Don Bendell: Green Berets, ‘What were they, daddy?’
fayobserver.com · by
I just learned that the USA Special Operations Command is closing the JFK Special Warfare Museum at Fort Bragg. Closing this museum is destroying a legacy of military history that should always be revered and remembered, the legacy of the Green Berets. There are a number of major branches and elite units in the military, and each has at least one museum commemorating their exploits. For example, in Fayetteville is the Airborne & Special Operations Museum, but that is not specifically about Green Berets.
In a ceremony at Fort Bragg in 1961 involving Special Forces Commanding General William Yarborough, President John F. Kennedy made the Green Beret the official headgear of the U.S. Army Special Forces, saying that the beret was “‘a symbol of excellence, a badge of courage, and a badge of distinction in the fight for freedom.” For every 100 men who tried, fewer than three earned a Green Beret. It is still that way today. Now, some want to erase the opportunity for visitors and veterans’ families to see a visual memorial to heroic events in military history accomplished by their grandfathers, uncles, brothers, fathers, sons and friends.
Six years after that 1961 ceremony, I earned my own Green Beret. Forty-some years later, two of my sons earned theirs. Now, one of them and myself are 100% disabled vets and another still serves. I have a right to complain, and so does everybody who ever earned a Green Beret.
There has always been a healthy rivalry, but mutual respect, among all service branches and units within. However, with more emphasis on Special Operations, the USA Special Forces comes under the overall command of flag officers who are sometimes from other branches and who do not care about our legacy. Or else it gets lost in the shuffle.
Although I had not seen her or talked to her for several years, Roxanne Merritt has been the curator of the museum for many decades — even becoming best friends with Honorary Green Beret and comedienne LTC Martha Raye back in the 1960s. Merritt has dedicated her whole adult life to creating and nurturing this legacy and is part of this living history. With a master’s degree in museum curating, Roxanne and her staff for over a half a century have created a living testament to these brave men and their exploits worldwide, becoming beloved by Green Berets past and present.
Graduating classes of Green Berets and their families always look forward to visiting this museum next to the JFK Special Warfare Center. Like she has with others over the years, Merritt took my sons in when they went through Special Forces qualification, and they love her like family, like most Green Berets do. This is our museum and history and many of us have donated money and artifacts to it. Dedicated professionals like Betty Amaker, longtime manager of the museum bookstore, will also be affected.
I always said I would not mind going through all the Bravo Sierra I put up with during the Vietnam War, as long as the military learned lessons from its mistakes. We obviously have not. It is very easy for Chairborne Rangers and professional politicians to send other people’s sons and daughters into harm’s way at their whim. It is also very easy for a politician or a general or admiral to sit in an office and make decisions to end long-standing traditional institutions, simply because they think it is a good idea or they are jealous or a certain unit.
If we erase our links to the past, we more easily will repeat the mistakes of the past. It is up to veterans like me and others to zealously protect the legacy of valor and honor given us by our fallen brothers and sisters who are not here to speak for themselves or their families. If the most powerful man in the world at the time, President John F. Kennedy, felt it was important enough to travel to Fort Bragg to recognize the Green Beret as a symbol for something very special, who has the right to hit the delete button on its history?
Get on the phone, mail, or email and raise hell with political and military leaders about this. This is an attack and destruction of the physical representation of the history of the U.S. Army Special Forces, the Green Berets. Ask the Nation of Israel, ask Native Americans or African-Americans if it is a good idea to destroy the history of any group of people. We are seeing history being rewritten for political expedience right now, and doing so is a tactic of despots and dictators.
Too many brave women and men spilled their blood in foreign lands in the cause of freedom, and if we forget what they did, or erase it, we have forgotten what we stand for in America and have erased our honor along with it.
Don Bendell is a best-selling author who was nominated for the Pulitzer Prize in 2011. He is a 100% disabled Green Beret captain and Vietnam combat veteran, and a 1995 inductee into the International Karate and Kickboxing Hall of Fame. He and his wife and co-author, Dr. Janet Bendell, own the Strongheart Ranch south of Florence, Colorado.They co-authored a motivational book on the myths of toxic masculinity; it is also a memoir, “Real Men are Cowboys & Women Love Them,” which was released in February.
fayobserver.com · by