Their equipment was minimalist: swim trunks, dive mask, fins, and a knife for cutting fuses and detonation cord. The Navy SEALs drew many techniques and traditions from the World War II frogmen, including underwater demolition and reconnaissance, stealth swim strokes, secret deployments, and even their famous, grueling conditioning course, Hell Week.

70 years later, how did you discover the story about the World War II Navy frogmen? 

I was visiting the outstanding National World War II Museum in New Orleans, walking through an exhibit on the Pacific Theater, when I saw a rubber swim fin behind the display glass. Surrounded by steel weapons, ammunition and armored vehicles, I was struck to see such a low-tech piece of equipment. Reading the description, I learned the fin had belonged to a member of the Underwater Demolition Teams. I’d long been a student of World War II history and yet had never heard of the UDT. I decided it was a topic worth exploring.

Out of all the stories about World War II, what inspired you to pursue the story of the frogmen and write a book about them? 

I enjoy telling stories about unsung heroes and the World War II frogmen are the epitome. During the war, UDT leadership instituted a “media blackout” that prohibited reporters from writing about the swimmers. It was the right thing to do. If the unit’s capabilities had become widely known, the enemy could have easily devised a countermeasure. The unfortunate consequence was that the UDT frogmen never received widespread public recognition. To this day, their contributions to the war effort remain mostly unknown outside military circles.  

I was also drawn to the frogman lore as a local. Born in Santa Monica Hospital, I grew up swimming at Santa Monica Beach. I was fascinated by the frogmen’s early diving equipment, pioneering underwater training, and mastery of the sea; and I was in awe of their courage, swimming in the same Pacific Ocean as we do, except under fierce enemy fire.  

How did Santa Monica’s lifeguards get recruited for Underwater Demolition Teams? How did you learn about the Santa Monica lifeguards’ recruitment?

Close to a dozen Santa Monica Bay lifeguards served in the UDT during World War II. They were recruited by the Office of Strategic Services (OSS), precursor to the CIA, which sought out America’s top swimmers for reconnaissance and sabotage missions by sea. The lifeguards were a perfect fit, with their ocean savvy and strong swimming ability. After training at secret bases on Catalina Island and other locations, the lifeguards deployed to the Pacific, where they joined the UDTs and saw action in the Central Pacific and East Asia.

Growing up in Los Angeles, do you have a personal connection to this story? 

As a kid, I participated in a summer camp called Junior Lifeguards, which teaches ocean awareness and lifeguarding skills. The camp was founded by a Los Angeles County lifeguard, Robert Scoles, who had served in World War II as a frogman. Interestingly, Scoles also launched LA’s first-of-its-kind scuba diving certification program. Many frogmen became involved in diving after the war, helping shape the sport’s development.

In “Into Enemy Waters,” the book tells the story of the Navy frogmen through the eyes of one of the last living members, George Morgan. What was your experience like interviewing him and hearing his story? 

Sadly, World War II veterans are rapidly dwindling in number. It’s one of the reasons I felt incredibly privileged to interview Mr. Morgan and get to know him as a person. Being an avid reader of history, I was captivated not only by his World War II service, but also his stories of growing up during the Depression, seeing the Hindenburg, and trying out for the Brooklyn Dodgers. He was never boastful in sharing these stories. If anything, he downplayed his role, exemplifying the humility that is so typical of the Greatest Generation.

Were you able to meet any other frogmen or read about their stories? 

I’ve been fortunate to meet a number of frogmen, including UDT swimmers who served in the Korean War and retired Navy SEALs. I also listened to dozens of oral history interviews with World War II frogmen. On a side note, we owe such a debt of gratitude to the people and organizations that have been collecting oral histories from World War II veterans over the past decades. In particular, I relied heavy on the oral history collections of the National World War II Museum, the National Museum of the Pacific War and the Library of Congress. 

What were some of the challenges that you faced while writing “Into Enemy Waters”? 

One of the biggest challenges, which pertains to narrative non-fiction history in general, was to create compelling scenes 80 years after the events had occurred. The task requires packing each page with vivid details, which in turn requires deep research. In addition to extensive interviews with Mr. Morgan, I watched and read transcripts of UDT oral histories, scoured the archives for UDT after-action reports, and devoured every book and article that I could find on the unit. 

Where can people find more information about the Navy frogmen and the Santa Monica lifeguards? 

For a deep dive on the Navy frogmen, I recommend a visit to the National Navy UDT-SEAL Museum in Fort Pierce, Florida. It’s where America’s first frogmen trained during World War II, and where “Hell Week” was born in the 1940s. The museum also has a fantastic website with archives and photographs of World War II frogmen in action. For more on the Santa Monica lifeguards who served in World War II, I wrote a recent longform piece for Alta magazine titled “The Beach Rats.” I also recommend Patrick O’Donnell’s wonderful book, First SEALs, which tells the story of the OSS Maritime Unit.

The book is available from Amazon at www.amazon.com/Into-Enemy-Waters-Demolition-Divers/dp/1635767725/