Much to my surprise, on my first day there, I was (almost jokingly) derided for being a leg and needing something better for my head than that sloppy baseball cap I was wearing. I was sent to the Quartermaster to draw my gear for this station and was issued (among other things) berets! I figured there was some mistake, but when I arrived back at the company area, I was accepted in and almost eagerly shown the proper way to wear the headgear.
I had figured that I would forever be the outcast, given all the dirty jobs, and shunned by the real Green Berets. Well, that just didn't happen. I was allowed (required) to truly join in both at work and at play. I felt almost overwhelmed by this and tried my best to live up to their expectations as though I was an actual "Green Beret". Looking back, I think I did pretty well for myself under the circumstances.
The wearing of the beret by legs was authorized by Col. Kelly. When Col. Ladd
took over group command, that policy was rescinded, and we legs were returned
to the standard baseball caps. There were actually quite a few legs assigned to the group.
When I returned to the states on leave in 1967, I wore standard dress field cap and khakis with low-quarters (shoes, not boots). I encountered only one person who objected to my wearing the shoulder patch and epaulette pins. In the airport in San Francisco, a buck sergeant (SF) came up to me and somewhat forcefully advised "Don't you think you should take off that insignia?" I replied that I had been in Signal Company and had paperwork authorizing it. He shrugged, grunted something (probably unprintable), and walked off. Matter closed.
I still have those two berets that I was issued in 1966. I will not put one on my head. I still feel that I am unworthy. It was shear luck that put me in the time and place to have ever had the shortlived honor of wearing that "Badge of Courage".
Today, I am occasionally asked about my Army time (I wear a Signal Corps emblem on my cap). When I state that my unit was the 5th Special Forces Group, they are usually surprised and ask "oh, you were a Green Beret?". To that, I readily explain that I was only "assigned" to the group for 18 months and allowed to wear a beret for a short while. I was NOT SF qualified, and therefore, was NOT a "Green Beret".
I was pleased to be able to recently join the Special Forces Association as an Associate Member. I hope I can uphold the cause and image of the Group.
Regarding the current (2001) Black Beret 'scandal'... I think the Army, including the
individuals and committees that decided for universal issue of the black beret
to all personnel was WRONG. Yes, even Generals can screw up!
Now, if they can only make it right!
I have seen first-hand the true meaning of Esprit de Corps when a group of highly trained individuals is tagged with such a distinctive emblem. It truly does set them apart from the common soldier. I believe that the Army would be wise to rescind that order ASAP. Time will tell, but I think that it will have no long-lasting positive effect.
Samuel J. Cook (formerly SP5, SigCo, 5th SFGA)
MOS 32C20 (leg)
(True story to the best of my knowledge. Written 14 May 2001. All rights reserved by S.J.Cook.)