- United States Army Special Forces in popular culture
United States Army Special Forces in popular culture often begins with a
United States Army Special Forces soldieremphatically telling you that the "Green Beret" is a hat and not the man who wears it. Nevertheless, for a time in the 1960s the Green Beret and the men who wore them became a national fadencompassing a wide variety of pop culture.
oldiers of the New Frontier
U.S. Army Special Forceswere created with a low profile in 1952, and the green beret was not officially authorized, things changed dramatically with President John F. Kennedy. He wanted to challenge Communist influence and wars of liberation in the recently decolonized Third World, and bolster pro-American regimes with the U.S. Army's own special forcesand counter-guerrilla fighters.
On 12 October 1961, Kennedy visited the U.S. Special Warfare Center, where his aide,
Major GeneralChester V. Clifton (and friend of the SWC Commander, BG William P. Yarborough) informed Yarborough that the President was keen on the Special Forces — but would not visit the SF base unless they were wearing their green berets. The Army, having previously forbidden the green beret, allowed the soldiers to wear them, lest JFK not visit. [Halberstadt, Hans "The Green Berets: Unconventional Warriors" Presidio Press (1988)] The Special Forces displayed their capabilities, impressing the President; so often, in the next years, that they referred to it as "Disneyland". President Kennedy's visit was topped with a Bell Aircraftpilot (dressed in Army fatigues) flying with a rocket beltto the President, and saluting him.
Kennedy approved of the Green Beret, and the U.S. Army authorised it. In 1962, he called the green beret "a symbol of excellence, a badge of courage, a mark of distinction in the fight for freedom". Special Forces soldiers in berets and dress Greens were President Kennedy's cortege in 1963. An SF beret was photographed atop his grave at
Arlington National Cemetery.
The first U.S. Army aviator (pilot) to receive the Green Beret was author Robert Skimin. [ [http://www.robertskimin.com/biograph.html Robert Skimin Biography ] ]
The Special Forces have appeared in cinema. The 1st Special Forces Group on
Okinawaprovided a number of troopers to act as extras in director Samuel Fuller's "Merrill's Marauders" (1961) and were credited at film's start. On U.S. television, a March 1962 episode of " Surfside 6" is titled "The Green Beret" and featured SF training. Henry Fondaappeared in, and narrated, a 1962 "Special Forces" episode of "The Big Picture" series of U.S. Army-produced films that found their way to U.S. television. In 1963, a Green Beret appeared in the episode " In Praise of Pip" of "The Twilight Zone" though the U.S. Army told the CBStelevision network to not name Southeast Asian country where the story occurred. The Green Beret's first Hollywood appearance is in the science fiction film " Seven Days in May" (1963) wherein Andrew Dugganis a Special Forces officer loyal to the U.S. President, not the traitorous JCS Chief Burt Lancaster; the film also gave the U.S. filmgoer a first glimpse of the M16 rifle. Matteltoys made "Guerrilla Fighter" playsets in 1962 containing a commando green beret with an interesting tin "Guerrilla Fighter" badge depicting the crossed arrows insignia of the Special Forces, (formerly worn by the 1st Special Service Force, and before that the U.S. Army Indian Scouts) and a jungle knife in front of a parachute. The set also contained the Mattel Dick Tracyautomatic cap firing " tommy gun" or " Scattergun" (the Dick Tracy cap firing no longer water firing riot shotgun) toy weapons, both now in military camouflageplastic, a military camouflaged poncho, and in some sets, a rubber Ka-Barknife and a tripwire booby trap. Mattel later made the "M-16 Marauder", in 1966, which appeared in "The Green Berets" film wherein an enraged John Waynesmashes one against a tree.
The public was fascinated with this new type of soldier of the
New Frontier, and the Army reluctantly gave journalists' access to many of Special Forces often top secretmissions. One writer was Robin Moore, who used his connections with Harvard Universityclassmate Robert F. Kennedyto write a book about the Special Forces. The U.S. Army agreed on the condition that Moore (then 38 years old) complete the Basic Airborne Course and SF training before being allowed to visit the Special Forces in South Vietnam.
Robin Moore successfully completed the courses and was allowed to live with the soldiers in Special Forces and their South Vietnamese,
Montagnard, and Nung mercenaryallies. His book, " The Green Berets", was published in 1965, but, because he mentions the American presence in North Vietnamand Cambodia, he published "The Green Berets" as a novel. The U.S. Army was upset by the book; the reading public was not and it became a best selling book, especially its paperback edition in 1966.
At the time of Moore's book and the increasing U.S. Military involvement in the
Vietnam War, a Special Forces Staff Sergeantnamed Barry Sadlerwrote a song with Robin Moore and recorded it under the title the " Ballad of the Green Berets". It became the number-one-single-record in the U.S. in 1966. In addition to the single, Sadler released an album "Ballads of the Green Berets" with Sadler's photograph of him in a green beret appearing on the single, the LP, and on the paperback cover of Moore's "The Green Berets". SSgt. Sadler later recorded an additional, but lesser, song "The A-Team" and released two more long-playing albums, and wrote his autobiography, "I'm A Lucky One".
"Ballad of the Green Berets" had many
cover versions ranging from Ennio Morriconeand Duane Eddyto " Drugstore records" on labels such as Diplomat and Wyncote records. Hanna-Barbera Recordsreleased a children's LP "The Story of the Green Beret" available to members of the G.I. Joeclub. The album was a tie-inwith the release of the G.I. Joe Green Beret " action figure" (doll) that had appeared in 1966. The exciting record had an album coverof Special Forces in action and a picture of the Medal of Honor. The record started off with a cover version of "Ballad of the Green Berets" but was a spoken account with sound effectsof a Coloneltaking two small boys to visit Fort Bragg, North Carolina, to learn about the training and capabilities of "The Green Berets". The album then featured an exciting account of the Battle of Nam Dongwhere Captain Roger Donlonreceived the first Medal of Honor in the Vietnam War.
A less successful song was
Nancy Ames' "He Wore The Green Beret" with a flip side of "War is a Card Game". Dickie Goodmanpitted the two fads of 1966 against each other in "Batman and His Grandmother" where the Caped Crusader went up against the Green Beret.
Robin Moore also wrote a 1965 "
Tales of the Green Beret" newspaper comic stripwith artwork by Sgt. Rock (comics) Joe Kubertthat was also published in paperback. It later became a Dell Publishing American comic bookin 1967 replacing their earlier "Jungle War Stories" and "Guerrilla War" comics. When DC Comics's Larry Rock (brother of the Sergeant), the replacement in " Our Fighting Forces" for the Marines Gunner and Sarge and their dog Pooch proved unpopular, DC replaced him with a Green Beret named Captain Hunter in 1966. Captain Hunter's adventures featured him hunting for his twin brother, a pilot shot down and captured by the Viet Cong. Other war comicsput in their own Green Beret characters, such as Lightning Comics' "Todd Holton-Super Green Beret" (1967) [http://www.geocities.com/thoughtviper/holton/th.html] .
Children of all ages could also enjoy
Philadelphia Gum"Men of the Green Beret" trading cardsof photographs of the Special Forces in action with a stick of bubble gum. The artwork on the box was by famed artist Norm Saundersof " Mars Attacks" fame. Aurora Models came out with a model of a Green Beret soldier.
With all the interest in the men of the Green Berets, a film version seemed a long time in coming.
Columbia Pictureshad bought the film rightsto Robin Moore's book before publication, using the title, "The Green Berets", for a screenplayabout the training of an SF Team and their deployment in Southeast Asia, but dropped the idea, because of the U.S. Army's many conditions and the U.S. public's dissatisfaction with the Vietnam War. Producer David L. Wolperthen bought the rights to "The Green Berets", and dropped the idea for reasons like Columbia Pictures. Although he later produced " The Devil's Brigade" (1968) with Utah-based National Guard SF soldiers as extras, wearing attractive, but imaginary "red" berets.
Thus, it fell to John Wayne to buy the rights and ask President
Lyndon Johnson's help in obtaining the assistance and cooperation of the Pentagon in filming the book. The Army set strict conditions, forbidding Moore to work on or be associated with the film, though the film trailerhas the caption "TOLD TOUGH - LIKE THE BOOK". Despite Wayne's box officeprestige and public interest in "The Green Berets", the film was rejected by Universal Picturesand Paramount Pictures. Wayne's preferred film composer, Elmer Bernstein, refused to write the score. Wayne used his Batjac Productionsmoney to make the film, which Warner Bros.profitably released to some public protest.
John Wayne's version of Robin Moore's "The Green Berets" begins with a choral version of the "
Ballad of the Green Berets" heard behind Wayne Fitzgerald's titles that segueto an SF A-Team putting on a "Disneyland" show for journalists, including skeptical David Janssen. From SF Colonel John Wayne, reporter Janssen wangles a trip to the Vietnam War, and, eventually, participates in a large-scale battle, based on the Battle of Nam Dong, in the event, Janssen tells Wayne "If I write what I feel, I'll be out of a job". Wayne tells Janssen he'll always have one with them.
The last third of the film is Green Beret expertise in a
commandomission to abduct a North Vietnamese Generalwho has been seduced by the "sister-in-law" of an ARVN Special Forces Colonel Jack SooWayne's counterpart. The climax is a superb demonstration of combativesby former- Tarzan Mike Henrykilling a horde of Viet Congwho attack him, even impaling one on a low tree branch. The martial artsinspired many film producers. Tom Laughlinmade a highly profitable American International Picturesfilm called " The Born Losers" (1967) featuring Billy Jack, a half-American Indian former Green Beret Vietnam War veteran using his martial arts on a motorcycle gang. The 1971 American International Picturesfilm "Chrome and Hot Leather" features SF men Tony Young, Peter Brown, and Marvin Gayeusing their training and Vietnam War experience to avenge the murder of Young's girlfriend by William Smith's motorcycle gang. The film postershows a uniformed Green Beret using a biker as a sub-human punching bag with the unforgettable tagline: "DON'T MUCK AROUND WITH A GREEN BERET'S MAMA! HE'LL TAKE HIS CHOPPER AND RAM IT DOWN YOUR THROAT!"
As the public wearied of the Green Berets, so did the American
Regular Army. There were feelings that the 1969 Colonel Robert Rheault"Green Beret Murder Case" (wherein the Col. and seven men were tried for assassinating a Communist spy) was used as a discrediting tacticagainst the Special Forces proper. [ Stein, Jeff "A Murder in Wartime: The Untold Spy Story That Changed the Course of the Vietnam War" St Martins Mass Market Paper (1993)] In 1972, author David Morrellpublished First Blood, a novel that features a former member of the Army Special Forces named John James Rambo. The novel focuses on the struggle Rambo faces when he attempts to return to civilian life following the end of his tour of duty in Vietnam, and he eventually turns to violence. In 1982, a film adaptation of the novel was released, starring Sylvester Stalloneas John Rambo. The film altered many aspects of the novel, including excising the self-loathing characteristics the protagonist possesses in the novel [http://www.davidmorrell.net/faq.cfm] . The film was a box office success [http://boxofficemojo.com/movies/?id=firstblood.htm] , and spawned a series of three additional films.
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