Not too long ago, I read an article about President Kennedy’s visit to Ft. Bragg in October 1961. It was during this visit that JFK made the green beret the official headgear of Special Forces. This brought back a lot of memories from those days, which I thought I would share with members of the Special Operations community.
I was a 1st Lt. in the “other unit” that made up the Special Warfare Center, the 1st Psywar Battalion. (Broadcast & Loud Speaker). It was shortly after returning from Laos (Operation White Star) that our Battalion Commander assigned me as Psywar Project officer for the presidential visit. Because the event was three months away, I thought there would be time for some leave, a little fishing, some golf maybe and working with my unit.
This was fanciful thinking on my part which became abundantly clear at the first planning conference chaired by Gen. Yarborough, commander of the Special Warfare Center. At that meeting and the many others that followed, the degree of effort and intensity that went into every detail carried the message that this was to be more than putting your best boot forward for the commander-in-chief. It was as if the viability of the Special Forces as a continuing part of the Army’s ability to respond to a variety of national security threats was dependent on the success of the visit. President Kennedy, of course, was already invested in the Special Forces, so perhaps what they wanted was for this face-to-face experience to be an affir-mation of the confidence he had in Special Forces.
What it all translated into was a full-time job for all the project offi-cers and the focal point for most of Ft. Bragg’s activities for the ensuing three months. The first major milestone of the project was a full-dress rehearsal of the entire show to be presented to members of the Dept. of Army and DOD staff, six weeks prior to the visit. By that time, preparations were well underway, such as dredging the lake at the site of the outdoor briefing and building the road that would be used by the vehicles carrying exhibits past the reviewing stands constructed for the demonstration.
If there was any doubt about the significance that was attached to this event, it was dispelled when the Pentagon entourage ascended the reviewing stand to watch the rehearsal. Ten stars twinkled in the sunlight that day as the five general officers surveyed what had been agonized over the previous six weeks. Their critique of what had been prepared at that point in the process had us going back to the drawing board to rework most of the presentation. It didn’t put things back on square one, but we were not past square two. A second pentagon review was scheduled and the time and effort of everyone involved was redoubled in order to meet that timeline with a product that would satisfy the purpose of the occasion. This was accomplished as so many things of this nature are in the military – hard work by dedicated people who want to do the very best they can for their organization and their country.