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HISTORY OF THE GREEN BERETS

Initially those who joined the British Commandos kept their parent regimental headdress and cap badges. In 1941 no 1 Commando had no fewer than 79 different cap badges and many different forms of headdress. "Thus a motley collection of caps, Tam o' Shanters, bonnets, forage caps, caps 'fore and aft', berets, peaked KD caps, etc., appeared on the Commando parades," says Captain Oakley, "the forest being a veritable RSMís nightmare!"

No. 2 Commando and No. 9 Commando faced with the same problem had adopted the Tam o' Shanter, but, as a traditional Scottish headdress, this was not considered suitable for what was a British unit. After some discussion it was agreed that if No 1 Commando was to adopt a uniformed headdress then the beret, which had been worn by the Tank Regiment since the first world war (and had recently been adopted by the Parachute Regiment), would meet the requirements: it had no British regional affinity, it was difficult to wear improperly, and it could be easily stowed away without damage (when for example tin hats were in use).

Having decided on the headdress, the next question to be resolved was the colour. The shoulder insignia of No. 1 Commando had been designed by the Richmond Herald at the College of Arms. It incorporated three colours in its design of a green salamander going through fire: red, yellow and green. Green was chosen as the most suitable. A Scottish firm of tam-o-shanter makers in Irvine (Ayrshire) was chosen to design and manufacture the beret.

Once the design was agreed, Brigadier Robert Laycock was approached by No. 1 Commando to seek his permission to wear it. He had been pondering on what the commandos should use for their headdress, and welcomed the green beret as a chance to introduce it as standard for all commando formations, with No. 1 Commando being the first to don them.

The proposal that the commandos should start wearing green beret as their official headdress was submitted to the Chief of Combined Operations and forwarded by Lord Mountbatten to the Under-Secretary of State for War. Approval was granted and in October 1942 the first green berets were issued to the Royal Marines.

In the U.S. armed forces, the green beret may be worn only by soldiers awarded the Special Forces Tab, signifying they have been qualified as Special Forces (SF) soldiers. The Special Forces beret is officially designated "beret, man's, wool, rifle green, army shade 297."

U.S. Special Forces wear the green beret because of a shared tradition which goes back to the British Commandos of World War II. The first Ranger unit, commonly known as Darby's Rangers, was formed in Northern Ireland during the summer of 1942. On completion of training at the Commando Training Depot at Achnacarry Castle in Scotland, those Rangers had the right to wear the British Commando green beret, but it was not part of the regulation uniform at the time and was disallowed by the U.S. Army.

The 10th Special Forces Group (Airborne) had many veterans of World War II in their ranks when it was formed in 1952. They began to unofficially wear a variety of berets while training, some favouring the crimson or maroon airborne beret, the black Ranger beret, or the green commando beret. The 10th Special Forces Group (Airborne) deployed to Bad Tolz, Germany in September 1953. The remaining cadre at Fort Bragg formed the 77th Special Forces Group. Members of the 77th SFG began searching through their collections of berets and settled on the Rifle Green colour of the British Rifle Regiments (as opposed to the Lovat Green of the Commandos) from Captain Mike de la Pena's collection. Captain Frank Dallas had the new beret designed and produced in small numbers for the members of the Special Forces.

Their new headdress was first worn at a retirement parade at Fort Bragg on 12 June 1955 for Lieutenant General Joseph P. Cleland, the now-former commander of the XVIII Airborne Corps. Onlookers thought that the commandos were a foreign delegation from NATO.

In 1956 General Paul D. Adams, the post commander at Fort Bragg, banned its wear, even though it was worn surreptitiously when deployed overseas. This was reversed on 25 September 1961 by Department of the Army Message 578636, which designated the green beret as the exclusive headdress of the Army Special Forces.

When visiting the Special Forces at Fort Bragg on 12 October 1961, President John F. Kennedy asked Brigadier General William P. Yarborough to make sure that the men under his command wore green berets for the visit. Later that day, Kennedy sent a memorandum which included the line: "I am sure that the green beret will be a mark of distinction in the trying times ahead." By America's entry into the Vietnam War, the green beret had become a symbol of excellence throughout the US Army. On April 11, 1962 in a White House memorandum to the United States Army, President Kennedy reiterated his view: "The green beret is a symbol of excellence, a badge of courage, a mark of distinction in the fight for freedom." To no avail, both Yarborough and Edson Raff had previously petitioned the Pentagon to allow wearing of the green beret. The President, however, did not fail them.

In addition to being the headdress of the United States Army Special Forces, "Green Berets" is also a well known nickname of the organization.

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