Two former Frogmen meet again after 60 years – Don Lumsden, Alan Voorhees relive their WWII adventures

The following story first appeared in the Port Charlotte Sun, Port Charlotte, Fla. on Thursday, May 13, 2004 and is republished with permission.

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Don LumsdenDon Lumsden and Alan Voorhees didn’t look much like the big, bad Underwater Demolition Team dudes they had once been some 60 years ago at the end of World War II. They appeared to be a couple of elderly men enjoying their lunch at the Boca Royale Country Club in Englewood with Art Nicholas, a old U.S. Navy scout and raider buddy.

As young lieutenant Frogmen a long time ago, they reconnoitered some of the most historic enemy beaches in the Second World War — Okinawa, Nagasaki and Brunei Bay, off the island of Borneo. They were also scheduled to lead the assault at Iwo Jima, but their unit was decimated just before the landing and had to abort that invasion.

It was the job of Lumsden and Voorhees to check out the landing beaches before the Marines made their assault. Their UDT team cleared underwater obstacles and mines from the path of U.S. landing craft full of Marines that would hit the beaches hours later. They also provided a detailed map of the bottom and the shore for the officers in charge of the assault to use in planning their pending attack.

The U.S. Navy got serious about the need for UDT teams to check enemy beaches after the calamity at Tarawa. The tiny Pacific island was a disaster for the Marines who made the assault blind and encountered crushing enemy resistance.

One of the primary reasons for the snafus at Tarawa was that they hadn’t used Frogmen to check the terrain out first to see what the Marines would be facing in the way of enemy fortifications before they landed. They didn’t make that mistake again.

From Tarawa on, the Navy’s Frogmen hit the invasion beaches before the Marines showed up. It worked a lot better that way.

That’s all ancient history. What Don and Alan were doing at the Englewood club a few days ago was getting reacquainted after almost six decades. Over the years Don had done pretty well for himself with his own textile business. Alan owns a brokerage business and is still flying around the country in his 80s still making deals.

They had long ago lost track of each other. Both assumed the other was dead until Don happened to spot Alan’s name on a quarterly newsletter produced by the Navy Seal Museum in Fort Pierce. Alan was listed as a contributor to the museum. It used to be called the UDT Museum until its name was changed because directors said the general public didn’t have a clue what UDT meant. That didn’t go down well with the old Frogmen, the predecessors of today’s Seals.

When Alan’s secretary came on the phone he asked to speak to him personally. His secretary inquired what business he had with the president of the firm.

“No business,” he responded. “I used to be in the Navy with him in World War II.”

“You were a Frogman,” the secretary inquired excitedly. “Just one moment. I know he’ll want to speak to you.’”

In no time Alan was on the line. He was more surprised than his secretary that he was talking to Don Lumsden, his long-lost war buddy. They chatted for some time. Alan told him he was planning a business trip to California in a couple of weeks. On the way west he could fly into the Sarasota Airport and they could renew their acquaintance. Don thought that was a great idea.

That’s what they were doing at the Boca Royale Country Club. They were comparing notes about their war experiences. The two old warriors were trying to piece together what they could remember of their World War II happenings. Art was in on the meeting because he had been part of the staff at the UDT school in Fort Lauderdale about the time the two Frogmen were taking their training there. Furthermore, he is a friend of Don’s who lives on Manasota Key.

The two old UDTers took out several original maps Don still had at home of some of the landing sites they made. They chewed over the fact that their UDT unit went into Okinawa in late March, three days before the April 1, 1945, Easter Sunday Marine landing that launched the largest battle for the Leathernecks during the Pacific war.

They went in before the Marines again at Brunei Bay, along the coast of Borneo, on June 10, 1945, roughly two months before the Japanese surrendered. The Marines were attacking Balikpapan, Borneo, the Japanese oil supply center.

Immediately after the war, Don and Alan were sent in to scout out the underwater mine situation in the harbor at Nagasaki, before the American fleet dropped anchor. They found no mines in the harbor, but what they found on land was appalling.

“Alan and I may have been the first two Allied servicemen to get a look from the ground at what the second atomic bomb did to that city,” Don recalled. “We were standing on the beach at Nagasaki eying the total devastation. There were no other Americans or any other Allied soldiers around. We landed first.”

“I was the best swimmer in our UDT team and the only one who had received any formal swimming instruction before the war,” he said. “But I was also the only guy that could draw the maps they needed, so I became the mapmaker. I didn’t swim into hostile enemy beaches like Don did.”

Don just kept his mouth shut. He wanted to get a word in about his swimming ability because he took issue with Al’s assessment of the rest of the UDT team’s swimming expertise as compared to his swimming prowess. However, Don said nothing.

Some things are best left unsaid.

--------------------------------------------------------------------------------

Donald James Lumsden
Jan. 26, 1922 – Feb. 20, 2012

Donald James Lumsden, 90, of Englewood, formerly of Dover, Mass. died Feb. 20, 2012.
Inurnment will be in New Hampshire at a later date. Englewood Community Funeral Home is in charge of arrangements for cremation.
Survivors include his loving wife of 65 years, Brenda F. of Englewood; daughter Diana J. of Newbury, N.H.; son Dale B. of Yarmouthport, Mass.; and two grandchildren, Janis Roberto and Moira Yon.
A U.S. Navy veteran of World War II he was a proud member of Underwater Demolition Team 11 and participated in both the Iwo Jima and Borneo invasions.
Don was the President of Andrew Fabric Corporation, a textile manufacturing company in Needham, Mass. He retired in 1984.
He was a member of the Needham Rotary Club and the Needham Golf & Country Club and a former President of the Boca Royal Golf & Country Club and a club champion.
Memorial contributions may be made to Tidewell Hospice, 5955 Rand Blvd., Sarasota, FL 3423

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