SEAL shows patriotism through art

Although retired, the Irvine resident still feels a strong bond with the group that killed Osama bin Laden in April. He will spend Memorial Day with fellow SEALs and reminisce.

May 28, 2011|By Alexandra Baird,
  • Pete Carolan, a retired U.S. Navy SEAL, is an artist and painted a mural at the American Legion Hall 555 in Westminster.
Pete Carolan, a retired U.S. Navy SEAL, is an artist and… (SCOTT SMELTZER,…)

MIDWAY CITY — For Pete Carolan, the killing of Osama bin Laden was a full-circle moment.

The Irvine artist spent almost two decades in the Navy SEALs, the specialized combat wing that conducted the May 1 nighttime raid on the Al Qaeda leader's Pakistan hideaway.

In 2000, Carolan painted a 150-foot mural of military scenes in the American Legion Hall in Midway City, titled "For God and Country."

According to media reports, the ground commander of the SEAL Team 6 unit that carried out the mission uttered the same phrase in radioing in the news that his commandoes had killed "Geronimo," the operational code name for Bin Laden.

"It was thrilling," Carolan, 63, said in an interview at the American Legion Hall. "It was the culmination of all of that training."


Carolan retired from the SEALs four years ago, but he still has a strong fraternal bond with the elite unit. He proudly wears the SEAL trident on his lapel. The acronym stands for "Sea, Air and Land."

"No matter what team you go to, that common bond is there," Carolan said. "Nobody gives up. Everyone keeps going, and the esprit de corps is like no other fraternity organization in the world."

Carolan grew up in Garden Grove. His path to becoming a SEAL started when he became a lifeguard for Huntington Beach as a teenager. His love for the ocean also won him a world championship award in outrigger canoe paddling.

When the Vietnam War draft began, Carolan took the advice of his lifeguard captain and went to Navy SEAL training instead. Months later he emerged, in 1968 at Coronado, as one of 23 graduates out of an initial class of 200.

"I met so many great guys," he said. "It's just an amazing fraternity."

Carolyn's patriotism shows in his paintings, depicting scenes like the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor. The works are displayed in places like the White House and the Pentagon. His paintings can be seen on his website,

As a SEAL, Carolan worked on submarines and as a frogman assigned to Underwater Demolition Team 13. He used his artistic skills as a cartographer for UDT-13, according to his biography. He also painted his trademark "Freddie the Frog" caricature — named after the slang term for SEALs, frogmen — on helicopters, one of which sits in the USS Midway Museum in San Diego.

Carolan was also chosen to be a swim captain on the Navy crew picked up the Apollo 13 astronauts when their capsule splashed down in the Pacific after the near-doomed April 1970 mission to the moon.

He left the SEALs and went back to school, studying fine art and physical education at USC. But 17 years later, he was called back to duty.

After Sept. 11, 2001, Carolan served in Operation Enduring Freedom in Afghanistan. He retired again in 2007.

Today, Carolan shows no sign of slowing down, as he continues to paint and spread his patriotic message. This September, he will take his second cross-country trip from San Diego to the former World Trade Center site to mark the 10th anniversary of the 9/11 attacks.

For Memorial Day, Carolan said he plans to get together with some fellow SEALs and reminisce.

"It's kind of a solemn day for me," Carolan said. "It's not hamburgers and hot dogs like for everybody else."

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