The year was 1985(ish), in Panama City, Florida. In those days, Panama City was a backwater in the Florida panhandle. It was suburban in some parts, but pretty much rural in most, once you were off the beach. It was all pine forests, mosquitoes, and hot, sticky air.
It was a time when “latchkey kids” often came home to empty, parent-less houses, and rode their bikes all over town after school, as long as they were back by the time the streetlights came on. Kids’ bicycles in those days had one gear, long handlebars (often with tassels), banana style seats, and were not particularly maneuverable in off-road riding.
My sister, who was about 12-years-old at the time, was riding a bike just like the one described above — alone — one day after school. She was making her way down a county road, back toward our house from who-knows-where. At some point, she tangled a pant leg in the chain, or hit a rock, or simply fell over — my parents were never sure — and hit her head, rendering her unconscious on the side of the road, with a concussion.
Shortly thereafter, thankfully, a car came along, driven by a teenage boy who had not been in possession of his driver’s license for more than a year or two, at most. The boy saw the bike on the side of the road, and the crumpled pile of girl beside it, and instead of driving on, he stopped. The boy scooped up my sister, and brought her to my parents’ house.
You see, that teenage boy knew my parents, and once he figured out that it was my sister on the side of the road, after stopping, he knew just where to take her. It was a very lucky day for us that that teenage boy was driving down that particular road, on that particular day, and found our sister/daughter laying there unconscious.
That teenage boy was Will Bruhmuller. More formally, his name was William N. Bruhmuller, IV. His dad was named William N. “Bill” Bruhmuller, III. Bill was a retired Navy SEAL at that time, and he lived pretty close to our family, which was also headed by a former Navy SEAL. Bill Bruhmuller clearly raised his son right, as the teenaged Will could have simply driven right by the wrecked bicycle, whether he noticed it or not.
Bill Bruhmuller, III, aged 81, died on September 23, 2016, and the Navy SEAL community lost one of its giants.
Bill was a plank owner (original member) of SEAL Team TWO, and next to Rudy Boesch, was one of its earliest senior enlisted men. He was a pillar of the early SEAL Teams, and a legend within the community. His loss will be felt greatly within the community, especially among the more senior members of the group of former SEALs out there. They looked up to “Bru,” and consider themselves lucky enough to have served with him, if they had the chance.
Bill joined the Navy at age 17, in 1952, and graduated with Underwater Demolition Team (UDT) training Class 13 in November of 1954, in Little Creek, Virginia. UDT training was the pre-cursor of today’s Basic Underwater Demolition/SEAL (BUD/S) training, before President John F. Kennedy established the SEAL Teams in 1962. Bill was one of 21 to make it through that training class, out of 156. Clearly, the training was just as hard back in those pre-BUD/S days as it is today (some older SEALs would say it was harder).
Bill served as a “Frogman” for eight years, with UDT-21 and 22, before the establishment of the SEAL Teams in 1962. He served in the Caribbean and Mediterranean during that time, including in Cuba and the Dominican Republic. Interestingly, in 1963, Bill also held a “temporary assignment” with the CIA, in which he “supervised” missions in Cuba.
One of Bru’s missions with the CIA was to organize Cuban exiles from the Castro regime to penetrate Cuban waters and blow-up Russian fast-attack missile boats. Bill and the exiles placed mines on four of the boats, and blew three of them out of the water. You can read more about it in “United States Naval Special Warfare,” by Greg E. Mathiesan, Sr., and David Gatley.
Shortly after becoming a SEAL with the establishment of the SEAL Teams in ’62, Bru served three tours in Vietnam. He received two Purple Hearts, and by all accounts, performed admirably in that harsh war zone.
Alongside one of his own Purple Hearts, Bru’s combat canine “Prince” also received a Purple Heart in Vietnam. Bill, you see, was the first dog handler in the Navy SEAL Teams, and not only parachuted with Prince, but also laid waiting in ambush in the jungle with his non-human swim buddy. Bru was a trail-blazer in that respect. You can hear more about Prince and Bru in this video interview of Bill, by former SEAL Don Shipley.
Bill retired from the Navy as a Master Chief (E-9) in 1978, after 25 years of service, and went on to other things, including a stint working in the commercial SCUBA diving industry. He retired to Panama City, FL, and there, lived with his family, which included young Will. For that fact alone, probably more than for his service to the country and the SEAL Teams, I am thankful for Bill Bruhmuller. Rest in peace.