On this day: October 12th

1961 — Long before President John F. Kennedy’s vision of the “soldier statesmen” concept that came to be embodied by the American Special Forces soldier was solidified with his authorization of the distinctive Green Beret, Special Forces soldiers had sought headgear that would instantly set them apart from other soldiers.

Beginning in the 1950s, a green beret was informally chosen and worn by men in the 77th Special Forces Group. Its green color was in the tradition of the British Royal Commandos, and was sold in small numbers at Fort Bragg. Perhaps not surprisingly, the wearing of the green beret was unauthorized, and was specifically banned by the XVIIIth Airborne Corps. SF soldiers with 10th Group in Germany, far from the watchful eye of that command, continued wearing the berets.

Eventually the Department of the Army stepped in after the 82nd Airborne Division insisted on their own berets, citing the Special Forces men who were already wearing them. With that, an Army-wide directive officially banned the wearing of the green beret, an order which was evaded by overseas SF units.

After years of persistence, it was President John F. Kennedy who settled the issue once and for all. Prior to visiting Special Forces units at Fort Bragg in October 1961, he sent a message to Colonel William Yarborough, then commander of the Special Warfare Center, encouraging Special Forces soldiers to wear their berets as part of his visit.

On October 12th, 1961, the green berets were officially worn for the President’s visit. It was the beginning of a special relationship between the new President and the Special Forces. Kennedy was enamored with these small, elite units, and saw them as a critical component in fighting Communism in austere battlefields around the world where it was already spreading. He later wrote that the Green Beret was “a symbol of excellence, a badge of courage, a mark of distinction in the fight for freedom.”

Image courtesy of the U.S. Army