With a bagpiper warming up and the memorial’s eternal flame dancing in the sun, a handful of Green Berets assumed position around John F. Kennedy’s gravesite.
The Army’s 1st Special Forces Command was in attendance Tuesday at Arlington National Cemetery for the unit’s annual wreath-laying ceremony to honor the former president’s unwavering support for the Green Berets, Master Sgt. Eric Delph announced to a crowd of lawmakers, Gold Star families, members of the Kennedy family and military leaders, including the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.
“Today we acknowledge the enduring significance of President Kennedy’s vision to select the United States Army Special Forces as the premiere unit with which to meet the global security challenges of his presidency and of the present,” Delph said.
Although Special Forces traces its roots back before Kennedy’s ascension into the presidential office, the special bond that the youngest elected president built with the Green Berets, which celebrated its 70th anniversary this year, remains strong to this day.
In October 1961, after a visit to Fort Bragg, North Carolina — still the home of Army Special Forces — Kennedy wrote a letter of support to then-Brig. Gen. William P. Yarborough, commander of the Army’s Special Warfare Center. Soon after, the president authorized the green beret as the official headgear for all Army Special Forces.
The next April, Kennedy penned a White House memo, stating, “the ‘green beret’ is again becoming a symbol of excellence, a badge of courage, a mark of distinction in the fight for freedom.”
Members of the 3d U.S. Infantry Regiment — The Old Guard — joined the Green Berets at the event, which included a performance by the U.S. Army Band and a rendition of “Amazing Grace” on the bagpipes.
In a mark of tradition, Command Sgt. Maj. Ted Munter knelt before Kennedy’s grave during the ceremony and carefully placed his green beret on the flat headstone. The custom began in 1963 after Kennedy’s assassination, when Command Sgt. Maj. Francis J. Ruddy, one of the original Green Berets assigned to guard the president’s gravesite, set his own cap down in a gesture of respect, Delph said.
“Since their establishment in 1952, Green Berets at Fort Bragg and across the globe have gone above and beyond the call of duty to defend the United States in combat theaters worldwide,” Congressman Richard Hudson (R-NC), who attended the ceremony, said in June on the command’s 70th anniversary.
There are approximately 6,775 active-duty Green Berets and more than 1,300 in the National Guard, according to a pamphlet distributed during the event.
Jonathan is a staff writer and editor of the Early Bird Brief newsletter for Military Times. Follow him on Twitter @lehrfeld_media