Green Berets pay tribute to JFK at Arlington National Cemetery
October 18, 2012
WASHINGTON (Army News Service, Oct. 19, 2012) -- Soldiers representing every unit within Army Special Forces Command (Airborne) gathered at the John F. Kennedy graveside, Oct. 18, to pay tribute to the president who recognized more than 50 years ago the importance of a dedicated counter-insurgency and unconventional warfare force and authorized the wearing of the green beret.
As a crowd of present and former Special Forces Soldiers, guests and onlookers watched on a brisk autumn afternoon, Jean Kennedy Smith and Michael A. Sheehan, assistance secretary of Defense for Special Operations and Low-Intensity Conflict accompanied Special Forces Commander Brig. Gen. Christopher K. Haas up the granite steps where they placed a wreath in the shape of a green beret at the foot of JFK's grave.
On Nov. 25, 1963, as the commander in chief was laid to rest at Arlington National Cemetery, a Special Forces sergeant major placed his green beret on the grave of the fallen president. Silently, steadily 42 other Special Forces Soldiers laid their berets alongside.
While "special forces" have been a part of the Army since 1942 when they were referred to as "the Force," it wasn't until Oct. 12, 1961 that the elite command was authorized to wear the iconic headgear by Kennedy, who wrote to Special Forces Commander Brig. Gen. William P. Yarborough:
"The challenge of this old, but new form of operations is a real one, and I know that you and the members of your command will carry on for us and the free world in a manner which is both worthy and inspiring," Kennedy wrote more than five decades ago.
He went on to refer to the green beret as a "new elite military icon, a symbol of excellence, a badge of courage, a mark of distinction in the fight for freedom," adding that he was "sure that the green beret will be a mark of distinction in the trying times ahead."
Present SF Commander Haas said not only was the ceremony to commemorate Kennedy for his decision on allowing Special Forces to wear the distinctive green beret, he felt it was important that Special Forces as a community always should remember its lineage and past.
"I truly believe this commemorates that decision of Soldiers to pursue a warrior path in life," Haas said. "It is not only that we remember President Kennedy, we also honor those currently serving as well as our fathers who did so much to establish the Special Forces Regiment and make it what it is today."
"JFK was our champion," said Joseph Dennison, a retired Special Forces command sergeant major who served two tours in Vietnam, and stints in Grenada, Panama and Desert Storm in 1991. "He was the one who gave us the green beret which was really special and something that will always be because it was by presidential decree."
After a career wearing the green beret from 1965 to 1996, Dennison retired in Fayetteville, N.C., just outside the home of Special Forces Command at Fort Bragg, N.C. Occasionally, he mixes with and holds in high esteem the "youngsters" serving in today's SF units.
"The only difference between the operators of yesterday and today is the era we're in and the way kids grow up today," he said. "It's different than the way some of us old Soldiers grew up, but these kids are great and do the jobs as well as anyone ever did."