Lifeboat at Navy SEALS Museum

It pays to read a community newspaper at home and on vacation. When we’re at my parents’ condo in Florida, the first item on the morning agenda is a drive down the beach to the gas station for coffee and a copy of the Stuart News, a daily that keeps us abreast of what’s happening.

That’s where I came across a letter to the editor about the Navy Seal Museum on north Hutchinson Island and a vessel they have on display. I have to admit I had little knowledge of the Navy SEALS prior to seeing the riveting true-life adventure “Captain Phillips,” starring Tom Hanks. If you hurry you can still catch it at an area theater.

Wow, what a film, incredibly exciting, nonstop action and excellent acting. Many of you will recall the five-day ordeal of Richard Phillips, the captain of the Maersk ship Alabama who was forced to deal with Somali pirates who took control of the ship and kidnapped him, a story that made big news back in 2009.

After terrorizing the crew, the pirates made their getaway on a 28-passenger lifeboat taking Capt. Phillips with them. What happened next was a non-fiction nightmare for the captain, his eventual rescue necessitating the ingenuity and skills of the Navy and their Special Forces teams.

Thanks to the letter to the editor, alerting folks to the fact that the actual lifeboat involved in the incident is located at the Navy Seal Museum, we capitalized on the opportunity to visit the museum, about a 45-minute drive from my parents’ condo, in Stuart, on the Atlantic side of the state.

In the 40-plus years we’ve been going there, we’ve driven by the museum innumerable times, commented on the Navy vessels on the lawn, but never stopped in. After seeing the movie, we thought we knew what to expect, but we weren’t prepared for the breadth of information and treasures to be found inside the doors.

We were amazed to learn the museum receives no federal funds, but operates solely through private donations.

Films and displays educated us on the training of this elite force that is currently best known for the Capt. Phillips’ rescue and the raid of the Osama bin Laden compound. The Navy SEALS continue to combat terrorism, and have played an integral role in all American wars, beginning with World War II.

In fact, training for missions in Normandy and in the Pacific took place in the ocean just outside the doors of the museum, the birthplace of the Navy frogman.

Pride was on display at the museum, as well as artifacts. Greeters welcomed us at the door, anxious to share their knowledge. The first question out of the mouth of one was, “Have you seen the movie ‘Captain Phillips’? We have the lifeboat on display.”

We inquired if the number of people coming to the museum had increased since the movie’s release, but the woman said it was hard to judge that because the “snowbirds” hadn’t yet arrived in Florida.

The lifeboat is much larger than I had imagined, requiring steps to walk up to get a look at the inside. Seeing the interior was eerie, several windows broken out by the shots fired by Navy SEAL snipers, killing each of the three pirates, and leading to the rescue of the captain.

Leaving the movie theater that night, I overheard more than one person say they felt like they’d been beat up, tossed around on the ocean right along with Tom Hanks.

The visit to the SEAL museum was definitely worth the time and drive to Fort Pierce, the town nearest to the museum, so if Hutchinson Island is ever your destination, you’ll want to take the time to swing by. Going to the museum made me want to see “Captain Phillips” again so I could really focus on the SEALS’ efforts in the rescue.

That’s on the calendar for this week. Maybe I’ll be able to relax a bit more the second time around and enjoy my movie-house popcorn.