Harry Humphries has lived an amazing life, first as a highly decorated Navy SEAL in the Vietnam War then to partnering alongside fellow SEAL Richard Marcinko in business, and, most recently, to working on Hollywood blockbuster films such as The Rock, Black Hawk Down, The Transformers films, Lone Survivor and most recently Da 5 Bloods. He shares leadership and character traits that have served him across his diverse and storied career.
WATM: Tell me about your family and your life growing up?
Born in New Jersey and raised on the Jersey Shore. The Atlantic Ocean was my playground where I became skilled in most things aquatic. Under the tutelage of strong family leadership, specifically from my grandparents, the concept of Love of nation, Pride of Family and God was deeply instilled in my psyche.
This was during and shortly after World War Two, as with most Americans, my pride of country was deeply instilled. My four uncles fought in Europe — all came home safely….naturally, at this early age in my life I knew I would serve as well.
WATM: What is the most distinct memory of your mother and your father?
My parental experiences resulting from their divorce was a split upbringing for my sister and myself. Actually, our grandparents filled that role, however, that is not to say that my mother wasn't a wonderful mom, a very strong woman, and extremely supportive of me through my mistakes and successes. Her remarriage was a blessing, as my stepfather became my first athletic coach and as a former college athlete and 101st Airborne Master Sergeant who made all five combat jumps in Europe became my mentor. Fairness on the athletic field and a pursuit of excellence in athletics was deeply ingrained in me as a result.
WATM: What values were stressed at home?
Faith, pride in self and pride in family, a strong sense of determination, tenacity, whatever you start finish, if it gets dark look towards your faith and most importantly, never quitting and finishing what was started.
WATM: What influenced you to join the US Navy and SEALs, what was your experience and what lessons did you take away from your service?
I joined the Naval Reserve as a Prep School senior, 1st classman at Admiral Farragut Academy in Pine Beach, New Jersey. My goal was to attend the Naval Academy, the reserve program at Farragut guaranteed an appointment, however the goal was not to be achieved. After attending Rutgers and Monmouth College for a few years, my reserve unit was called to active duty. I chose to serve out my two-year active obligation at that time which ultimately led to me extending several years in order to get Underwater Demolition Training UDT/R at Little Creek VA. Class 29 where I graduated as class Honor Man. Clearly my most treasured achievement.
I received orders to Underwater Demolition Team 22, UDT 22, where I made several Platoon deployments to the Caribbean after which a billet became available for an enlisted slot in the new command, SEAL TEAM 2. Again, another excellent achievement which changed my life. Reporting aboard was an experience I shall never forget, the quality of personnel, professionalism, all the attributes of becoming part of this outstanding organization was life changing to me.
The early days of the SEAL program were extremely secretive, not as publicized as today's teams. One didn't volunteer to punch a ticket and get out. The incentive was to operate with personnel at a level of professionalism not equaled in most commands.
My period was pre, during and some post-Vietnam. Having made two tours, one with Dick Marcinko's 8th Platoon, ST2 when we were heavily engaged in the TET Offensive of 68 operating on the Cambodian Border supporting the CHAU DOC PRU led by DREW DIX MEDAL OF HONOR recipient for these actions. The 8th Platoon performed excellently going into the city seeking, engaging with the VC. I went with DREW and a fellow SEAL, Frank Thornton into the city on a "company" vehicle armed with an M-2 HMG in the rear. Our mission was to rescue some USAID Medical Personnel who were held captive in their villa by the insurgent VC. After several intensive firefights, the mission was successful, but unfortunately we lost one of our SEALs later in the day, Ted Risher, Frank and I were with Ted on a rooftop prepping a 57 recoilless rifle position overlooking the VC Command Center when Ted took a round in the head.
After several days operating in and around Chau Doc with Drew and his PRU, the platoon was ordered back to Can Tho base. The VC had been killed, captured or melded back into the local population. The city was free.
I returned to country, assigned to MACVSOG operating as a detached SEAL working for the CIA's Phoenix program as The PRU Advisor in CAN THO Province. I remember this assignment as a dream job, working undercover, if you will, as an enlisted guy telling O-5s and 6s how we were going to execute our battle plans. I split my 150-man team into smaller units and spread them around the province. The plan worked very well increasing our operational tempo many fold.
My last action leading my PRU team was on a VIP Capture Kill mission for a high-ranking VC Commander when I was wounded in both legs. I'm here today only because of my troops. We fought our way out of the ambush and coordinated an air assault on the VC forces covered in a tree line. The UH-1 "POP POP" sounds are truly magnificent to hear, and the sight of WP rockets (no longer in the inventory) hitting as directed is beautiful to see in such times as these.
I eventually wound up in YOKOSUKA Naval Hospital recovering from leg wounds. It was during this time I spent weeks in a ward filled with young Marines ages 18 to 21ish. Mostly amputees. As the senior enlisted guy on the floor, I became their Gunny, sometimes maintaining discipline, sometimes feeding those who had no limbs to feed themselves, sometimes coaching those who needed a prod to get up and rehab their abilities to walk. Truth be told here; it was them who gave me the drive to get up and walk from bed to bed initially until I was able to get around to help them.
The lessons I learned here are immense but simply put, all warriors have a mutual respect for one another. I swore I would never forget these troops, a memory which has instilled a burning passion in me to help my fellow veterans, a passion which lives on to this day.
Dick Marcinko (left) and Harry Humphries (right) in Vietnam, 1968. Photo credit unknown.
WATM: What values have you carried over from the SEALs into advising and producing?
Whether factual or fantasy, the characters playing military or law enforcement rolls must be as realistic as possible, we owe that to them.
I see my role as the reality conscience of the Writer, Director, Producer and HODs. Then on to the training of talent enabling them to appropriately play a role in many cases totally unfamiliar to them.
A shot of the SEAL Team (actors and real SEALs) in The Rock. Photo credit IMDB.com.
WATM: What is the most fulfilling project you have done and why?
Without hesitation I can say that BLACK HAWK DOWN was my thesis as an advisor and Co-Producer. My role entailed acquisition of period correct Equipment; Weapons, and to some extent Costume, assisting the departments in accuracy as pertained to their areas. My role as liaisons to DOD was immense. Jerry Bruckheimer and Ridley wanted the training to be as realistic as possible, once we had DOD's Production Assist Agreement in place all specific training was provided by USASOC components, the commands being portrayed; the 75th Ranger Regiment provided a gentlemen's RIP program, the 1st Special Forces Operational Detachment DELTA actors were trained at Bragg blowing and kicking doors, etc. the 160th SOAR provided UH-60 training on the simulators at FT. Campbell, etc.
USASOC stood up a detachment of Rangers, 160th Black Hawks and Little Birds, AIRSOC provided transport of all personnel and equipment to Morocco. A remarkable support effort, probably never to be repeated.Most importantly, I was blessed to have Colonels Tom Mathews (OIC of the 160th element in Mogadishu) and Lee Van Arsdale, ( the C Squadron Commander of the CAG unit). As part of the Military department with me.
WATM: What was your experience like in working with such talents as Ridley Scott, Michael Bay, Antoine Fuqua, Tony Scott and Dominic Sena on projects like The Rock, Con Air, Armageddon, Pearl Harbor, Gone in 60 Seconds, Tears of the Sun, GI Jane, Bad Boys 2 and the like?
This is a tough question, all you mention have been great to have worked with. I'd have to say my projects with Ridley Scott all were excellent experiences. Ridley is without question one of the finest gentlemen I have ever known. As a director, few can compare with his talent, to call him friend is a blessing.
Mike Bay is a loyal friend, working with Mike is like an uncle/nephew experience. I understand and respect his drive for excellence, he truly stands out as a master of the work he does in the action genre. Not only is he truly a friend but also the guy who has worked me the most throughout our careers.
Working with Mike, thanks to Jerry Bruckheimer, on The Rock stands out to be more than just my first project but has to be the most enjoyable yet to be surpassed. Additionally, 13 HOURS stands out to me as my second favorite film. It tells an action story that had to be told accurately.
My projects with Tony Scott stand out in my mind as another exceptional talent and friend, may he rest in peace. We truly lost a great one with him leaving us.
Pete Berg, another friend for life. Working with Pete has always been a pleasure. His work on Lone Survivor was outstanding. I was proud to have played a small role in that project as military Liaison, consultant and Co Producer. Pete is the only director I've worked with who shoots as fast as Mike Bay, a joy to watch.
Antoine Fuqua, another artist in his field was also a pleasure to work with on Tears of the Sun. Working with Bruce Willis, we had an outstanding time both shooting and training. Hawaii locations weren't shabby either.Most recently Kevin Kent, (my #2 and SEAL war hero) and I had the pleasure of working with SPIKE LEE on DA 5 BLOODS, in retrospect, a Vietnam War period film. Spike was the consummate professional knowing what he wanted and how to get it. The recent loss of Chadwick Boseman, the lead, was a shock to us all. His athletic performance always at top speed was no indication of his condition. An excellent actor, another loss to the world.
WATM: What leadership lessons in life and from the SEALs have helped you most in your career?
The most important element of leadership is to create a team and to love the members of that team. The rest will follow if you do that right. Without the team there is no success.
Bruce Willis and Harry Humphries on (HS TRUMAN CVN 75) set for Tears of the Sun. Photo credit Wikipedia.
WATM: As a veteran, how do we get more veteran stories told in Hollywood?
Veterans in Media and Entertainment is probably the best source of veterans in the industry. I did a talk with them several years back. Since The Rock I have put over a 100 SEALs, Marines and Rangers as special skills extras or talent in films and projects. I have been able to help a bunch of veterans in the industry.
WATM: What are you most proud of in life and your career?
My greatest pride resides in assisting veterans as with the VETNET program with Jerri Rosen, who started Working Wardrobes in Orange County offering dress clothing and job training for people who couldn't afford them. Many veterans were coming through Working Wardrobes for suits and/or dress clothes for work and interviews, so VETNET was created to focus more directly on veterans.
Many of the California veterans are poverty stricken or homeless where they need help restarting in the civilian world. With VETNET we help them write resumes and get prepared for job interviews. We focus on the transitioning veterans as well as those that have come upon hard landings. The core of our program stresses that Veterans having fallen on hard times need to remember who they are and where they came from. It is imperative they believe that and then the pride in self returns. It makes no difference if you came from a high-speed combat unit or support. We all took the same oath essentially offering our lives to support and defend The Constitution of the United States against all enemies foreign and domestic…..
Jerri Rosen, Harry Humphries and the Plank Owners of the VETNET team. Photo credit Harry Humphries.