Is there any song in history more translated, converted, twisted and parodied that Barry Sadler’s1 The Ballad of the Green Berets? We’re probably too close to the issue to have an opinion, but it sure seems like that to us. In SF, particularly, the song is more likely to be lampooned than taken seriously.
In any event, here’s something that we had lying around. It dates from 1971, when SF “left Vietnam” — at least, when 5th Special Forces Group (Airborne) cased its colors, to fly them again back home at Fort Bragg, NC. This created a problem for the Military Assistance Command Vietnam (MAC-V) Studies & Observations Group (formerly, Special Operations Group) — the clandestine joint element whose key Ground Studies Group ran, among other things, SF-led reconnaissance teams into denied areas. SOG’s Army elements had always been “covered” for status with an assignment to 5th SF, which was no longer possible.
The compromise was the creation of new cover units: for each Vietnamese Corps or equivalent task force, there’s be a TF “Advisory Element,” technically subordinate to US Army Vietnam (USARV). Advisory, my eye; they just kept running recon with combined American/Indigenous teams. But because the new cover unit was not SF, the men couldn’t wear their hard-won green berets in camp any more. Instead, they had to don the issue baseball cap, with rank (and, optionally, parachute badge). If you were a Marine, you might say that they had to wear a cover cover.
Sounds like a cue for a Ballad of the Green Berets parody, if ever there was one:
Fighting Soldiers from the sky,
Fearless men who cheat and lie,
All they do is eat and nap
The brave men of the Baseball Cap.
Faced with hardships their spirits sag,
Cause they’re assigned to USARV TAG
Why not take their pay away?
They don’t jump no more, no way.
Put Baseball Caps upon their heads
Make them wish that they were dead.
Throw your Rolex watch away,
You have to look like legs today.
USARV’s the patch they wear,
Why not grow long flowing hair?
Go downtown and buy some grass,
You’ll soon forget you’ve got the ass.
Take their Wings right off their chest.
Take away their special crest.
One hundred men will test to day,
Don’t let them wear the Green Beret.
Put Silver Wings on my son’s chest.
Make him one of America’s Best.
He’ll want to be just like his Pap.
So issue him a Baseball Cap
This command directive wasn’t always followed in all things, and it’s very unlikely the reflagging fooled anybody: certainly not the intelligence organizations of the PAVN and its international sponsors.
Fortunately, theres a happy ending for men of the baseball cap: after the war they have always been recognized as an SF unit, even if they had to fib about it at the time. Even the few recon-runners that were not SF qualified at the time were awarded the tab and qualification administratively after the war; they’d proven that they earned it.
Incidentally, the departure of SF from Vietnam was at the insistence of MAC-V commander General Creighton Abrams, who loathed SF (and all paratroops, and all football backs, all of whom he thought of as glory hounds). This personality tic of Abrams rubbed off on some of his protégés, like Bernard Rogers, and led to decades of ill will between Big Green and SF. (Abrams did play on the West Point football team, then one of college football’s finest, as a youth. Naturally, he was a lineman). Abrams wanted SF gone, but he didn’t want to give up his daily intel dope-fix of SOG reports!
1. The song is actually credited to Barry Sadler and Robin Moore. The two were friends and drinking buddies, and Robin told us that his contribution was that he wrote the words to the last verse: the one that begins, “Back at home, a young wife waits.” In Sadler’s original, the mother of the dead young soldier’s son was a Saigon bar girl! Robin also said he was instrumental in getting Sadler a recording contract, and Sadler repaid the favor by posing for the cover of the paperback of Moore’s The Green Berets.