William Yarborough may not be a name that many Americans recognize but when it comes to Army Green Berets and paratroopers, Yarborough is a legend. He joined the fledgling Army paratroopers shortly before World War II began and designed the army parachute wings still used today. 

Yarborough designed the Army jump boots, the paratroopers’ uniform, and various aerial delivery containers that were used by Army airborne troops during the war. During his career, he was shot down in a transport aircraft over North Africa and made four combat jumps with both the 82nd Airborne Division and the 509th Parachute Infantry Battalion of which he was the commander.

After the war, Yarborough was given command and made the commandant of the U.S. Army Special Warfare Center/School for Special Warfare at Fort Bragg, North Carolina from 1961 to 1965. There, he was instrumental in the build-up of Special Forces, overseeing the activation of four new Special Forces Groups. 

It was during his tenure as Commander of the Special Warfare Center that in 1961, he arranged for President Kennedy to visit Fort Bragg. Thanks to that visit, Yarborough secured the funding to further develop Special Forces as well as the authorization of the Green Beret for wear as the official headgear of Special Forces. Yarborough’s design for the original parachutist’s uniform was adopted in 1963 as the Army tropical uniform that was later worn by all Army units in the Vietnam War.

LTG Yarborough and President Kennedy (U.S. Army)

In 2002 the commander of the U.S. Army Special Operations Command, LTG Doug Brown was looking for a way to honor Yarborough for the many things he had accomplished and designed for Army airborne troops and Special Forces. 

So the command went to renowned knifemaker and designer Bill Harsey who worked with Chris Reeve and asked them to design a working knife/tool. The knife was to be called “the Yarborough Knife.”

Beginning in August 2002, every soldier who graduated from the Special Forces Qualification Course (SFQC), part of the U.S. Army John F. Kennedy Special Warfare Center and School, was issued the Yarborough Knife with its own serial number and signed a special record book along with the most elite members of the United States Army.

The knife serial-numbered 001 was hand-delivered to LTG Yarborough at his home in Southern Pines. The moment wasn’t lost on the general as he received it. 

“It is a tremendous honor, General Brown, that you gave me the honor of this knife,” Yarborough said. “You know, I tried to pass the Bowie knife, and it didn’t make it. This will be an heirloom for my children and grandchildren.” General Brown received knife #0002 as the commander of USASOC.

Brown’s idea for a knife came from a conversation he had had with Yarborough in which Yarborough said that he had tried to introduce the Bowie knife years ago for Special Forces soldiers to use, but it never was authorized. Later he tried again calling it the “SOG knife” in Vietnam. 

The inscription reads: “Hand-built prototype by William W. Harsey, June 2002. Real #0002 belongs to General Doug Brown USASOC. This is the knife that won the competition for Green Beret knife- 2002.” (Photo: U.S. Special Forces Association Chapter LX)

Initially, the knife was available only for current Green Berets and Special Forces veterans. However, the knifemakers make a civilian version, without the serial numbers, for collectors. A Green Beret-issued version of the Yarborough Knife is a prized military collectible today with prices in the $1,200 range.

The distribution of the Yarborough Knife was discontinued in 2004 after roughly 1,000 knives had been issued.

Maj. Gen. Thomas R. Csrnko, commanding general of U.S. Army John F. Kennedy Special Warfare Center and School, reinstituted the issue of the knife in 2008. Each knife now contains a serial followed by the limited edition number of its blade.

The USASOC Public Affairs office released a statement on the issuing of the knives saying, “As each Green Beret crosses the stage upon graduation of the SFQC, he receives a legacy of the Brotherhood of Special Forces, signing in the pages of an illustrious history, shared by a select few. Only a few short years after its conception, the honor of the Yarborough Knife has now become almost as large of a part of the heritage and tradition of Special Forces as the Green Beret, and has also been shared with a small number of dignitaries such as President George W. Bush.”

Some of the particulars of the knife are as follows,

The Kennedy-Yarborough Statue Dedication at Ft. Bragg

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“It is engineered with a blade thickness of 0.22 inches and a hollow grind for maximum sharpness. At 55-57 RC, the Rockwell rating is in the perfect range for survival knives, as this is better for standing up to brutal wilderness use whether chopping, prying or digging while also holding a good edge for longer. The blade has a matte KG Gun-Kote that provides additional protection from abrasion or the elements. Your Yarborough knife is the perfect blend of hardness and durability.

“The handle of the GB Knife is a blasted canvas micarta that camouflages in many environments. Canvas micarta was specifically selected for this knife as an extremely durable material that has an excellent grip in a variety of weather conditions. The full tang construction provides the user with an extremely strong balanced blade. The tang of the knife is rounded to make the knife comfortable while in use. The Green Beret knife handle is completed with two raised double guards and a lanyard to help secure the knife in hand. This Chris Reeve fixed blade knife is completed with an American-made nylon sheath with a Kydex insert that helps guard the blade. The GB sheath is a perfect complement to your molle rigging gear.”

Maker: Chris Reeve Knives

Blade Design: William W. Harsey and Chris Reeve (design by William Harsey, function and manufacturing input by Chris Reeve)

Blade Length: 7″

Blade Thickness: 0.22″

Blade Hardness: 55-57 RC

Blade Material: Stainless CPM S35VN Steel with KG Gun-Kote

Blade Style: Spear Point

Blade Finish: PVD

Handle: Canvas Micarta

Handle Thickness: 0.97″

Sheath: Black Nylon Sheath

Overall Length: 12.375″

Weight: 12.8 oz.

Civilians or non-SF personnel that wish to purchase a Yarborough Knife to add to their own collection, can click here.

For questions concerning the JFK SWC Museum and gift shop including the purchase of the Yarborough Knife for Special Forces soldiers and veterans, please contact either 910-223-0780 or 910-485-5433 directly.