of The Green Beret
"The Green Beret:
Where It Began"
by Col. John W. Frye
During the summer and fall of 1954, the 77th Special Forces
Group (SFG), Airborne, was in an expansion and training
status at Smoke Bomb Hill, Fort Bragg, N.C. The 10th (SFG),
Airborne, had deployed to Germany in late 1953 leaving a
severely understrength 77th as the sole Special Forces (SF) unit
at Fort Bragg.
The independence verging on autonomy and the high priority
previously enjoyed by SF at Ft. Bragg was waning rapidly with
HQ, XVIII Airborne Corps and Ft. Bragg exercising
One hot morning, CPT Miguel (Mike) de la Pena and I were
sneaking an illicit Coca-Cola during training hours when we were
caught red-handed by the 77th's severe commanding officer, Col.
Edson F. Raff II. Steeling ourselves for at least a few caustic
remarks on our weakness in violating orders regarding strict
attendance by all during morning training, we were relieved
when, instead of chewing us out as we expected and deserved, the
CO began to philosophize on the lowering priorities and
independence we were experiencing and their effect on esprit.
Looking for ideas, he put forth a trial balloon that perhaps
some kind of distinctive headgear such as a colored baseball cap
would partially substitute for our waning recognition.
Fortunately, Mike de la Pena collected military berets and
suggested that an appropriately colored beret would be just the
thing to help bolster esprit. Col. Raff immediately seized on
the idea. he asked Mike and me to report to him the next day
with several berets so he could see how they would look.
After we had 'modeled' the berets that
Mike had brought for the purpose, Col. Raff was sold on
the idea and, typically, took off with it at a dead run. Not
listening to our suggestion that it should be 'rifle green' or
red, the colonel decreed that it would be adopted in
branch-immaterial colors which unfortunately for the purpose are
teal blue and gold - a teal- blue beret with gold piping around
the sweat band.
The word spread rapidly through the group and aroused in
everyone emotions ranging from displeasure to outright fury.
Mike and I bore the brunt - enlisted men scowled sullenly
and officers snarled openly at our approach. We were
keenly aware that we were held responsible and everyone expected
us to put a stop to the indignity that was about to be
perpetrated upon them.
A fortuitous turn of events saved our bacon. A 'prop-blast'
party was held to initiate newly qualified parachutists at
which, under the influence of liberal lubrication by strong
libation, skits lampooning the sacrosanct were a feature. the
main skit caricatured our CO wearing an immense teal-blue
'chicken' and draped to the wearer's elbow. Col. Raff, a strict
teetotaler, took it all with good humor, but he shortly
thereafter commented to Mike and me that he had the impression
that our beret idea wasn't being received with much enthusiasm.
We, not willing to let our idea drop, said
that it wasn't the idea of a beret, but the outrageous color
that was generating the opposition. The interview ended with
Col. Raff accepting the suggestion that our new headgear
be rifle green in the tradition of the famous British Royal
Marine Commando units.
The next episode involved then CPT Frank Dallas who was detailed
to find a source for berets. In the short time allowed, Frank
had to take what he could get - what looked like man-sized Girl
Scout berets complete with a half-inch pig-tail sticking up out
of the center of the crown.
The first version of the beret was sold for a few months by the
Ft. Bragg Exchange for something less than two dollars. The
pigtail could be easily clipped off flush with nail clippers
and, in spite of their suspected origins, the berets were
presentable and military in appearance.
It was not until the first really public
appearance of the beret that two conflicting trends became
apparent. the 77th, wearing the new beret, participated with a
large contingent in the retirement review for Lt. Gen. Joseph P
Cleland. Afterward, you could hear spectators and troops asking,
"Who were those foreign troops at the review?"
Perhaps because of the furor or maybe for other unguessed
reasons, the beret captured the 77th's imagination and was taken
fiercely to heart as the symbol of their self-image. The
contradictory trend was the skepticism - even opposition - to
the beret by "higher headquarters" who understandably
wanted to know who authorized the wearing of "those
Col. Raff, never short on courage, stood up to the new XVIII
Airborne Corps (ABC) commander, Lt. Gen. Paul D. Adams, who
demanded to know the authority for adopting the beret. By this
time, Col. Raff had succeeded to the command of the
Psychological Warfare Center which included the PSY War Board.
Col. Raff designated the beret as a troop-test item and we
blithely continued to wear it in spite of the XVIIIth ABC.
The opposition didn't slack off in the face of our colonel's
stand and the wearing of the beret became more and more limited.
First, it wasn't permitted off-post, then it could only be worn
in the field. The handwriting was on the wall, but fortune again
kept a spark of life in the beret. The CO and other members of
the 10th SFG, while at a conference at Ft. Bragg in 1955, had
seen the beret and also adopted it. Stationed at Bad Tolz,
Germany, the 10th was out of reach of the counterpressures
at Ft. Bragg and withstood whatever local opposition it
When it became apparent that the beret would 'fly', Col. Raff
assigned then CPT William V. Kock the mission of obtaining real
military berets to be sold through the Castro-Payne Chapter of
the Airborne Association of which Bill Koch was president. After
overcoming incredible and, in retrospect, hilarious obstacles
which would make a story in themselves, Bill Koch was able to
obtain and bring through customs Canadian military berets. The
berets, now the prized badge of SF qualification, were snapped
up at something over six dollars each.
Exercise Sagebrush in Louisiana almost sounded the death knell
of the beret. The SF contingent was abruptly withdrawn from the
maneuver following some overenthusiastic actions with which the
conventional forces could not cope. Under close scrutiny, the
77th was severely limited in its actions and options and was
forced to choose a path of accommodation.
The 82d Airborne Division, choosing the worst moment possible,
drove the final nail in the coffin. When their request to DA for
red berets was turned down, they presented the argument that SF
was wearing berets. DA countered - the 77th was ordered to give
up the beret. Just as the DA order fell over us in midsummer
1956, a contingent of several A teams, B teams and a C team was
enroute in 13 C-119 aircraft from Camp Hale, CO, to Ft. Bragg.
We in the 77th were sure that our opponents on the Airborne
Corps staff would be present at Pope AFB to catch our troops
deplaning in the now-forbidden beret.
I radioed to an enroute stop and obtained the hat size of each
man on the aircraft and instructed them to remain aboard the
aircraft until they'd been released on arrival at Pope. Each
aircraft was met on arrival and the despised field caps were
issued. I wish I could relate that the troops deplaned each
wearing a well-fitting cap. Each man was wearing a field cap,
but the caps couldn't have been distributed deliberately to
provide a worse fit.
Officers and men, not being party to the recent developments,
confusedly fell in by their aircraft with field caps perched
precariously atop their heads, down over their eyes or any way
but properly fitted. Many had arctic caps, others summer -
but no one wore a beret. The frustration of those who were there
to "catch us red-handed" was obvious.
There had been a few "end-run" attempts to gain
approval for the beret. One such entailed out troops in Colorado
presenting a beret to President Dwight D. Eisenhower when
he was visiting the new Air Force Academy in Denver, but
he was hospitalized with a heart attack at Fitzsimons Army
Hospital. President Eisenhower received the beret, but made no
comment. The beret was kept alive in Germany by the 10th and on
Okinawa by the newly formed 1st SFG and it remained close to our
hearts in the states.
Just after the field-cap incident I regretfully left the 77th
for a field artillery assignment at Ft. Sill, OK, and
subsequently in Germany. I don't know how the beret was kept
alive at Ft. Bragg, but alive it remained. When President John
F. Kennedy visited Ft. Bragg in the early 1960s he was extremely
impressed by the SF's part of the demonstration and said
that he wished he had 10,000 men like these who wore the green
A beret was presented along with a request for authorization to
wear it. The request was granted in recognition of the prowess
of those who had so clearly earned it. The quest for
authorization was long and difficult. Men such as Col.
Raff stood up under heavy pressures and sacrificed promotion and
career to enable the present generation to have this symbol.
Not until an imaginative leader, President Kennedy, had the
clear vision to perceive the immense value of SF did its symbol
become universally recognized in the Army. Recognition by the
world of the SF's Green Beret finally came only with the tragedy
of President Kennedy's assassination. Sgt. Maj. Francis J.
Ruddy, a member of the graveside honor guard, stepped forward,
removed his beret and laid it on the temporary grave - giving
back for all SF men the honor that our President had given us.
Television and press coverage of that terrible hour seemed to
insure that the green beret would be known and respected
throughout the world.
FM PRESUS THE WHITE HOUSE WASHDC
TO CG FT BRAGG
UNCLAS CITE WH670-61 FOR BRIGADIER GENERAL WILLIAM P.
YARBOROUGH, COMMANDING GENERAL U.S. ARMY SPECIAL WARFARE CENTER
FORT BRAGG, N.C. MY CONGRATULATIONS TO YOU PERSONALLY FOR YOUR
PART IN THE PRESENTATION TODAY AT FORT BRAGG, AND ESPECIALLY FOR
THE IMAGINATION AS WELL AS THE PRECISION WHICH YOUR DIRECTION
GAVE TO A DIFFICULT SUBJECT. I CAME AWAY WITH A NEW APPRECIATION
OF YOUR MISSION AND ENTHUSIASM FOR ITS PERFORMANCE. I KNOW THAT
YOU AND YOUR MEN NOT ONLY SERVE AS GOOD INSTRUCTORS, BUT AS AN
INSPIRATION TO THE ALLIED OFFICERS WHO ATTEND YOUR SCHOOL.
PLEASE CONVEY MY CONGRATULATIONS AND MY APPRECIATION TO ALL OF
THE MEN WHO TOOK PART. THE CHALLENGE OF THIS OLD BUT NEW FORM OF
OPERATIONS IS A REAL ONE AND I KNOW THAT YOU AND THE MEMBERS OF
YOUR COMMAND WILL CARRY ON FOR US AND THE FREE WORLD IN A MANNER
WHICH IS BOTH WORTHY AND INSPIRING. I AM SURE THAT THE GREEN
BERET WILL BE A MARK OF DISTINCTION IN THE TRYING TIMES AHEAD.
JOHN F. KENNEDY
THE WHITE HOUSE
April 11, 1962
TO THE UNITED STATES ARMY:
Another military dimension -- "guerrilla warfare" --
has necessarily been added to the American profession of arms.
The literal translation of guerrilla warfare -- "a little
war" -- is hardly applicable to this ancient, but at the
same time, modern thread. I note that the Army has several terms
which describe the various facets of the current struggle: wars
of subversion, covert aggression, and, in broad professional
terms, special warfare or unconventional warfare.
By whatever name, this militant challenge to freedom calls for
an improvement and enlargement of our own development of
techniques and tactics, communications and logistics to meet
this threat. The mission of our Armed Forces -- and especially
the Army today -- is to master these skills and techniques and
to be able to help those who have the will to help themselves.
Pure military skill is not enough. A full spectrum of
military, para-military, and civil action must be blended to
produce success. The enemy uses economic and political warfare,
propaganda and naked military aggression in an endless
combination to oppose a free choice of government, and suppress
the rights of the individual by terror, by subversion and by
force of arms. To win in this struggle, our officers and man
must understand and combine the political, economic and civil
actions with skilled military efforts in the execution of this
"The green beret" is again becoming a symbol of
excellence, a badge of courage, a mark of distinction in the
fight for freedom. I know the United States Army will live up to
its reputation for imagination, resourcefulness, and spirit as
we meet this challenge.
/s/ John F. Kennedy
[This letter LTG Yarborough to BG Emerson
(CG of JFK Center for Military Assistance at Ft. Bragg) adds
more important historical information to the story of the Green
12 May 1971
I have been following the articles in VERITAS concerning the
inception of the green beret and I am inclosing a little more
historical data which may bear on the question. The picture
inclosed is of Captain Carlos C. Alden who was the Surgeon of
the 509th Parachute Battalion during WW II. You will observe he
is wearing a beret and you will recall that the 509th Parachute
Battalion was commanded by Colonel Edson D. Raff who later
became the commander of Special Forces at Fort Bragg in the
period around 1953.
Ed Raff was the proponent for the wearing
of the red beret by our paratroops who were attached to the
British 1st Airborne Division prior to the invasion of Africa.
Many of the paratroops, as evidenced by Doc Alden, did wear the
red beret with Ed Raff's blessing. Just as the red beret was the
mark of the British parachute soldier, the green beret was the
badge of the British commando. It is easy to see how Ed Raff
fathered the green beret as a result of his WW II affiliation
with the Britishforces.
The rest of the story, as has been published, is fairly
accurate. It was President Kennedy's Military Aide, General
Chester V. Clifton, (a classmate of mine) who arrived at Fort
Bragg in preparation for the President's visit and conferred
with me on the Special Forces demonstration which was to take
place for the President. I indicated to General Clifton the deep
feelings that the Special Forces troopers had for the green
beret -- many of them owned it and wore it surreptitiously. I
had on several occasions tried to have the beret officially
approved, but with results well known. I felt that this was the
occasion to get some high level support for a symbol which would
be most meaningful to the U.S. Army's most elite unit. Clifton
agreed with me and sent me a communication which stated that the
President would like to see our men in green berets. This was
too much for the Army which then capitulated and a crash action
insued to obtain enough "green beanies" prior to the
President's visit. Although there were a number of authentic
models which appeared, there were equal numbers of dime store,
ladies' haberdashery and green headgear from other sources. The
result was heterogeneous, but electrical. We discovered that
there was no manufacturer in the United States who could provide
the quality to match the British item. Consequently, our early
procurement was from Canada (probably imported from Great
I hope these notes will add to your archives in a meaningful
way. I look forward to seeing you in July.
WILLIAM P. YARBOROUGH
Lieutenant General, USA
Brigadier General Henry E. Emerson
John F. Kennedy Center for Military Assistance
Fort Bragg, North Carolina 28307
The Center Story
THE GREEN BERET:
"something to set them apart"
"I do not consider wear of a (green) beret by U.S. soldiers
to be in keeping with the American tradition, and its inclusion
would give our uniform a foreign accent," wrote Major
General Robert F. Sink, Ft. Bragg commander, to Lieutenant
General Thomas P. Hickey, Third
U.S. Army commander, on Aug. 5, 1957.
Once again, the beret was packed away by the Special Forces
(SF), of whom President John F. Kennedy once remarked,
"These men have this special, dangerous job, and they need
something to set them apart." He ordered his military aide,
Major General Chester V. (Ted) Clifton, to try to get the beret
Prior to visiting the Special Forces on their home ground on
Oct. 12, 1961, President Kennedy sent a telegram ordering the
men on Smoke Bomb Hill to wear the beret with the Army uniform.
The order ended the nine- year controversy (1952-1961) over the
In June, 1952, former Office of Strategic Services (OSS)
operator Major Aaron Bank was recalled from the Korean War and
sent to select a site for the 10th SF Group (Airborne),
the first unconventional warfare outfit in the Army's long
He selected Smoke Bomb Hill for two reasons. First, there were
several hundred World War II wooden barracks standing idle, and
second, the spot was not too far from the nation's capital and
the office of Brigadier General Robert A. McClure, Chief,
Psychological Warfare Division, who created the SF Division.
The modern Special Forces were conceived by men who "stayed
behind" following the fall of Bataan and the Philippines -
soldiers like Russell Volckmann and Wendell W. Fertig, who had
raised large resistance groups in defense of the islands.
Many of the first SF-ers were former OSS types; however, an
order went out at Ft. Bragg in 1952 that the elite new force
would not be referred to as "OSS-type units."
Col. Volckmann later recalled that once established, Special
Forces were difficult to maintain. Spaces were finally made
available after Ranger companies were closed out at Ft. Benning,
Accounts differ on who created the idea of wearing berets.
CaptainsHerb Brucker and Roger Pezzelle are called the
"Fathers of the Beret."
Chaplain Vahan Sipantzi said men wore berets as early as 1952
and that he was sent by the commander of Detachment 22 to
Fayetteville to try to locate berets.
Sergeant Major Henry D. Goodwyn said the beret was worn publicly
in the fall of 1955, during FTX SAGEBRUSH.
So the stories continue, and they vary. One thing for certain -
the men were determined to acquire something special for their
uniforms. Red berets, worn by the British Parachute Regiment
during World War II, "could be seen a mile away." The
first green berets were ordered from the Dorothea Knitting Mills
Another episode took place which affected the legality of the
beret: a confrontation between Colonel Edson D. Raff who
insisted that the men be allowed to wear berets, and General
Paul D. Adams, Ft. Bragg commander, who insisted they would not.
The photos accompanying this article were generously loaned by
Major (Ret) Herb Brucker, who made the logical step from OSS to
Special Forces. Brucker speaks fluent German and French. His
intelligence background fit well as an instructor in clandestine
operations for the new 10th Group.
Brucker recalled that in August, 1953, he and Pezzelle were
having lunch at their office, and Herb sketched a camouflage
uniform with matching beret. Pezzelle liked it, and after
Brucker left for duty in Germany with the 10th Group, Roger
checked on the beret. Then he, too, left for Germany.
One day the two got together at the Post Exchange and read a
magazine article on the "snake eaters" in berets. The
headgear had arrived at Bragg, and men were wearing them on
their field training exercises. They were drawing quite a bit of
Old timers on the hill remember that some of the
Canadian-produced berets were far from ideal. When it rained,
the color faced and turned the face green. They would also
shrink. But in 1953, the flaws were overlooked, because the
berets gave the men an air of eliteness that matched their
Pezzelle, from Germany, visited French soldiers who wore felt
berets. Brucker in turn found a haberdasher, Mutze Muller, who
agreed to produce the headgear for the Americans. Men paid $1.75
from their own money for their headgear, and Brucker seemed to
be the project officer for the deal.
By 1954 the Hill was crawling with SF-ers wearing berets. But
they were still a point of controversy and were still worn
"surreptitiously." Even after Gen. Adams' vehement
disapproval, they were worn in the field. In addition, the
berets were recalled after being approved for the 77th SF Group
by the U.S. Continental Army Command. During the tenure of
Center Commander Colonel George M. Jones, from 1958 until 1961,
he tried to secure the beret for his men.
Why did the Department of the Army (DA) object to the berets
so strongly? Besides looking "too foreign," they set
the men apart from the rest of the Army - and the sister
services. They were not an item of issue, and baseball caps
In 1960 the 77th SF Group was renamed the 7th Group, and
Brigadier General (then Colonel) Donald D. Blackburn, also a
veteran of the Philippines' resistance movement, assumed command
of the group. DA began emphasizing counterinsurgency and
guerrilla warfare. Khrushchev's avowal of supporting wars of
national liberation was the kind of challenge for which SF had
In a memo dated June 25, 1960, Col. Blackburn wrote to Col.
Jones: "... the green beret will act as a distinguishing
part of the uniform, enhancing the prestige of Special Forces
troops, and at the same time appear as a piece of headgear. The
beret is in common usage by elite troops in nearly all armies of
Then Colonel William Pelham Yarborough assumed command of
the center. He was a brilliant young strategist who had helped
plan the initial concept and plan for the airborne phase of the
North African invasion. He served alongside Darby's
unconventional Rangers, leading the 509th Parachute Infantry
Regiment in spearhead assaults into Nazi-occupied southern
France. By the time he came to Smoke Bomb Hill, DA had
softened up considerably. President Kennedy was turning to his
elite troopers, and their stature caught his eye. When Gen.
Yarborough greeted the Commander-in-Chief at McKellar's Lodge in
1961, every man stood proud and tall, wearing their
long-cherished, legal, green berets.
President Kennedy asked, "How do you like the green
Gen. Yarborough, being watched closely by the Joint Chiefs of
Staff, replied, "Fine, Sir. We've wanted them for a long
This article carried an "Editor's Note": Not all
stories on the origin of the green beret coincide with all other
stories on the origin of the green beret. What we know of the
history of the green beret is part fact, part legend, and the
legend part varies. We will probably never know who wore the
FIRST green beret or who FIRST originated the idea. However,
wherever and whenever it began, the beret survived and became a
special symbol for the Special Forces.
- PLEASE READ
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