Friday, November 18, 2011

War Diaries and Green Berets

War Diaries
I’m thrilled at the positive response to The Boldest Plan is the Best: The Combat History of the 509th Parachute InfantryBattalion during WWII.  We’ve had some positive feedback from readers, and the most exciting is the letters I’ve received from two WWII veterans that I had not heard from prior to the release of the book.  I’ve also had an email from the son of a 509th veteran who was looking for more detailed information on his dad’s service.  This last item is what prompted us to add another primary source document to the website.  The S-3 Journal and the Headquarters Company War Diary for November 1943 has been posted.  These documents cover the period of time that the gingerbread men were on Mt. Croce in the Venafro area of Italy.

So what is a “war diary”?  Military units down to the company level are required to keep a daily journal of their activities during periods of combat.  They are focused on the administration and operations of the unit, and as such often list the names of soldiers killed and wounded, or returned or departed for leave, school, or hospital.  However, that is not a requirement and just as often the document will only list numbers.  These journals are found at the National Archives and Records Administration along with After Action Reports, Operations Orders, and other official documents.  Together with veteran’s oral histories tell the story of what a military unit did in combat to complete the historical record and help the military improve its training and doctrine.

50 Years of Green Berets
November 17th marks the 50th anniversary of President John F. Kennedy authorizing Special Forces to wear the distinctive green beret.  The Special Forces were formed in 1952, but the President personally approved the wearing of their unique headgear in 1961.  I note that date here because two of the former commanders of the 509th Parachute Infantry Battalion, Colonel Edson Raff and Lieutenant General William Yarborough, were instrumental in bringing about the President’s authorization.  That story is contained in the epilogue of "The Boldest Plan is the Best," so I won't post it again here. An article in Army Times tells us, though, that even though the Green Berets have expanded their 8,500 man force by 1,000 over the last four years they might have to fight for their share of the budget pie.  We’re reminded that the Special Forces were formed for the express purpose of training indigenous troops and conducting counter insurgency operations.  Let’s keep our terminology straight: Army Green Berets are officially designated “Special Forces.”  They and any other organization that performs a special mission from any other service branch (like Navy Seals) are collectively called “special operations” units. 

For those that might be wondering, let me save you the time of looking up the history of the other colors of berets worn by the American Army.  Of course, the maroon beret was authorized for wear by the 509th Parachute Infantry Battalion in 1942 as honorary members of the British Parachute Regiment.  However, that headgear was never officially recognized as a uniform item by the American Army.  Berets of various colors were worn unofficially be various special operations units during Korea and Vietnam.  In 1973, as a morale building venture, local commanders were allowed to approve distinctive headgear for their command.  As a result airborne units chose to wear a maroon beret while the ranger battalions wore a black beret.  Non-standardization in other units (like the cav wearing their Stetsons) prompted the policy on headgear to be rescinded temporarily in 1979.  By 1980 the regulation was in place for airborne units to wear the maroon and rangers to wear the black beret.  As another move to boost the morale of conventional units, the Army chose to make the black beret a standard uniform item for all soldiers in 2001.  In that year, the rangers switched to a tan beret.  The color was chosen to honor the buckskin berets worn by the original Roger’s Rangers of the French and Indian War.  The airborne continues to wear the maroon beret and Special Forces the green.

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