President John F. Kennedy had a special relationship with the United States Army Special Forces. That relationship was sealed on Oct. 12, 1961, when the President visited Fort Bragg, N.C., to review the troops. At the now-historic meeting between Kennedy and then-Brig. Gen. William Yarborough, Kennedy embraced the iconic Green Beret. That relationship was celebrated with the dedication of the Kennedy-Yarborough statue at the U.S. Army John F. Kennedy Special Warfare Center and School at Fort Bragg.
The statue was created and paid for by Ross Perot, a long-time supporter of special operations. Perot is responsible for a number of statues on Fort Bragg, including the Bull Simons statue on the JFK Plaza and the Dick Meadows statue at the U.S. Army Special Operations Command headquarters. These two memorials, both cast in bronze, preserve the memory of two Special Forces trailblazers. The Simons statue was dedicated in 1999. Simons served as a company commander of the 6th Ranger Battalion in the Pacific during World War II. After the war, he had a short break in service, before being recalled to active duty to serve in several special-operations assignments. Some of his assignments included deputy commander and chief of staff of the U.S. Army Special Warfare Center, commander of a Mobile Training Team in Laos from 1961 to 1962, and the first commander of the 8th Special Forces Group. Simons is best remembered as the commander of Operation Ivory Coast, or the Son Tay Raid, to free American prisoners of war in North Vietnam.
The other statue is dedicated to Maj. Richard "Dick" Meadows. After serving as a combat infantryman in Korea, he joined Special Forces in 1953. Meadows was a highly respected team leader in the Military Assistance Command Vietnam Studies and Observation Group and is also known for his planning and leadership during the Son Tay raid. Meadows was a key member in Operation Eagle Claw, better known as the Iran hostage-rescue mission, which ultimately led to the establishment of today's special-operations forces.
Perot was first introduced to special operations by long-time friend Col. Arthur "Bull" Simons back during the Vietnam era.
"Bull Simons was a very close friend of mine," said Perot during a recent telephone interview. "He goes all the way back to World War II, where he fought in the Pacific and then on into Vietnam, where he was very successful.
"I really got to know him during the Vietnam War and worked closely with him over the years at Fort Bragg and with several others there," said Perot.
In April 2009, Perot was given his own Green Beret when he was inducted as an honorary Green Beret by the members of the Special Forces Regiment.
"I was inducted as an honorary member of the Special Forces, though my friends say I'm an ornery member," joked Perot. "Either way, I am extremely honored."
It was while visiting Fort Bragg for the induction into the regiment that the idea for the Kennedy-Yarborough statue began.
"The statue came about from a conversation between a number of people at Fort Bragg," said Perot. "Some folks were standing right there in that area (where the statue is now located in front of Kennedy Hall) and were talking about the meeting between Kennedy and Yarborough and how it would be nice to commemorate it. That's how the idea came about and that's why it is where it is."
Perot said that once he heard the idea, he decided to have the statue designed and to donate it to the JFK Special Warfare Center and School.
"The idea behind the statue is to honor one of the founders of modern Special Forces -- (Lieutenant) General Yarborough -- and to honor President John F. Kennedy not only for his presidency, but also for his service in World War II," explained Perot.
Perot contacted New Mexico-based sculptor Paul Moore and commissioned him to create the statue.
"It was important to find someone who would take great care with the statue and ensure that it is done just right," said Perot.
A strong believer in the idea that the devil is in the details, Perot, along with Moore and members of the Fort Bragg community worked closely to make sure that the statue was perfect.
"We all worked together on it," said Perot. "We spent a lot of time with the people at Fort Bragg, and I spent a lot of time here working on it -- but most of the work was done by the sculptor. He came up with sketches and then made a small model. We sent the plans to Fort Bragg and made changes as they were needed.
"We've worked very hard to make sure it is just right, and that you folks at Fort Bragg agree that it is just right -- and that's what it is -- just right," he said.
Perot said he has the highest respect for the Kennedy and Yarborough families.
"I can't think of finer people to honor, so it means a lot to me that their families will be at Fort Bragg on this very special day," he said, referencing attendance at the dedication by members of both families. "I wanted to build this memorial to them out of respect for these men and all the sacrifices they made for our country."
Perot hopes that people will understand how important the meeting was between Kennedy and Yarborough and what a significant impact it had on the quality of the Special Forces who are sent off "to do missions impossible."
"General Yarborough had a stellar service record, and was known for his vision to build the capabilities of Special Forces," said Perot, adding that he also wanted to honor President Kennedy, not only for his relationship with Special Forces, but for his service in World War II and as the president of the United States.
"Sadly, he was killed while in office, and that was just a heart-breaking event for our entire nation."
Perot said that he has been anxiously awaiting the statue dedication.
"I think it will be great for us to finally see everything all in place," he concluded.