Frogmen, The Teams, The Men with Green Faces—no matter what you call them, Navy SEALs are probably the most famous warriors in the American military. Tracing their roots back to WWII, SEALs have proven over and over again to be masters of warfare in every environment. In fact, that’s what SEAL means. Sea, Air, and Land.
While every SEAL is an American hero, the following is a list of 20 most famous Navy SEALs of all time.
Note: This list is based on the estimated monthly search volume for every Navy SEAL that has a Wikipedia page.
Jump to a famous Navy SEAL
|20. Michael E. Thornton|
19. Rudy Boesch
18. Britt Slabinski
17. Danny Dietz
16. Michael Murphy
15. Craig Sawyer
14. Brandon Webb
|13. Johnny Kim|
12. Don Shipley
11. Richard Marcinko
10. William McRaven
9. Adam Brown
8. Rob O'Neill
7. Scott Taylor
|6. Marcus Luttrell
5. Ryan Zinke
4. David Goggins
3. Jesse Ventura
2. Jocko Willink
1. Chris Kyle
20. Michael E. Thornton – BUD/S Class 49
Thornton is a former Navy SEAL that was awarded the Medal of Honor for his actions during a mission in the Vietnam War.
After graduating from BUD/S Class 49 in March of 1969, he was assigned to SEAL Team 1.
Thornton participated in heavy combat action throughout the Vietnam War, conducting intelligence gathering and direct action missions.
On one of those missions, Thornton and his team of 5 were on a recon mission when they were ambushed by enemy forces.
After keeping the enemy, which was estimated to be nearly 150 men strong, at bay for several hours, he and his team extracted from the area to the beach.
It was during this withdrawal that another SEAL serving alongside him, Lt. Thomas Norris, was struck in the head by an enemy round.
Thornton ran to the last location Norris was spotted, which was about 400 yards away, to recover what he thought would be a dead body.
It turns out, while he was severely wounded, Norris was actually still alive.
Thornton carried his wounded comrade back to the beach, stopping several times to engage enemy troops.
Ultimately, his actions that day earned him the Medal of Honor, making him truly one of the most famous Navy SEALs from the Vietnam era.
Fun Fact: Thornton was hand picked by former SEAL Team 6 founder Richard Marcinko as a ‘plank owner’, or founding member, of the covert unit.
19. Rudy Boesch – UDTR Class 6
You might recognize the name from a show called Survivor, of which Boesch was one of the participants of the first season.
What some of you may not have realized, however, was Rudy Boesch is one of the most famous Navy SEALs to ever serve.
Enlisting in the US Navy in April of 1945, at the young age of 17.
Upon completion of Navy Boot Camp, he volunteered for the Amphibious Scouts and Raiders, which was a precursor to the Navy SEALs.
After attending and graduating UDT Frogman training in late 1950, he served in UDT Team 2 and later UDT Team 21.
Boesch went on to serve for a staggering 45 years, and saw combat in the Vietnam war.
Ultimately, Boesch was designated as the ‘Bullfrog’, otherwise known as the longest serving SEAL on active duty.
Boesch died on Nov. 1, 2019, at the age of 91.
You can see a clip of Boesch on the TV show ‘Survivor’ below:
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18. Britt Slabinski – BUD/S Class 164
Senior Chief Special Warfare Operator Britt Slabinski was awarded the Medal of Honor in 2002 for his unbelievably heroic actions in Afghanistan. [Ref: 1]
When an RPG hit an American helicopter, Petty Officer Neil Roberts fell to an enemy-controlled mountaintop below.
Along with Air Force Combat Controller John A. Chapman, Slabinski led a team of operators up the 10,000-foot snowy peak on a daring rescue mission.
Traversing up the mountain was an act of extreme selflessness. Enemy fire in the forms of bullets, mortars, and grenades came at Slabinski and his team from strong-held positions.
Determined to reach the fallen man, the Navy SEAL charged onward. Slabinski took out Taliban bunker after bunker, all the while calling in air support and reinforcements.
Once he reached Roberts, he threw the man (who was KIA at this point) over his shoulder and waded through waist-deep snow firing his rifle single-handedly.
Over the next fourteen hours, Slabinski provided medical aid and maintained tactical superiority, resulting in him being one of the most famous SEALs ever known.
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You can hear his full story directly from him in the Youtube video below:
17. Danny Dietz – BUD/S Class 232
Petty Officer Danny Dietz was part of the famous four-man SEAL team portrayed in the 2014 film, Lone Survivor.
Tragically, Dietz was one of the three Navy SEALs who didn’t survive—not including the sixteen special operators, eight of whom were also SEALs, who died while attempting to rescue Dietz’s team.
Reportedly, Dietz’s team was on the trail of a high-level Taliban target when they were ambushed.
The four-man SEAL team single-handedly held off dozens of enemy combatants for hours.
In addition to the multiple gunshot wounds each SEAL received, the team also fell from cliff edge after cliff edge while seeking cover.
Despite the rumors, Danny Dietz didn’t die alone.
Rather, he died while Marcus Luttrell was carrying him, and his body was found 6 days after the operation.
The Navy SEAL was posthumously awarded the Navy Cross, the United States’ second-highest citation for valor. [Ref: 2]
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16. Michael Murphy – BUD/S Class 236
When I originally wrote this article, I actually didn’t include Mike Murphy.
This list of famous Navy SEALs is based on the number of monthly Google searches that are done for each of these guys.
Believe it or not, Mike Murphy isn’t searched as much as you would think.
With that said, I think it’s only reasonable to include him on this list, given his outstanding accomplishments.
After graduating from The Pennsylvania State University in 1998, Murphy accepted an appointment to Officer Candidate School in Pensacola, FL.
After being commissioned as an Ensign, he went on to attend BUD/S, graduating with class 236.
You can see his class photo below:
Mike Murphy was the team leader of the infamous “Lone Survivor” incident I mentioned above.
He was KIA during Operation Red Wings and was posthumously awarded the Congressional Medal Of Honor due to his heroic actions. [Ref: 3]
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15. Craig Sawyer – BUD/S Class: 149
Navy SEAL Craig Sawyer, though a formidable force in the battlefield, makes the list because of the work he’s done after separating from the service.
Tactical Insider, Sawyer’s Hollywood consulting firm, advises producers, directors, and actors on what military procedures should look like.
How did actor Matthew Marsden, a civilian with no military training, portray such a convincing Army Ranger in the 2001 film Black Hawk Down?
That was Tactical Insider at work. [Ref: 4]
In addition to his work in film, Sawyer makes constant appearances on FOX News, CBS, The History Channel, and even Animal Planet.
The Taliban isn’t the only force that needs to fear Sawyer—in 2013, Sawyer led a team into Africa to hunt down illegal rhino poachers.
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14. Brandon Webb – BUD/S Class: 215
Brandon Webb, former Navy SEAL sniper, and sniper instructor. In ten years, Webb deployed to the Middle East four times.
As one of the most talented snipers of his day, Webb held the prestigious position of sniper course manager at the Naval Special Warfare school.
After leaving the Navy, Webb made a name for himself as a correspondent to such news sources as ABC’s Good Morning America, NBC’s Today Show, FOX News, CNN, and The New York Times. [Ref: 5]
Additionally, Webb is an avid entrepreneur and investor. His company, Hurricane Group, provides lifestyle advice for men with digital publishing and eCommerce.
Last but not least, Webb is a multiple New York Times bestselling author, having published over five books, including memoirs and self-help guides.
13. Jonny Kim – BUD/S Class: 247
I don’t know which is more impressive: that Jonny Kim is a decorated Navy SEAL, or that he has a Doctorate of Medicine from Harvard Medical School. [Ref: 6]
Kim enlisted in the Navy right after high school.
After he graduated BUD/S, he deployed with SEAL Team 3 as a member of Task Force Bruiser under the command of Jocko Willink and alongside Chris Kyle.
Kim did two deployments to the Middle East, and, since leaving the Navy and graduating from Harvard, has gone on to become a resident physician at Massachusetts General Hospital.
In 2017, Kim was selected to be the primary doctor of NASA Astronaut Group 22. I guess mastering earth was just too easy for this Navy SEAL.
12. Don Shipley – BUD/S Class: 131
Besides the fact that falsely claiming to be a Navy SEAL is unethical, men like Don Shipley have made such acts of stolen valor particularly dangerous.
After serving 23 years in the Navy as a SEAL, Shipley has become an internet sensation due to his Youtube channel which features videos of Shipley and his wife, Dianne, confronting fake Navy SEALs.
Shipley calls his videos “Phony Navy SEAL of the week” and, as the name implies, there are more than enough imposters out there to keep the Shipleys busy.
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While the FBI estimates that for every living SEAL there are 300 men claiming to be SEALs, Shipley, based on his personal interactions with hundreds of these fakers, estimates that number as significantly low.
Instead, he estimates in somewhere in the realm of 1,000 for every living, breathing Navy SEAL.
Even after retirement, Shipley unyielding service to honor the SEAL brotherhood easily earns him a place as one of the most famous Navy SEALs.
11. Richard Marcinko – BUD/S Class: 26
When the Navy decided that it needed a special unit to lead direct action operations against a rising terrorist threat, they called on Navy SEAL Richard Marcinko.
Thus, the infamous SEAL Team 6 was born.
But even before the legendary Team 6, Marcinko gained a reputation as a world-class killer due to his two deployments as a SEAL to Vietnam.
Marcinko played a vital role in the Tet Offensive in 1968 when he led a mission to rescue American nurses and a schoolteacher.
Marcinko’s heroism in Vietnam led to his being the creator and first commander of SEAL Team 6 and, later, handpicking the members for the Navy’s Red Cell, a unit designed to evaluate the Navy’s security.
In 1990, after retiring from over thirty years in the Navy, Marcinko and a few fellow Navy SEALs were indicted for acts of a conspiracy among other charges.
He was sentenced to 21 months in federal prison.
Since getting out, Marcinko has written about being framed in his memoir, Rogue Warrior.
Marcinko made my famous Navy SEALs list before there even was a list!
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10. William McRaven – BUD/S Class: 95
Navy SEAL William McRaven, though maybe not the most recognizable name on this list, might just be the most important.
As the commander of the Joint Special Operations Command, McRaven organized Operation Neptune Spear, the mission that took out Osama bin Laden.
But McRaven’s career hasn’t always been without some hiccups.
In fact, it’s a little known fact that McRaven served as a SEAL under Richard Marcinko.
However, Marcinko fired McRaven due to the two men butting heads, with McRaven accusing Marcinko of being too reckless in the field.
At over thirty-seven years of service, McRaven was one of the longest-serving SEALs in naval history, having only retired in 2014.
Recently, McRaven used the social media platform Twitter to express support for the former head of the CIA, John O. Brennan.
Writing directly to President Trump, he stated: “Revoke my security clearance too, Mr. President.”
9. Adam Brown – BUD/S Class:
The first time I heard about Adam Brown was when my mother-in-law, who knows I like reading military / SEAL related books, got me a book called Fearless for Christmas.
I literally finished the book in 2 nights, his story is that riveting. By all accounts, Brown was the very definition of a bad ass.
Brown enlisted in the Navy in 1998, and quickly ended up at Navy SEAL training after boot camp.
He lost his right (i.e. dominant) eye in a freak training accident, but pressed on and learned how to shoot with his left (i.e. non-dominant) eye.
In another freak accident, he lost the use of his right (i.e. dominant) hand, but again, pressed on and learned how to shoot with his left (i.e. non-dominant) hand.
If that wasn’t amazing enough, Brown was accepted to try out for DEVGRU (aka SEAL Team 6).
The selection process is notoriously difficult in the best of circumstances, with a wash-out rate of around 50%.
Brown became the only SEAL to date to successfully pass selection and go on to become a member of DEVGRU with only one eye.
Brown was killed in a firefight with enemy combatants on March 17, 2010, and was ultimately awarded the Silver Star, Bronze Star with Valor, and a Purple Heart.
8. Robert O’Neill – BUD/S Class: 208
Before joining the Navy, Robert O’Neill was planning on enlisting in the Marine Corps to become a sniper.
Unfortunately for the Marines, their recruiter happened to be on lunch break at the time.
A Navy recruiter in the other room told him about the SEALs, and the rest is history.
As a member of SEAL Team 6 (also known as DEVGRU), O’Neill claims that he was #3 in the ‘train’, and the one that dealt the fatal shots to Osama bin Laden.
Whether or not O’Neill’s claims are true, other Navy SEALs have accused O’Neill of violating their warrior ethos, particularly the section that states that no SEAL shall “advertise the nature of my work, nor seek recognition for my actions.”
Regardless, O’Neill is a decorated warrior who was involved in more than 400 missions in Iraq and Afghanistan.
Just to even be on the mission to eliminate OBL makes him one of the most badass Navy SEALs on this list.
These days, O’Neill spends his time as a public speaker and FOX News commentator.
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7. Scott Taylor – BUD/S Class: 219
Navy SEAL Scott Taylor just can’t get enough of serving his country. As a SEAL, Taylor was a sniper in Operation Iraqi Freedom.
Additionally, seeing as how Taylor is fluent in Spanish, he also served in multiple missions in South America.
When an injury forced Taylor into the role of a marksmanship instructor, he started to focus his goals in other areas of service.
In less than ten years after getting out of the Navy, SEAL Scott Taylor served as a member of the Virginia House of Delegates from 2014 to 2017 and as a member of the U.S. House of Representatives.
As a politician, Taylor personally opposes abortion, but he does support the allowance of all Americans to serve in the military.
As quoted in the Daily Press, Taylor said of anyone wanting to serve in the military, “…gay, straight, transgender or not. If you are ready to go, cool.”
6. Marcus Luttrell – BUD/S Class: 226/228
If you know anything about Navy SEALs, then the name Marcus Luttrell should resonate with you.
Luttrell is famous for being the sole survivor of the 2005 tragic mission, Operation Red Wings.
The mission was an attempt to kill or capture a high-value target, but when the SEAL Team was spotted by a few unarmed herdsmen—whom they could not engage due to the rules of engagement—the team was comprised.
What ensued was a firefight between the four-man SEAL Team and more than two hundred Taliban fighters.
The SEALs endured hours of machine-gun fire and rocket attacks, ultimately resulting in the death of three of the four Americans.
Luttrell was knocked unconsciousness with multiple broken bones including a broken back.
He was found by an Afghan local who tended to his wounds and eventually reported his position to a nearby US military base, actions that surely saved Luttrell’s life.
As you’re probably already aware, his story was adapted into a major motion picture called “Lone Survivor”.
In fact, you can see Luttrel acting as one of the Navy SEALs in several scenes in the movie.
5. Ryan Zinke – BUD/S Class: 136
Navy SEAL Ryan Zinke is yet another warrior to make a name for himself after his military career.
One year after retiring from the Navy, Zinke served as a member of the Montana Senate from 2009 to 2013.
Two years later, Zinke became a Montanan member of the U.S. House of Representatives for a four-year term.
Already an impressive politician, in 2017, Zinke’s political career really took off when President Trump appointed him to be the 52nd Secretary of the Interior.
Unfortunately for Zinke, in October of 2018, an investigation into Zinke’s personal expenditures revealed that he’d been unethically using funds for personal reasons.
The investigation ultimately led to Zinke leaving his post three months later.
4. David Goggins – BUD/S Class: 235
The story of David Goggins is so inspirational because his life story is relatable to many of us today.
After serving four years in the Air Force, Goggins suffered from depression and obesity.
In his motivational speeches, Goggins talks about this feeling of wanting to do something amazing with his life while at the same time barely being able to get off the couch.
At 300 pounds, Goggins was told that he would never complete the rigors of BUD/S.
Not only did Goggins prove them wrong, but he’s also gone on to be known for his incredible feats of physical strength and endurance.
In addition to at one time holding the world record for most pull-ups done in 24 hours, since 2005, Goggins has been running and winning ultramarathons in order to raise money.
Goggins alone has raised over 2 million dollars for Special Operations Warrior Foundation, an organization which raises scholarship money for the children of fallen special operations soldiers.
Goggins feats have earned him the nickname “Toughest Man in the World.”
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3. Jesse Ventura – BUD/S Class: 58
Radio show host, actor, author, governor, professional wrestler—what hasn’t Jesse Ventura done?
Oh yeah! He was a freakin’ Navy SEAL in the Vietnam War!
After serving for six years, Ventura entered the world of professional wrestling, giving himself the nickname Jesse “The Body” Ventura. Ventura was known for his colorful commentary and hilarious persona that he’d put on while in the ring, and he endured a long career in the World Wrestling Foundation eventually being entered in the 2004 WWE Hall of Fame.
Moving from acting in the ring to acting for the screen was a natural transition for Ventura.
Who can forget Ventura as the tobacco-chewing behemoth in 1987’s Predator?
“This stuff will make you a god$@%! sexual Tyrannosaurus! Just like me…”
Following Schwarzenegger’s lead, Ventura entered politics as a Reform Party Candidate and quickly won the 1998 Minnesota gubernatorial race.
In recent years, Ventura has made headlines for filing a defamation suit against fellow-deceased Navy SEAL Chris Kyle who claimed he punched Ventura out in a Southern California bar.
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2. Jocko Willink – BUD/S Class: 177
Born John Gretton Willink, “Jocko” joined the Navy in 1990.
As a Navy SEAL, Jocko served on SEAL Teams ONE and THREE, at one point taking part in the operation that seized a Russian tanker in the Gulf of Oman.
However, most famously, Jocko was the commander of Task Force Bruiser during the Battle of Ramadi during Operation Iraqi Freedom in 2006.
Under Willink’s command were other famous Navy SEALs, including Medal of Honor recipient Michael Monsoor, now astronaut Jonny Kim, and legendary sniper Chris Kyle.
Since leaving the Navy in 2010, Willink has co-authored the leadership manual, Extreme Ownership: How U.S. Navy SEALs Lead and Win, as well as starting the leadership training program Echelon Front and starting his own podcast, The Jocko Podcast.
1. Chris Kyle – BUD/S Class: 233
Kyle makes number one on the list of most famous Navy SEALs because his actions in Iraq raised the standards for what a SEAL is capable of.
Although his official kill count states that Kyle took out 150 enemies during his four tours in Iraq, according to Kyle’s memoir, the bestseller American Sniper, Kyle’s real number is over 200.
Kyle was such a force in Iraq that Iraqi militants actually put a price on his head.
At its highest, the enemy was hunting Kyle for an $80,000 purse.
Additionally, Kyle earned the nickname the “Devil of Ramadi.” Kyle left the Navy in 2009 and moved back to his native Texas.
In 2012, Kyle released his book, and after a few months, he’d be involved with fellow SEAL Jesse Ventura in a defamation lawsuit.
However, before the case was finished, Kyle and his friend Chad Littlefield were tragically killed. On February 2nd, 2013, Kyle and Littlefield took former Marine Eddie Ray Routh to a shooting range as part of a program that helped veterans who were suffering from PTSD.
At the range, Routh shot both men in the head. Neither Kyle’s nor Littlefield’s pistols had been fired.
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What famous actors were Navy SEALs?
Several famous actors were formerly Navy SEALs. They include: Jesse Ventura (Predator, Running Man, Demolition Man), Rudy Boesch (TV Series 'Survivor'), Scott Helvenston (Man vs. Beast), Richard Machowitz (Future Weapons, Deadliest Warrior), and Cade Courtley (Surviving Disaster, America Unplugged).
Who is the most decorated Navy SEAL of all time?
Michael E. Thornton, who earned the Medal of Honor, Silver Star, 3 Bronze Stars, and 2 Purple Hearts, is widely regarded as being the most decorated SEAL of all time.
Is there a public list of former Navy SEALs?
There is no public list of former Navy SEALs at this time. With that said, you can find out if someone was a Navy SEAL by contacting Don Shipley. He has a complete list of every Navy SEAL that has ever existed all the way back to their inception in WW2. Click Here to learn more.
Who is the most famous Navy SEAL sniper?
Chris Kyle is widely regarded as being the most famous Navy SEAL sniper. Learn more about him here.
What are some famous Navy SEAL movies?
The most popular SEAL movies include: Navy SEALs (movie), Lone Survivor, Act of Valor, Zero Dark Thirty, American Sniper, and G.I. Jane. See our full list of popular Navy SEAL documentaries here.