Richard Marcinko, Vietnam buccaneer veteran and founder of U.S. Navy SEAL Team Six – obituary

He candidly admitted that in Vietnam “we started to think like guerrillas, getting scarier, dirtier and dirtier”. Other Seals who had fought there spoke of a pirate culture in which the unit spread fear by branding their victims with the green camouflage cream they wore.

Marcinko himself, known as “Demo Dick”, wrote that he took to trapping bodies with bombs, even though these could be disturbed by civilians. “War, after all, is not about Nintendo. War is not about technology,” he observed. “War is about killing.”

In 1974, he was appointed commanding officer of SEAL Team Two for a two-year term. The decade saw the emergence of specialist units, for example in Britain and West Germany, to counter the growing threat of terrorism.

As a result, following the failed US attempt to rescue his hostages in Iran in 1979, Marcinko was tasked with creating a Navy unit – similar to the US Army’s Delta Force – dedicated to such operations.

In an effort to trick the Soviets into thinking there were more SEAL teams than the two that existed, he named the new creation Team Six. He had six months to select personnel, which he took from both the SEAL and other specialist naval units.

Marcinko ultimately selected 75 men, preferring those he felt showed character over those who scored higher for skill. The team now numbers around 300 people, divided into four assault squadrons and others that support them. The missions they train for include recovering stolen nuclear weapons.

Based in Virginia Beach, Marcinko commanded the unit beginning in 1980 for an unusually long three-year term. Her formidable personality helped foster an esprit de corps in the team, vital to the dangerous and often deniable covert missions she undertook. Yet he would later be accused of being too willing to ignore military regulations and discipline—in effect, of impeding the security of the unit.

Reveling in his reputation as a loose cannon, the heavily bearded Marcinko valued personal loyalty to himself, with bonds often forged during heavy drinking sessions, and promoted a code of silence when things went wrong. He fired a young officer, William McRaven, allegedly for insisting on following the rules, later writing that McRaven withdrew “the Special War Special”. As Admiral, McRaven would eventually command the SEAL teams.

Marcinko liked to claim that the team had a larger ammunition allowance than the entire United States Marine Corps. The effect, however, of such an easy-to-trigger approach was that the unit took a reckless approach to risk. During the American invasion of Grenada in 1983, four seals were drowned when they were dropped overnight on the high seas, and a team sent to rescue Governor General Paul Scoon became trapped in the residence after the loss of their heavy weapons.

In 1984, Marcinko was ordered to create another new organization, Red Cell. This was responsible for testing the security and readiness of military institutions. Marcinko and his team have successfully infiltrated nuclear bases, and even Air Force One.

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