T.J. Die, who was in the first graduating class of Lumberton High School, served as a Navy Seal during the Vietnam War and now runs the auction house at Ancient World Auctions in Lumberton.
When he hurt his knee and lost his scholarship to college, he decided to enlist with the Navy. Die took the Navy test to determine what he would be qualified for; he ended up being qualified for everything they had. He chose Nuclear Propulsion since it seemed to be the most challenging area of the Navy. Die admitted that his math background was not at a level that it would need to be for this particular area of training. He then decided to try for the Underwater Demolition Team. When he completed the BUDS program (Basic Underwater Demolition/SEAL) in Middlecreek, Virginia; there were only 20 men left out of the 200 that began the class.
Die described Hell Week that starts on Sunday at midnight and goes through Friday at 6 p.m. During this week, they ran 14 miles, 3.5 miles of swimming, paddling a boat for 16 miles; continuously for the entire week without sleep. He said that they would reward you for coming in first with a 15 minute nap or an opportunity to brush your teeth. “It’s physically the most demanding thing you can think of,” he said.
One of the more interesting activities he participated in was locking out of a submarine underwater through the torpedo tubes. No one had ever tried it before and they did it to see if it would work. There were times when their missions required them to be able to get in and out of a submarine while it was still submerged in the water so the ability to go through the torpedo tubes was very beneficial. Now they have a different system but back then it was new process to attempt. He became a Dive Supervisor; one of three on the entire East Coast.
Die served as a Navy Seal and Disposal Ordinance Explosive Technician, which kept him in high demand. During his service, he traveled all over the world and was in various dangerous situations. When he decided it was time to get out of the service and retire he was serving in Beirut. “It wasn’t because of danger, action, or uncertainty, it was because I had 720 parachute jumps and on three of those they had to scoop me up on the snow shovel and take me to the hospital.” The terrain situation in Lebanon was challenging since it was “nothing but rubble” at that time, and “you’d better have good knees and my knees were not good anymore,” he said. He was concerned that he would blow a knee and compromise a mission. “I decided to punch out. What is a 44-year-old man doing out here with 18-year-olds?”
At 45-years-old, Die decided to retire to spend more time with his wife, who was terminally ill. When he left the Navy, he worked for the Army Corp of Engineers as a subcontractor, traveling anywhere there were wars and minefields.
He recalled his experience returning to the U.S. from serving Vietnam. Die said when he returned from Southeast Asia it was a very bad feeling in the country and people were anti-military at the time. “You come home from hazardous duty and no one was there to greet you.” He felt that the negative attitude toward the military stemmed from so many people being opposed to the U.S. government’s involvement in Southeast Asia, and at the time, they saw the government and military as one in the same.
He observed that those returning from service in Iraq had a different experience. “Military is honored now. It’s a different attitude.”