The Green Beret’s
The following short history is mostly paraphrased from information in the book written by Shelby Stanton the “Green Berets at War” especially from the foreword to the book that was written by George C. Morton a retired U.S. Army Colonel. Colonel Morton was also the first commander of the U.S. Army Special Forces Vietnam (Provisional). His forward is by no means a complete history of Special Forces but it does give a very good overview of beginning of this elite unit.
The story starts at the end of World War II when General William J. “Wild Bill” Donovan’s Office of Strategic Services (OSS) was demobilized by Harry S. Truman with Executive Order on Sept. 20, 1945 (mainly the result of J Edgar Hoover’s dislike of Donovan’s unconventional methods) and the Office of Strategic Services was no more. The following picture is of Donovan’s review of OSS troopers prior to deployment.
“We were not afraid to make mistakes because we were not afraid to try things that had not been tried before.” “You can’t succeed without taking chances.”
– Maj. Gen. William J. Donovan, OSS founder
When the OSS was disbanded the United States lost its capability to conduct unconventional warfare and the vast experiences gained by the American personnel involved with the World War II resistance movements worldwide was irretrievably lost. Unfortunately for America, this occurred at the same time that communist expansionism was being manifested throughout the newly emerging and Third World countries of Asia, Latin America, Africa and the Middle East in support of so-called national wars of liberation. Without a capability to support resistance movements in those affected countries and regions, opposition eventually withered and those nations fell under the firm grip of either the Soviet Union or the People’s Republic of China. The resultant was that most of Eastern European as well as most of mainland Asia, fell under communist control by the late 40’s.
Note: This was the period when the “Domino Theory” was developed. This theory basically stated that countries would fall to communist expansion one after the other (geographically) much as domino’s fall after the first one is pushed down. Under this scenario the Communists would use the boarders of adjacent countries to infiltrate into their neighbors spreading unrest. This theory also assumed that there was a “monolithic” communism. Many years later it would be seen that both these assumptions were false and that there were other factors that were in play. In my opinion it was the significant wealth difference of the have countries verses the have not countries. This combined with the illusion of sometime for nothing promised by the Communists gave those in third world counties something to get peoples hopes up over. In actuality Karl Marx stated that industrial nations would be the first to fall to communism not the backward countries that did. In any case, the traditional Communist system collapsed in the early 1990 and no longer presents much of a challenge to other economic systems.
Two years later with the passage of the National Security Act in 1947 the Truman administration corrected the problem created when the OSS was disbanded with the creation of a new clandestine agency to replace the defunct Office of Strategic Services, the Central Intelligence Agency, using a plan created by Donovan. Most of its early members of the CIA were OSS alumni. This act also set the stage for the creation of the US Special Forces a few years later but we lost two critical years in the fight against the Communists.
The American strategy developed in the 1950’s and 1960’s to block further communist expansion relied on containment backed up by the three strategic nuclear deterrents (One, Air Force B-52’s; Two, the strategic land based missiles (ICBM’s) and Three, the navy’s; nuclear ballistic submarines and aircraft carriers.) These elements were called “The Triad”. This policy resulted in a proliferation of collective or bilateral defense treaty organizations, which all involved large numbers of U.S. and allied conventional units supported by an arsenal of nuclear weapons. Although formidable these forces were totally unsuitable for the grassroots wars of liberation, which cropped up throughout the third world during this period.
The Greek Civil War and the Hukbalahap Guerrilla War in the Philippines shortly after the end of World War II both further highlighted the necessity for a national defense policy aimed at countering communist expansionism using an alternative to massive conventional intervention or atomic annihilation. Such a requirement also received impetus during the Korean War, when bands of South Korean irregulars were formed behind the lines in North Korea and conducted successful sabotage, ambush and intelligence collection operations, as well as establishing escape and evasion nets for the rescue of downed American pilots in the famous MIG Alley.
As a result, on June 20, 1952, the first contingent of volunteers assembled on Smoke Bomb Hill at Fort Bragg, North Carolina, to be organized into the 10th Special Forces Group under the auspices of the Army Chief of Psychological Warfare. The formation of this first SF unit was the direct result of the efforts of Colonel Aaron Bank an OSS veteran who is now considered to be the father of Special Forces. I meet him in 1994 at the Cleveland SF convention and again at the fiftieth anniversary of the formation of Special Forces at Ft. Bragg in 2002. The following picture of him that I took with Roy Benavidez a Vietnam era SF Metal of Honor recipient on June 24, 1994.
These volunteers were trained for infiltration deep into enemy territory by land, sea or air to conduct unconventional warfare: guerrilla warfare, sabotage, and escape and evasion. Although this original contingent included a smattering of former OSS men and individuals who had served with other guerrilla and resistance groups in World War II, the majority had no previous unconventional warfare experience. They were, however, outstanding paratrooper (airborne) qualified officers and non-commissioned officers (NCOs) who were dedicated and highly motivated individuals.
These professionals brought with them their skills in operations, intelligence, demolitions, communications, light and heavy weapons, and medicine. They were capable of operating independently as small teams for extended periods in hostile territory with minimal support. They were taught to organize, train, and equip guerrilla forces; conduct sabotage operations, support resistance movements and to evade, and if necessary, escape from enemy forces. These elite troopers adopted the insignia of the Trojan Horse as their symbol, and De Oppresso Liber (To Liberate from Oppression) as their motto. The Green Beret was originally designated in 1953 by Special Forces Major Herbert Brucker, a veteran of the OSS. Later that year, 1st Lt. Roger Pezelle adopted it as the unofficial head-gear for his A-team, Operational Detachment FA-32. They wore it whenever they went to the field for prolonged exercises. Soon it spread throughout all of Special Forces, although the Army refused to authorize its official use.
In November of 1953, the 10th Special Forces Group, which had completed over a year of training at Fort Bragg, deployed to Bad Tolz in Germany. There the group prepared to support resistance movements and organize guerrilla forces in the Soviet-dominated Eastern European satellite countries and, if indicated, throughout Africa and the Middle East. On the departure of the 10th SFG for Germany, the 77th Special Forces Group was activated at Fort Bragg with some members of the deploying 10th SFG and new troopers mostly acquired from the 82nd airborne also stationed at Ft Bragg. In 1957 the 1st Special Forces Group was activated on Okinawa to support unconventional warfare missions in the Far East. By 1961, Special Forces teams from both the 77th and the 1st SFG’s were operational in Korea, Taiwan, the Philippines, Vietnam, Laos, Thailand, and other nations, primarily as mobile training teams for their indigenous counterparts.
By the time John F. Kennedy became President of the United States on January 20, 1961, the communist supported national wars of liberation conducted along the periphery of the Soviet Union and Red China, as well as in Africa, the Middle East, Latin America, and Southeast Asia had assumed major proportions. President Kennedy embarrassed by the abortive Bay of Pigs operation in Cuba (which was an unsuccessful attempt at preventing the establishment of a communist regime in the Western hemisphere) and confronted by imminent communist insurgency in Laos and South Vietnam sought an alternative to committing regular U.S. forces in these areas. Later that year, October 12, 1961 during a visit to the U.S. Army Special Warfare Center at Fort Bragg, President Kennedy found his answer.
While there Kennedy met and had discussions with Brigadier General William P. Yarborough (the Commander of the Special Warfare Center). General Yarborough was young and dynamic and, more importantly, a highly articulate advocate of unconventional warfare and counterinsurgency operations. While there Kennedy observed the capabilities of the Special Forces troops and knew this was what he was looking for. One of my friends, Ernie Tasseff, in the Cleveland Chapter of the Special Forces Association was a member of that team; he was the 2nd SF trooper from the left on the ground in the picture below and I understood him to be in the first 50 Special Forces troopers pictured. President Kennedy (first on left bottom of picture) thought that he could expand these forces and then commit them to fight communist inspired insurgencies anywhere in the world.
Upon his return to Washington, President Kennedy instructed the Secretary of Defense to improve America’s paramilitary and unconventional warfare capabilities. Kennedy also advised him that the United States needed a greater ability to combat communist guerrilla forces, insurgency, and subversion. Kennedy then authorized the Green Beret as the official headgear for Special Forces, describing it as a symbol of excellence, a mark of distinction, and a badge of courage (prior to this the U.S. Army did not condone it’s use). Counterinsurgency became a buzzword in Washington, and the Army Special Forces became predestined to fight in a protracted war in Vietnam that no one in Washington could foresee at the time. In an April 11, 1962, White House memorandum for the United States Army, President Kennedy showed his continued support for the Special Forces, calling the Green Beret… “a symbol of excellence, a badge of courage, a mark of distinction in the fight for freedom.”
The Army Special Forces lost its champion and foremost advocate of counterinsurgency and unconventional warfare on November 22, 1963, when President Kennedy was assassinated in Dallas, Texas. However, by this time, many of his directions had already been implemented. In addition to the 10th SFG in Germany, the 1st SFG in Okinawa, and the 77th (later designated the 7th) SFG at Fort Bragg, the 8th SFG had been activated in Panama, the 5th SFG was already sending personnel to Vietnam, and the 3d and the 6th SFGs were activated at Fort Bragg with African and Middle Eastern areas of assignment. The United States had finally regained its capacity to conduct unconventional warfare and counterinsurgency operations.
Next is the structure for an A team as it existed in the 60s. The current structure of Special Forces is totally different from that period, as is its mission. The core mission, at least prior to the Vietnam conflict, was to have a unit with the capability to infiltrate behind enemy lines, recruit local people, train them into a fighting guerrilla force, and then to conduct military operations as required. To accomplish this require men skilled in the arts or war as well as teaching and training. Since they were to operate behind enemy lines they also needed to be independent thinkers, resourceful and self-motivated. This combination of skills was not required in any other unit in the military then or now and that is what made “Green Berets” unique.
Shortly after Kennedy’s assassination the Special Warfare Center was renamed the John F. Kennedy Center for Special Warfare (in his honor) and all Special Forces troopers feel a special relationship to the young dynamic President who saw the worth of their elite unit. Six years after President Kennedy was assassinated I was a young lieutenant at Ft Brag in the 7th Special Forces group undergoing culture and language training prior to deployment to Vietnam. The Vietnam buildup was in full force and when that happens promotions come quicker than they should and I felt bad that I didn’t have the military experiences that many of the others had. But I did bring other factors to the game as I was very good at improvising and I was skilled in almost all of the trades. The only reason I bring this up is that I had a very unique opportunity to meet one the biggest supporters of the military and Special Forces, John Wayne.
During the summer of 1967 the movie the Green Beret staring John Wayne was being filmed and the 7th Special Forces group (Abn) was tasked with providing the support for the movie. Several of my friends ended up in the support detail with me and I took a team to Pensacola Florida to do a night insertion combat air jump for the movie. We were to jump from a C-47 (DC-3) but since it was a night jump we were to wear strobe lights (I know it makes no sense) during the mission planning briefing John Wayne had a picture taken with my team which I missed.
There is one other entertainer that deserves special mention and that is of Martha Raye or as she was known to the guys in Special Forces Colonel Maggie, who was also a trained RN before going into the entertainment field. “Maggie” was known to be in places with the troops that even the brass would not go without protection. She is one of the very few who got down in the trenches with the troops and she had a special liking for those that wore the Green Beret.
During 1967 she was in Vietnam on tour and she went to a small Special Forces camp with a clarinet player, but while they were there the NVA attacked the camp. Mortar rounds and small arms fire were incoming and it appeared that there was a full-scale assault on the base camp Early in the firefight the camp medic was hit, and so with her being a nurse, she took over and began to assist with the treatment of the wounded who were coming into the aid station.
The camp was in great danger for several hours of being overrun and the military was trying to dispatch helicopters to the camp, but a combination of very bad weather and heavy fighting made that task a very dangerous mission for any crews that would be coming in to get the wounded, or to pull her out to a safer place. All this time, she was subjecting herself to the dangers of flying shrapnel and incoming automatic rifle rounds. She tended to the task that she was trained for – treating the wounded. She was said to have remained calm and fully active in doing her work – even with all the action taking place just outside the aid station. She kept focused on treating the wounded and did not seek shelter or safety for herself. She spent hours putting her skills as a nurse, to use treating patients and even assisting with surgery. She was in the operating room for 13 hours; she then went through the aid station talking with the wounded and making sure that they were okay. It was said that she worked without sleep or rest, until all the wounded were either treated, or evacuated out on a Dustoff. She did not leave that camp until she was satisfied that all wounded were taken care of.
On a more personal note I was wounded at Special Forces CIDG camp Bu Dop (A-341) in earlt December 1967 along with two other SF troopers and MEDEVACed out of country first to Japan and then Ft Sam in Texas where I was for four months getting put back together. While I was there Colonel Maggie heard I was there and called me to wish me a speedy recovery. The other two SF troopers had already died or I’m sure she would have talked to them as well.
For these and other services “Colonel Maggie,” Martha Raye, was an a very special honorary member of the Special Forces. She had received her prized Green Beret and the title of Lieutenant Colonel from President Lyndon B. Johnson, himself. Known as “Colonel Maggie of the Boondocks” by her many military friends, Martha Raye (born Margaret Teresa Yvonne Reed on August 27, 1916) died October 19, 1994. Raye is buried in the military cemetery at Fort Bragg, North Carolina.