Reporter's Notebook: Remembering legendary SEAL Commander Richard Marcinko after his death

Demo Dick will be remembered for his contributions to the SEAL community.

ByEric Oehlerich
December 28, 2021, 11:33 AM

With the death of Richard Marcinko, also known as Demo Dick, or the Rogue Warrior, the Navy SEAL community on Christmas lost one of its most controversial, yet colorful, personalities.

Adm. William H. McRaven, who had reached loggerheads with Marcinko in the past, remembered him as an officer "with ingenuity and an unrelenting drive for success," whom he hoped would "be remembered for his numerous contributions to the SEAL community."

During the Vietnam War, Marcinko led SEAL Platoons from SEAL Team Two into the Mekong Delta. Upon entering Vietnam, Demo Dick returned from their first mission "Winchester" completely out of ammunition. He set the tone and the expectations for his fellow SEALS: Be relentless, make the enemy fear you, carry out the missions with violence of action.

Marcinko elevated the performance of those he led. He made the SEALs -- or as their enemies called them, the "green faces" -- feared and respected.

With the Vietnam War in his rearview mirror, Marcinko matured as a Navy officer, holding positions of leadership and influence. In 1979, during the Iran hostage crisis, he proved his value in a select joint staff position. When Operation Eagle Claw failed 200 miles southeast of Tehran, Navy leadership decided to launch a counterterrorism unit and asked Marcinko to architect it.

PHOTO: Richard Marcinko at the Base Exchange at Langley Air Force Base in Hampton, Va., July 12, 2006.
Richard Marcinko at the Base Exchange at Langley Air Force Base in Hampton, Va., July 12, 2006.
Bill Tiernan/Virginian-Pilot via AP, FILE

Marcinko drafted plans for a unit and hand-selected operators from across all the SEAL Teams to build his team.

The new SEAL Team was tested relentlessly -- 2,000 rounds per day on the pistol range were mandatory -- until it was a unit capable of naval commando counterterrorism operations.

"Maverick thinkers are so important to an organization's adaptability, high-ranking leaders need to be assigned the job of guiding and even protecting them," retired Secretary of Defense Jim Mattis said.

Although Marcinko had vision to counter the threat of terrorism, the Rogue Warrior made enemies along the way. He ended his Navy career in confinement after being prosecuted for conspiracy in 1989.

Despite the controversy surrounding him, it was Marcinko's ingenuity and unabashed roguishness that made him and his men successful in combat, and able to answer the nation's call on Sept. 12, 2001. The men of his SEAL lineage also ultimately held Osama Bin Laden to account 10 years later, in the dark of the night in Abbottabad, Pakistan.

Eric Oehlerich is a retired U.S. Navy Commander (SEAL) from the Naval Special Warfare component of the USSOCOM’s Joint Special Operations Command. He is an analyst for ABC News, a senior fellow for technology and national security with the Middle East Institute and a co-founder of the Lobo Institute. Opinions do not reflect those of ABC News.

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