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.