The Navy SEALs lost part of their living history Sept. 30 with the passing of Master Chief Petty Officer Peter Paul Slempa Jr., a plank owner (or member) of the original SEAL Team One, which formed Jan. 1, 1962.
Slempa, a staunch conservative and stalwart advocate for military rights, served on the board of the Veterans Memorial Museum in Chehalis while he and his wife, Linda, lived in Lewis County before moving to Kalama, where they were closer to medical appointments.
Slempa served aboard the USS Worcester CL-144 before he qualified for the underwater demolition team. He worked as a provincial recon unit advisor during six tours in Vietnam and later taught in Portland. He served from 1954 to 1983, retiring as a master chief petty officer. He was laid to rest Thursday with full military honors at the Willamette National Cemetery in Happy Valley, Oregon.
I was honored in 2009 to listen as Slempa recalled part of his story for a Chronicle feature before he spoke at the Veterans Memorial Museum for Vietnam Veterans Recognition Day. Five years later, I helped him publish his memoir, Why Me, Lord? It has been available for sale at the Veterans Memorial Museum.
During our interview, I sat in awe as he recounted plunging 25 feet off a cruiser at night into the Pacific Ocean, tying the legs of his bellbottom dungarees and filling them with air to stay afloat. He ruptured both eardrums when a two-man open cockpit submarine lost control and dove 200 feet. A semi hit him at 70 miles an hour during training maneuvers and tossed him a dozen feet. He suffered an underwater concussion and injuries to his spleen, stomach, and gallbladder after heavy mortars exploded, killing his Vietnamese interpreter. Twice, he was subjected to waterboarding.
He was the son of a northeastern Pennsylvania coal miner, one of five children in the family. He quit school after ninth grade to help support his family and enlisted in the Navy, where he earned his GED. He requested a transfer to an underwater demolition team every month for two years, and after staying afloat in the dark waters of the Pacific Ocean for a half hour, he finally received his transfer and graduated from underwater demolitions training in November 1957.
Four years later, he was among 50 enlisted men and 12 officers handpicked by the commanding officer to serve in a special navy warfare group, which turned out to be the SEAL teams, standing for Sea, Air and Land. They wore khaki fatigues with no insignia. SEAL Team One, a group of elite unconventional commandos, formed Jan. 2, 1962, on the West Coast, while SEAL Team Two formed on the East Coast. Members had top-secret security clearances.
He shared stories of training to survive arctic cold, jungle swamps and scorching desert heat. They trained on light and heavy weapons, diving, demolitions, parachuting, hand-to-hand combat, intelligence gathering and more. They learned to survive torture without giving away information.
Slempa, who received three Purple Hearts and many other medals and decorations for his service, saw plenty of action in Vietnam, but he maintained a sense of humor, which he exhibited in sharing his experiences. He talked of skydiving, parachuting, and scuba diving.
He and his wife, Linda, who married in 1971, raised two children.
Although he has passed away, I’m so glad Slempa shared his experiences in a book so others can learn the history of the SEALs and one plank owner’s journey.
New Port of Chehalis CEO
Congratulations to Lindsey Senter, operations director at the Port of Chehalis, named as the top candidate from among 30 applicants to replace Randy Mueller as the port’s chief executive officer. Mueller is leaving after seven years to work as the Port of Ridgefield’s CEO.
Senter, 33, has worked at the port since 2019, first as director of finance and administration before moving to her operations director position three months ago. She plans to earn her bachelor’s degree in business management and finance this year from Centralia College.
Senter has worked for the Centralia-Chehalis Chamber of Commerce, the Lewis Economic Development Council and her social media and web design company, Vulcan Create.
After interviewing the top three candidates, the three port commissioners voted unanimously to offer the job to Senter. A seven-member community panel also participated in the interviews. The job pays between $100,000 and $130,000 a year.
I hope as the port’s chief executive officer, Senter continues her predecessor’s refreshing transparency, keeping the public informed of potential property purchases and controversies.
Mueller’s transparency was refreshing, although it should be the norm among public officials charged with overseeing taxpayer dollars at ports, schools, libraries, firehouses, city halls, county courthouses and other public agencies. Unfortunately, transparency often falls by the wayside as decisions are made before the public even knows what’s happening.
Julie McDonald, a personal historian from Toledo, may be reached at email@example.com.