The last of the original frogmen, the forerunners of Navy SEAL teams, was honored last week on the date of his 94th birthday among his family members and friends.

Bill Dawson, who grew up in Washington D.C., worked at the Washington Navy Shipyard in 1943 and enlisted in the U.S. Navy when he was just 17. Not long after, he found out about a specialized Navy unit that, as he put it, “got to blow things up.” After saying he didn’t quite know how to take that tidbit of information, he and another sailor decided to volunteer. But he almost didn’t even get a chance to attempt the training.

As the two reached the building where the volunteers assembled, they were told class was full, as there were 500 volunteers. Undeterred, Dawson and his buddy walked around the back of the building, climbed through an open window, and took their place in the end of the line. Class 1 of the famous volunteer frogmen now numbered 502.

Training whittled down the number of volunteers to just 52. And the toughness of the frogman course was every bit as challenging as the famed BUDS course for the SEALs is today: three–to–five mile runs in the sand, climbing over slippery, barnacle-encrusted rocks in the jetty, and the log PT. “I can still pick the splinters out of my arms today,” Dawson joked in an interview he conducted with the American Veterans Center.