The Green Beret was originally designated in 1953 by Special Forces Major Herbert Brucker, a veteran of the OSS. Later that year, 1st Lt. Roger Pezelle adopted it as the unofficial headgear for his A-team, Operational Detachment FA32. They wore it whenever they went to the field for prolonged exercises. Soon it spread throughout all of Special Forces, although the Army refused to authorize its official use.
Finally, in 1961, President Kennedy planned to visit Fort Bragg. He sent word to the Special Warfare Center commander, Brigadier General William P. Yarborough, for all Special Forces soldiers to wear their berets for the event. President Kennedy felt that since they had a special mission, Special Forces should have something to set them apart from the rest. Even before the presidential request, however, the Department of Army had acquiesced and teletyped a message to the Center authorizing the beret as a part of the Special Forces uniform.
When President Kennedy came to Fort Bragg October 12, 1961, General Yarborough wore his green beret to greet the Commander-in-Chief. The president remarked, “Those are nice. How do you like the green beret?” General Yarborough replied: “They’re fine, sir. We’ve wanted them a long time.”
A message from President Kennedy to General Yarborough later that day stated, “My congratulations to you personally for your part in the presentation today … 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 that the green beret will be a mark of distinction in the trying times ahead.”
In an April 11, 1962 White House memorandum for the United States Army, President Kennedy showed his continued support for the Special Forces, calling the green beret… “A symbol of excellence, a badge of courage, a mark of distinction in the fight for freedom.”