On Sep. 21, 1961, the 5th Special Forces Group was activated at Fort Bragg, North Carolina.
The Cold War completely changed the way the U.S. planned to fight hot wars. Special Forces were designed to organize and train guerrillas behind enemy lines.
The U.S. Army’s 5th Special Forces Group, 1st Special Forces was formed to do just that as the war in Vietnam began to heat up.
President John F. Kennedy was a strong believer in the capabilities of Special Warfare. He visited the Special Warfare Center on Fort Bragg to review the training program there and authorized Special Forces soldiers to wear their distinctive green berets.
But how America’s premier unconventional warfare force got that iconic headwear is as much a testament to the force’s tenacity as it is a tribute to the founding soldiers who challenged Big Army’s authority.
The beret is said to be somewhat derived from America’s ties to the British Commandos of World War II, who wore a green beret as their standard-issue headdress beginning in 1941.
According to the official history of the Army Special Forces Association, America’s green beret was first designed by SF major and OSS veteran Herbert Brucker about two years after the unit was formed, likely due to the close work between the OSS — the predecessor to the Special Forces — and Royal British Commandos during the war.
The beret was later adopted by 1st Lt. Roger Pezelle and worn by his Operational Detachment Alpha team with the 10th Special Forces Group based in Germany. The SF troopers were reportedly not authorized to wear the berets, but being unconventional warriors, they basically gave Big Army the middle finger and wore them anyway.
“The berets were only worn in the field during exercises,” according to retired SF Command Sgt. Maj. Joe Lupyak. “The Army would not allow the wearing of berets in garrison.”
But that all changed in the early 1960s, when then-President John F. Kennedy adopted the Special Forces as America’s answer to the guerrilla wars that marked the first decades of the Cold War. Before a visit to Fort Bragg in 1961, Kennedy reportedly ordered then Special Warfare School commander Brig. Gen. William P. Yarborough to outfit his soldiers with the distinctive caps, arguing these unconventional warriors deserved headgear that set them apart from the rest of the Army.
The “Green Berets” – as they would become known based on that specific Army green “Shade 297” cap – would deploy to Vietnam in 1964 to take control of all Special Forces in the country.
They accomplished their mission of controlling Vietnam’s indigenous tribes and rallying them against the Communists. At the war’s height, the 5th SF Group controlled 84 of these Civilian Irregular Defense Groups, comprising some forty-two thousand men.
Featured Image: Vietnam-era 5th Special Forces Group (Airborne) Soldiers participate in 5th SFG(A)’s flash changeover ceremony at Fort Campbell, Kentucky, March 23, 2016. During the ceremony, 5th SFG(A) reinstated the Vietnam-era beret flash, adding a diagonal yellow stripe with three red stripes to the existing black and white background. The stripes pay homage to the Group’s history in the Vietnam War and its crucible under fire.