Dan and Cindy Dietz are the parents of Navy SEAL Danny Dietz who was killed in action on June 28, 2005 during Operation Red Wings. They reside in Littleton, Co. This phone interview was conducted on June 24, 2010.
MilitaryMovies@News: Danny Dietz was born in Colorado?
Cindy Dietz: Yes. He was born in Aurora, Colorado.
MM&N: What was he like as a child? What were some of his favorite hobbies and interests growing up?
CD: He was very rambunctious. He loved animals of all kinds. And martial arts. Dan and I are both instructors in martial arts…we both have our black belts, so he was trained in the martial arts.
MM&N: Didn’t he used to say when he was a kid that he wanted be a ninja when he grew up?
CD: Yeah, that was his big thing until he realized that ninjas didn’t really exist. (Laughs) And then he decided that a Navy SEAL was the next best thing.
MM&N: Did Danny have an early interest in the military when he was growing up?
CD: In middle school. That’s when he had the ninja stuff. So starting in middle school is when he had an interest in middle school.
MM&N: What started his interest in the SEALs? Was it from books or movies that he may have seen?
CD: No, like I said, his thing was martial arts and ninjas. He liked to sneak around even in middle school. He’d sneak around wearing black and climb on things
MM&N: Around what age was he when he became determined that he wanted to become a SEAL?
CD: 13 or 14.
MM&N: What were the family’s thoughts about his decision to become a SEAL?
CD: I was very proud of it but I didn’t know much about the military. I don’t come from a military family so I didn’t know much about it. I guess Dan can tell you his feelings on that…..
Dan Dietz: When I was in the servce I was with the Marines. I was a Navy corpsman staioned with the Marine Corp and I was with a reconnaissance unit and we trained with the UDTs before they were SEALs and I trained with a lot of foreign troops. Now D.J., he was ornery and I kept telling him with that attitude you’ll never make it because I knew the discipline that these guys went through, they’re hardcore. And he’d look up at me and he’d say, “I WILL make it. I WILL make it.” I don’t know if it was reverse psychology or what it was but he certainly did make it. He went through his lumps and his bruises though. He holds the record in the obstacle course out there at BUD/S in San Diego. We’ve got a plaque with D.J.’s name on it.
MM&N: Was he much of a swimmer before he became a SEAL? Was that something he was good at already?
DD: No, not really. He had a phenomenal instructor in high school in his senior year that taught him a lot. This high school that he went to out here in Littleton, they specialize in swimming. They’ve got an excellent swim team. I don’t remember her name but she took an interest in DJ because once he set his mind to something he was going to do it. I mean, you couldn’t get this out of his mind. He was stubborn (Laughs) very determined. D.J. was very, very intelligent. He tested two points about genious in his IQ.
MM&N: So he never really considered college, he just wanted to go straight into the SEALs
DD: Yeah, he wanted to go into the SEALs. If he would have come out of this deployment, he had two weeks left in Afghanistan, he was going to go to school and get his commission and become an officer. He always kept telling me, “You know dad, unless those officers have experience nobody respects them.” So he wanted to get the experience first and then become an officer. Danny was very, very athletic. He was also a gymnast. His sister said that he was “freakishly strong,” and he was. He was unbelievably strong for his size. He was about 5′ 10″ and weighed about 165-170 pounds. He wasn’t very big but he was extremely strong. Now do you know that the Operation Redwing mission that they were the highest decorated small unit in military history.
MM&N: Did you guys know much about what Danny was doing in the SEALs? What sort of activities he was involved in and everything? Was he able to talk much about what he was doing?
DD: Well, his job was communications technician. I guess it’s really, really technical what he was doing but no, we never did know what he was doing. He couldn’t tell us a lot of things. I knew what he was doing but he never did tell us. And we found out afterwards what he was doing and we got a pretty complete story.
MM&N: How did you first hear about Operation Red Wings and what happened?
DD: He was MIA for about a week. It was June 28th when they came to our door….
CD: Then the next day we flew to Virginia to be with Patsy (Danny’s wife). And on July 4th is when they came to our son and daughter-in-law’s home to tell us he was killed.
MM&N: What are your thoughts on the Lone Survivor book? I assume you’ve read it?
CD: I haven’t read the book all the way through. I’ve read bits and pieces of it. The book is a good book. However, there’s some misinformation about D.J. in there. Marcus didn’t know his age and they put that he was a Roman Catholic and he was not a Roman Catholic, he was a Born-Again Christian. But as far as everything else….the way Marcus portrayed our son….we’re very proud of what he had to say about our son.
MM&N: Do you all keep in touch with Marcus very much now?
CD: We try to but he’s struggling very hard with what he’s going through but we are going to see him this weekend.
MM&N: What are your thoughts about the movie? Is that something you’re for or would you rather it not be made?
CD: I’m personally not all for it and mainly because it’s going to be difficult to see the firefight including my son and what happened to my son in that book. It’s going to be difficult and graphic and me as a mother it’s going to be hard to kind of stomach that. It’s a very touchy, sensitive, emotional thing for me.
MM&N: Mr Dietz, what are your thoughts on the movie?
DD: Well…..they’re going to come out with it whether I want it or not but I want people to see…..you kow what I’m proud of…..is not that my son was at war but that he took a LOT of those Taliban out. They figured that he took out 35 or 40 of them. That isn’t what I’m proud of. What I’m most proud of is that he knew he was going to die and the courage that he displayed when he was fighting….that’s what I’m proud of….because to muster up that much courage takes a HELLUVA man. DJ was shot so many times. We got his autopsy report and he was shot directly nine times and he was still fighting. I mean from his ankle clear up to the top of his head he was hit. And then he was hit with an RPG, they called it a ‘Lead Snowstorm’. I went over and over and over that autopsy report because I wanted to see where those rounds were coming from and if there was any execution-style wounds inflicted and there was no soot or whatever from a rifle. They were all long distance shots. So, he was pretty much the focus of the Taliban. They were shooting at him A LOT. When I was in the service I took care of the guys coming out of the jungles of Vietnam and the majority of the wounds were caused by the mortars and booby traps and stuff like that. There were gunshot wounds but this many is a good indication that they were directly targeting DJ…..because it takes a lot to shoot somebody and to get hit that many times there had to be hundreds and hundreds of rounds that were shot at him. And he kept fighting for about 25-30 minutes with those wounds. That’s what impresses me….his courage.
MM&N: Absolutely. Now have you guys talked to Peter Berg, the director of the movie, has he been in contact with you?
CD: Yes, he’s been out to see us and I keep in touch with him periodically. Actually, he’s going to be there this weekend at the Lone Survivor Foundation event as well.
MM&N: Have you given any thought to maybe which actors that you might like to see portray Danny?
CD: My daughter is kind of in charge of that. Dan and I haven’t really thought about that but Peter Berg has some ideas too and I think they want to kind of keep the actors low-key.
DD: Well, not low-key….just less famous and more up and coming actors because they don’t want to take away from any one SEAL or any one actor as a main star or anything like that. They want all of them to be up and coming actors.
CD: Just not such a big name actor because they want it to be focused on our son not the actor themself. It’s about our sons not the actors.
MM&N: Were any names thrown out by Peter Berg that you can remember?
CD: He did but I don’t remember. Dan and I are kind of staying out of that part.
DD: Well, Tiffany (DJ’s sister) grew up with DJ. She knows DJ probably better than Cindy and I…
CD: ….They had a special language….
DD: ….They had a silent communication….they grew up together, they got in trouble together….fought, you know, brother and sister type, but if anyone picked on either one of them outside of their little circle they were in trouble. Both of them were extremely tough. DJ reminds me of my dad. When I was growing up he was tough, very, very tough.
MM&N: Was your dad in the military also?
DD: No, he wasn’t. My older brother and me and then all of my uncles were in the service in World War II. I have uncles that were in the Pacific and one of my uncles was one of the first ones that crossed the Rhein.
MM&N: When you spoke with Peter Berg what did he tell you about the movie as far as his plans for it and everything? Does he have a certain vision for the movie and how he wants to portray the guys and all of that?
CD: Well, I’m going to talk to him some more this weekend but when he came out to see us and talk to us…..the movie isn’t strictly going to be on the Redwing mission and the huge loss of men. It’s going to be focused on becoming a Navy SEAL, some missions that succeeded, meaning where they didn’t lose anybody. So, it’s going to be about some of that stuff too and then in the end somewhere they’re going to have the Lone Survivor story from the book about the Operation Redwing mission. So, it’s not strictly Operation Redwing and the book Lone Survivor.
MM&N: But you feel pretty comfortable with Peter Berg being in charge of directing the movie?
CD: One-hundred percent. He’s an amazing man….very, very sensitive to us as parents, at least he was to Dan and I and our family. He was very sensitive to our needs and our thoughts and concerns. He was very respectable towards us. As far as his capabilities and as far as us feeling like he’s the one who can do this….yeah, he would be the one. He definitely has our respect.
DD: He’s got a good head on his shoulders….
CD: Yeah, he’s even went on some SEAL missions with some of the guys. He’s gone out and done some things with the SEALs. He’s just really looking at everything. He’s being a part of what he’s going to be initially making.
MM&N: Have you heard anything lately about when they’re actually going to start filming the movie?
CD: I don’t know when he’s going to start filming the movie…..that’s something I wanted to talk to him about this weekend. We just heard that the movie is not going to be coming out until next year.
MM&N: I know there was a very nice statue of Danny erected there in Colorado. Wasn’t there a little controversy about it with some people being against it because he was portrayed holding a gun in the statue?
CD: They made a little bit more of an issue about that than it actually was. There was two women that were against it and one actually backed off and one still stood by her words but she kind of backed off too because there was just so many people that were for it and letting them know that this was an honor and this was a real American hero and this is what he uses for his job. It wasn’t like it was a rifle pointed upwards, it was pointed down and he was kneeling on his knees. One of them had wanted us to put a dove in his hand and I was like, “He’s not a Navy SEAL fighting with a freaking dove.”
MM&N: Yeah, that’s crazy. I’m sure it’s something that you’re very proud of though.
CD: Very much so. Then we have the highway signs out here. They named a portion of Santa Fe Highway out here after him called “Navy SEAL Danny Dietz Highway”.
(View an Excellent slideshow of the highway dedication)
MM&N: I know you’ve got a ton of special memories about Danny. Are there maybe one or two memories that stand out the most to you looking back at his life?
DD: A LOT….A LOT.
CD: D.J. had a HUGE heart and he was really, really good with kids….
DD: ….and animals…
CD: ….and animals. And to me that’s a loving and caring man….even though he had a strong disposition. He was very ornery and stubborn and that’s probably why he made a good Navy SEAL. He was an artist as well.
DD: He was a TREMENDOUS artist. I mean this kid would draw with a pencil and the intricacy of his drawings was just amazing.
MM&N: What type of things did he draw mostly?
CD: Japanimation. He did a lot of Japanimation characters. And he could do drawings of people.
DD: Yeah, he would study the human body….the muscles and everything. Kind of like Leonard da Vinci.
CD: He was able to draw stuff like that then he drew his team’s t-shirt logo for BUD/S class 232.
MM&N: When was the last time you heard from Danny before Red Wings occurred?
CD: He called us the day before he left to go on that mission…..
DD: ….which was highly unusual…..
CD: ….yeah, he was rarely able to call us.
MM&N: You said he just had two weeks to go before he was sent back home?
CD: Yes, he was ready to come home. And I also heard from him on Mother’s Day before he went on that mission. He sent me an e-mail with a picture of himself in Afghanistan wishing me a Happy Mother’s Day, but that was an e-mail so I didn’t get to hear his voice. The last time we heard his voice was the day before he left to go on the Redwing mission…..
I’d like to thank Dan and Cindy Dietz once again for allowing me the honor to interview them and to allow everyone to learn more about Danny Dietz…..a true American hero.