Sixty-four years ago PFC Richard Simonian and SFC Clyde J. Sincere Jr., were among the original 600 Special Forces from the newly formed 10th Special Forces Group that boarded the USNS General A.W. Greely in Wilmington, N.C., for a transatlantic voyage to Bremerhaven, Germany – the first Special Forces unit to deploy to Europe. They boarded a train in Bremerhaven, rode to a train station outside the ancient German city of Bad Tolz – the training site for SS officer candidate school during WWII. They were the first of an aggregate strength of 1,700 personnel to be shipped to Germany as the Cold War heated up.
Then the 600 Special Forces soldiers marched into Bad Tolz, Bavaria Germany where they set up the first operational headquarters for Special Forces commanded by OSS Legend Col. Aaron Bank, ending a long and tedious process of forming the 10th Special Forces Group that officially began June 19, 1952 at Ft. Bragg, N.C.
“I’ll never forget that march into Bad Tolz,” said Simonian, 84, “There was still a lot of bomb damage from World War II, and to be honest, when many of the Germans saw that we were paratroopers, they weren’t too thrilled about that…at that time, we didn’t think about the historic aspect of Special Forces, we just did our duty and continued to march.” As they moved into barracks at Bad Tolz, a detachment of 99 men from 10th Group at Ft. Bragg were assigned to the 8240th Army Unit training anti-communist North Koreans while the remaining personnel at Ft. Bragg formed the core of the 77th Special Forces Group, thus setting the foundation for today’s Green Berets.
In commemoration of the formal June 19, 1952 formation, the command at today’s 10th Grp. Headquarters in Ft. Carson, CO, hosted a week-long series of events in conjunction with the local Special Forces Association Chapter 4-24, the SFMC Chapter 10 and other organizations. The week included everything from a briefing by author James Stejskal on the Special Forces Berlin Detachment A that was formed in 1956 for clandestine Cold War operations in Europe, to many children and family events to motorcycle rides, a series of athletic and martial arts competitions between battalions, a “Grey Beards” alumni gathering and a formal military ball.
But, the highlight for many of today’s Green Berets and Special Forces soldiers who served in the Army after The Originals landed at Bad Tolz, was meeting the few Originals who showed up at the event, including Simonian, who left the Army after three years and Sincere who served more than 20 years and earned a Distinguished Service Cross in Vietnam.
“It’s been a real honor to meet ‘The Originals,'” said Col. Isaac J. Peltier, 10th SFG commanding officer. “We continue to build Special Forces upon your shoulders, as you pioneered the way for us today. We strive, as you did, to move forward to meet today’s challenges that confront our country and Special Forces.” Many present-day Green Berets echoed Peltier’s sentiments.
One Special Forces Captain told SOFREP, “It’s one thing to read about the founders, the men who were the first Special Forces soldiers, it’s another to actually meet them and to hear a few of their stories.”
That respect was reciprocated by “The Originals” for today’s Green Berets along with complete amazement by all who visited today’s 10th Special Forces Group base at its size, especially in comparison to the early days of 10th Group, when troops slept in old WWII barracks, used WWII weapons and seldom had new buildings or training areas.
Looking at the expanse of 10th Group’s base, Simonian said, “The sheer size of it, the new buildings, the weight training, heck we never thought about weight training in our day. And the fact that they have the Care Coalition on base to help today’s soldiers, as well as their families, is a giant step in the right direction. It’s all very impressive.”
In addition to The Originals, OSS agent Sully de Fontaine and his wife Angelique attended the event. De Fontaine served with the OSS during WWII and parachuted into occupied France in 1944 where he escorted downed pilots to safety. After WWII he had several assignments with 10th Group before going to Vietnam and serving a tour of duty in the top secret MACV-SOG operation during the eight-year secret war conducted during the Vietnam War. As he looked around the area he said, “This place and the men are amazing. They’ve come a long way since our day.”
Featured image of Bad Tolz courtesy of USArmyGermany.com