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John Spence: Fighting Frogman

During World War II, John Spence was the kind of hero who belonged in a comic book or movie serial. He was a member of an elite, top-secret team of combat divers called “frogmen,” trained by the Office of Strategic Services, the forerunner of today’s Central Intelligence Agency, for critical but highly dangerous missions – from rescuing downed airmen before they could be captured to planting explosives on underwater barriers set up by the enemy to hinder beach landings by U.S. troops.

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spenceIt was the brand of derring-do that the Pentagon today calls on the Navy’s SEALs to perform, except without such high-tech gadgetry such as night-vision goggles and satellite communications. Instead, Spence made do with a Ka-Bar knife, a pack of explosives and a then-newfangled breathing apparatus that allowed him and his colleagues to breathe and swim underwater without sending any bubbles to the surface.

“It kind of made me feel like Buck Rogers,” Spence would later explain to documentary filmmaker and historian Erick Simmel.

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Here are 10 other intriguing facts about Spence, who died on Nov. 5 at age 95 in Bend, Ore.:


Photo: Ryan Brennecke / The Bulletin

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