At Arlington, Green Berets pay tribute to JFK

By MEREDITH TIBBETTS | STARS AND STRIPES Published: October 22, 2014

The eternal flame flickered and the sun hit the grave of President John F. Kennedy as just more than 30 Green Berets lined the area around the gravesite.

The U.S. Army Special Forces Command (Airborne) held a wreath-laying ceremony at Arlington National Cemetery on Oct. 21 in honor of John F. Kennedy’s vision and support of the Green Berets.

Though the Special Forces existed before JFK took the presidential oath, it was JFK who authorized the cap as the official headgear of the U.S. Army Special Forces.

“The challenge of this old but new form of operations is a real one and I know that you and the members of your Command will carry on for us and the free world in a manner which is both worthy and inspiring. I am sure the Green Beret will be a mark of distinction in the trying times ahead,” Kennedy wrote to Gen. William Yarborough at Fort Bragg in October 1961.

At the ceremony Tuesday, Secretary of the Army John McHugh laid the wreath at Kennedy’s gravesite along with Brig. Gen. Darsie Rogers and a nephew of Kennedy, William Kennedy Smith. There were several Green Berets and Special Forces in the audience as well as some who earned the Medal of Honor during Vietnam: Melvin Morris, Bennie Adkins and Roger Donlon.

Kennedy visited Yarborough and toured Fort Bragg shortly before he wrote that letter to him in 1961, when he presented the Special Forces with the Green Beret. Among the soldiers who spoke with him in 1961 was Clair Aldrich. Aldrich, who was in attendance Tuesday, was at Kennedy’s funeral in 1963. He said it was the saddest day of his life.

“The man, you could just look at him and see confidence," Aldrich said. The second saddest day for Aldrich was when he watched the assassination in Dallas over the television. 

The Green Berets expanded their force under JFK by adding four additional groups on active duty and four new groups in the National Guard and the Army Reserve, according to the John F. Kennedy Presidential Library.

“The Green Beret is again becoming a symbol of excellence, a badge of courage, a mark of distinction in the fight for freedom,” Kennedy wrote to the U.S. Army in 1962.

When Kennedy was assassinated in 1963, his family requested the Green Berets participate in the Honor Guard at his funeral.

“(Kennedy) got behind the Green Berets. They are a very highly trained group of people who travel all over the world helping other countries into their freedom process. He was the kind of guy that from his Second World War experience, he just made us so proud that he was behind us. We knew we had a president that was backing us up,” Aldrich said. “His death was just a terrible thing.”

“JFK, what he did in World War II, it just gave us the thrust we needed to go out there and be as much like him as we could. As for how I feel about it today, it makes me so dog-gone proud to come up here and participate in something like this. It’s unbelievable,” Aldrich added.


Roses rest near the grave of JFK after a Wreath Laying Ceremony with the U.S. Army's Green Berets.

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