There are a few different types of Special forces berets that have been worn since their inception in 1952. The early types were made by Munich tailors in a three-piece construction, with a prominent seam running along the perimeter of the beret. Some of the early 1950’s berets were also procured locally around Fort Bragg and were rumored to look like Girl Scout beanies.
Around 1953, Dorothea Knitting Mills in Canada was contracted to make the forerunner of the “Rifle Green” beret that is seen and worn today (Simpson, 1983). It is commonly referred to as the “Fleur De Li’s” beret.
Up until 1961, wearing of the beret was prohibited because it was perceived as nonconformist and unmilitary by conventional commanders. Anyone found wearing a beret could face a court marshaling if caught. With the help of Col.Yardborough and President John F. Kennedy (a strong supporter of special operations), the beret became standard headgear for the Special Forces by 1962 (Simpson, 1983).
Shortly after the beret’s acceptance, the government began contracting it’s own version of the “Rifle Green” beret. They resemble the early “Fleur De Li’s” in that they have a leather band, two vent grommets, a flash stiffener, and a black three-piece cotton liner (which was often removed).
Berets were also reportedly purchased at the Fort Bragg PX. They had two vent grommets and a satiny gold quilted liner. There is also a plastic sweat shield with a slot for a small name tag. The paper tag that was provided with the beret had a Special Forces DI printed on it. I have also seen examples of this beret in royal blue wool with the “De Opresso Liber” card, but I have no idea what they were intended for other than being marketed for possible civilian purchase.
There were also private purchase green berets made by Bancroft. Period Bancrofts have two vent grommets and a gold quilted liner as well. The wool on the Bancroft beret is slightly lighter weight than the Canadian or government models. Also, Vietnam-era Bancrofts seem to be vulnerable to mothing. Bancrofts with the gold quilted lining will have either a cream or a black colored label. There are differing opinions as to which type of label is earlier.
Lastly, berets were procured locally when Special Forces personnel were serving in Thailand, Vietnam, Okinawa, etc. These berets generally have a vinyl (as opposed to leather) sweat band. Also, the wool is a three-piece construction like the early German-made berets. There are several other details regarding theater made berets, but they go beyond my level of expertise.
Examples of Vietnam Era Berets
This beret was used by Cpt. Freddie A. Kennedy from 5/68-5/69 while he served as an S-2 at C-Det Headquarters MI/AIS. The original lining was removed and replaced with leopard print by a tailor in Nha Trang in 1968. The beret is government contract with a US-made fully embroidered, cut-edge 5th GP flash. Kennedy sewed a subdued name tape to the lining. When the print on the name tape faded, he touched up his name with marker. Notice the two stainless vent grommets with the black paint completely worn off them.
This is an example of an early government contract “Rifle Green” 5th GP beret used by a non-officer. The liner retains the government nomenclature bearing the DSA 100- 1774, meaning that this beret falls between 1965-66. I have been told that pre 1965 government berets have a DSA 100 followed by two digits, as opposed to four. I have not found literature to verify this information. The distinctive insignia pinned through the flash is an early variant, where the crossed arrows rest inside an indention on the harp, instead of being fused directly on top of the harp like current DIs. The 5th GP flash is fully machine embroidered and cut-edge.
This is a salty 1967 dated, government contract beret was born by SFC RT Radio Op Lawrence R. Bogner (3-28-1937 to 7-4-1988). The JFK Special Warfare flash is a US cut edge. It is heavily soiled and there is green verdigris growing under the DI onto the flash. Bogner’s time spent in SE Asia is as follows:
- Thailand TDY (Dallas III) 11/24/1961-12/21/1961 SP4 from Co A, 1SFGA
- Saigon TDY 11/19/1962-05/23/1963 SGT from B-220, 1SFGA
- An Diem TDY 10/03/1963-04/05/1964 SGT from A-213, 1SFGA
- An Long TDY 09/11/1964-03/15/1965 SGT from A-213, 1SFGA
- B-57 some time in 1967 (do not have specific orders)