Fort Bragg, NC - An historic meeting occurred that changed the US military – specifically the US Army forever. For it was on this day, 12 OCT 1961 a visit was arranged that forged a lasting effect that continues until this day - Presidential validation of the Special Forces – “The Green Berets”
To understand the history though, one must look back nearly 200 years before, one state south and consider “The Swamp Fox”…
It was General Francis Marion during the US Revolutionary War who used unconventional tactics to rout and foil the British while they occupied South Carolina. From those roots, one can say, each generation/evolution has built upon that – Darby’s Rangers, The Office of Strategic Services (OSS), The First Special Service Force (“The Devil’s Brigade”) are all examples of unconventional warfare.
Back to today… From all things considered, it seems that despite the effectiveness of that the Special Force accomplished, there was little support for them and how they did what they did over a half a century ago when MG Francis A. McClure instructed then LTC Russell W. Volckmann to construct a plan for what became the US Army Special Forces. The plan was executed by Colonel Aaron Bank who assembled and commanded the first group – the 10th Special Forces which consisted of only 7 enlisted men and one warrant officer in June 1952. By the Spring of 1953, that number grew to 1,700 troops.
The green beret was originally designated in 1953 by Special Forces Major Herbert Brucker, a veteran of the OSS. Later that year, 1st Lieutenant Roger Pezelle adopted it as the unofficial headgear for his A-team, Operational Detachment FA-32. They wore it whenever they went to the field for prolonged exercises.
So they adopted “the green beret” as unofficial headgear that they wore surreptitiously. Funding was minimal and the commanders petitioned the chain-of-command for both more money and the authorization of the beret as the official headgear. The requests made little progress during the 1950′s until a new commander took over, then BG William P. Yarborough. Who had the vision how really special operations and unconventional warfare would be a key element going forward.
The challenges prevail both for the funding and the approval of the headgear, until…
Well it seems that General Yarborough’s classmate from USMA was General Chester Clifton, who just happened to be military aide to President John F. Kennedy. The two Generals arranged a “back channel” deal to have the President spend the day at Fort Bragg to see the 82d Airborne Division and later the US Army Special Forces.
That morning of 12 OCT 1961, President Kennedy reviewed the elite 82d Airborne Division while riding in a convertible limousine. The President later spent some time among the troops.
After a morning full of activity with the paratroopers, that afternoon was spent with another command of elite Soldiers also headquartered at Fort Bragg – The US Army Special Forces.
If you recall, The President had a bad back, so arrangements were made to make it easy for The President to view the displays – they were prepared and delivered on flat-bed trailers that slowly rode by the Commander-in-Chief. But he was also exposed to some of their tactics as they parachuted in from the sky or showered with leaflets (part of psychological tactics) or surfaced from the water in McKellar’s pond.
The President was duly impressed with all of these “Specialties” and upon meeting General Yarborough expressed his appreciation as the General and the Soldiers assembled wearing their “green berets”…
The historic meeting was recorded for history as the President had a collage of three of the photos taken that day and sent it onto General Yarborough after he had autographed it. This collage hung in the General’s office for over 30 years hidden from public view.
Later, both the funding to expand the US Army Special Forces and the Presidential authorization for these “Special Forces” to wear the Green Beret with honor, for they are special, was issued via the White House.
Copies of this historic collage have been turned into notecards and greeting cards and are available at the JFK Warfare Center Museum’s giftshop on Fort Bragg and the Airborne Special Operations Museum giftshop, downtown Fayetteville, NC. Another available form is a 8.5″ x 11″ composite – suitable for framing.
Both museum giftshops and the 82d Airborne Division Museum giftshop offer a variety of miltary heraldry notecards and Christmas notecards designed and produced by John Michael. Or for further information please contact John Michael
Tags: "The Swamp Fox", 82d Airborne Division, 82nd Airborne Museum, Aaron Bank, Airborne Special Operations Museum, Fayetteville NC, First Special Service Force, Fort Bragg, Francis Marion, green berets, greeting cards, JFK Warfare Museum, John F. Kennedy, military heraldry, notecards, Office of Strategic Services, OSS, Robert Alexis McClure, Russell W. Volckmann, US Army heraldry, US Army Special Forces, William P. Yarborough