By Anna-Marie Menhenott
TREASURE COAST -- When the threat of World War II loomed over the United States and it was evident that troops were going to head to Europe to support the efforts of Allies against Germany, an elite group of servicemen ascended on the beaches in Fort Pierce. Their mission was to level the ground at Normandy Beach so ally forces could gain entrance into France and subsequently launch an attack on German forces.
Naval Combat Demolition Unit members trained at the Amphibious Scout and Raider School on the beaches of Fort Pierce, better known to locals as Pepper Park Beach.
The National Navy UDT-SEAL Museum is now housed on the same beach where the first volunteers for Naval Combat Demolition Units and Underwater Demolition Teams, the predecessors to today's SEALs, trained to assault the beaches of Normandy and Southern France in Europe and numerous islands throughout the Pacific; including preparations for the invasion of Japan.
Touring the museum, even for those unfamiliar with the efforts of the Navy SEALs, is a humbling experience.
From invading the Normandy shore to saving Captain Richard Phillips during the 2009 hijacking by Somali pirates of the US-flagged MV Maersk Alabama, the first American cargo ship to be hijacked in 200 years, to the final take down of Osama Bin Laden, the Navy SEALS have played key roles in many historic events.
The story of the SEALS, from their humble beginning to advances in technology and how they now operate using specialized, high tech equipment is on display at the museum.
There are also artifacts from some of the SEALs' most famous and treacherous missions.
The Museum also honors former SEALS, those who gave the ultimate sacrifice and those who continue to serve the country.
Rick Kaiser, museum director, served in the U.S. Navy for 22 years, served as a Navy SEAL and served 12 years as a civilian. His pride was evident as spoke about the SEALS and the museum.
"I've wanted to be in the Navy since I was a kid," Mr. Kaiser said. "When I was young I wanted to be on a submarine. I visited the recruiter's office when I was 16 and had my mom sign for me when I was 17 and joined."
Mr. Kaiser took the helm of the museum in October 2012. He is looking forward to this year's Muster, the addition of the Trident House in Sebastian and future expansions of the museum.
"This year's Muster will offer more events for children," said Mr. Kaiser. "There will be family-friendly activities along with the demonstrations and ceremonies that make the Muster what it is."
This year's Muster, a community gathering to celebrate the SEALS, will take place Nov. 8-10. Some of this year's events will include a SEAL demonstration, live music, an annual beach run/ walk, a dedication ceremony and a memorial ceremony at the Museum Memory Wall.
A new aspect of the SEAL Museum is the Trident House in Sebastian, a place where U.S. Navy SEALs and their families can go to unwind and relax.
The house is located on the Indian River and close to the Navy SEAL Museum.
The Trident House was donated to the National Navy SEAL Museum in September 2012 by Bill and Teddy Novak. Funds for the Trident House and the Museum come from support from the community.
"The community has been great," Mr. Kaiser said. "They help out with the Muster by sending out the Explorers and other groups to help with the masses. We had 10,000 people last year, so the help is needed and appreciated."
The museum is open Tuesday - Saturday, from 10 a.m. - 4 p.m. and Sundays from 10 a.m. - 4 p.m. It is located at 3300 N. Highway A1A, North Hutchinson Island, in Fort Pierce. For more information, call (772) 595-5845.