Frequently, we get emails or tweets here at SpecialOperations.com in the realm of questions about the training and the qualification course. Many of course deal with Selection and I have to tell people that the Instructors don’t actually kill anyone during the events and one doesn’t have to be 10-feet tall to pass. But one I got last week was different and an intriguing one so I’ve decided to post it and address it in our post today.
J.P- wrote, “as a young man getting ready to attempt Selection soon, I was wondering if you can reccomend (sic) any books that deal with Special Forces, specifically SF history and maybe some that aren’t as well known as others.”
Consider it done. The history of SF doesn’t really begin just with Aaron Bank and the SF of 1952. The OSS in World War II, with the Jedburghs and the Operational Groups (OGs) were the first true forerunners to what SF and CIA became down the road. There are plenty of great books about the beginnings of OSS and Special Forces and we’re compiling a list of some of the definitive great books to read in that regard.
But for today, if you want to understand where you are and where you’re going as a candidate in Special Forces, then look to the past. Special Forces got its reputation during many years of combat during the Vietnam conflict. And the more you can learn about the men and operations of that era then you can gain an understanding of what you are about to attempt.
“War Stories of the Green Berets”, The Vietnam Experience, by Hans Halberstadt is a great book for not only the military history enthusiast but for the potential candidates who someday hope to wear the Green Beret.
Halberstadt has done dozens of interviews with former Special Forces soldiers who fought in Vietnam and the stories are always intriguing, oftentimes funny and many times sobering.
Many of the legends of Special Forces tell their stories. Among them, Martha “Maggie” Raye, a Hollywood entertainer and trained nurse who would visit the austere SF A-camps and during rough times would pitch in and work as a nurse. Colonel Maggie as she was affectionately known by the SF troops, always preferred the Sergeants company to that of the officers and could drink many of those sergeants under the table.
Dan Pitzer (RIP), was the senior medic on an A-Team that got ambushed in 1963, during the ambush while moving up to help one of the Vietnamese, Pitzer broke his leg. Lt. Nick Rowe tried to help Pitzer but was clubbed from behind and both men were taken, prisoner. Pitzer spent the first year of captivity alone in solitary confinement. He set his own leg by suspending himself from the tiger cage bars and straightening his leg by hanging from it. He and Rowe spent a considerable amount of time as prisoners together.
Years later Pitzer would work for SERE Committee at the JFK Special Warfare Center that Colonel Rowe started after their return. In those days, you already had to be Special Forces qualified to go to SERE. Pitzer got up in front of the class, gave a long presentation on his experiences as a POW, his treatment by the Viet Cong and how he was subsequently “released” from captivity. He had a room of hardcore SF guys captivated. You could hear a pin drop. His story in the book about Christmas Eve as a POW is a must read.
Jon Caviani, who was awarded a Medal of Honor for valor in Vietnam and who spent time as a POW told some funny stories some sad and an eye-opener about killing an NVA sentry with a knife. His remembrances on the Medal of Honor and the hassles of remaining in the Army while being a Medal of Honor awardee as well being one while n Delta was interesting and different than one would expect. The secretive Delta Force wasn’t worried about Caviani’s experience level but his public profile, but they needn’t have worried, he didn’t give speeches, make appearances nor attend any functions.
Jim Morris, the former Special Forces officer who authored a few books, “War Story” one of which that should be required reading for Special Forces candidates. Morris later worked as a journalist for Soldier of Fortune magazine. One of his stories was made into a film, “Operation Dumbo Drop.” In this book, Morris penned a sarcastic piece that only someone who served in the military could understand with the jargon and acronyms that was wryly brilliant.
Vernon Gillespie was a Captain and Commander of a Special Forces A-Team in 1964 at Buon Brieng when the Montagnards, sick of oppression by the lowland Vietnamese revolted. Gillespie’s camp was the only one of six in the area that didn’t revolt. The Army sacked all of the Special Forces officers as if they were responsible. Gillespie became the first face of Special Forces in the mainstream when National Geographic ran a story on him. It coincidentally was my own first glimpse into what would become my own life, when reading it while visiting my grandmother’s house.
Halberstadt’s book is definitely worth the read, I understand a newer version is now available and has been expanded with modern stories woven in. That is fantastic because the book was already a great read. I absolutely recommend this one as a fantastic read, as the stories are quick, easy to read and gives a glimpse of what being a Green Beret was truly like in Vietnam.
In the near future, we’ll have some other books to choose from and have a “required reading list” for Special Forces troops.