The Green Beret has a long history. It began its life as an elite combat unit in the French Foreign Legion in the 1800’s. For the next century, the Green Beret was used as a special unit in the US Army and Marines, first as an amphibious force and later as conventional forces. The Green Beret is still in use today, though in a number of different units.

When I was deployed to Vietnam, I was assigned to Green Beret Detachment 2-3 as an advisor to a native tribesman unit. In order for our units to work together, we were trained in a number of joint skills, including language and cultural training.

For a long time, the Vietnam War was regarded as a failure, and the U.S. was hard-pressed to explain how over 4 million tons of bombs had been dropped on the country, and the U.S. military had not won a single battle there. However, for many, especially the soldiers who fought there, the war was not a failure. For them, it was a brief but intense period of their lives that shaped their character and made them realize who they are. In honor of their service, we would like to share the personal photos of the men and women who served in Vietnam, and today, we are proud to present you with the works of John C. Chambers, who took the photographs during his tour of duty. Read more about green berets and let us know what you think.

The first of a four-part photo series on US Special Operations units in Vietnam.

The United States Army Special Forces, often known as the Green Berets, rose to prominence after their achievements in Vietnam, but their roots can be traced back to World War II’s 1st Special Service Force, the Office of Strategic Services, and the Alamo Scouts.

Green Berets in Action: Photos from Vietnam

President John F. Kennedy approved the green beret as part of the Special Forces uniform in 1961, after it was created in 1953.

The 10th Special Forces Group was established in June 1952 under the command of Col. Aaron Bank. In May 1960, the unit was renamed the 7th Special Forces Group. The Special Forces were formed too late in the Korean War to play a meaningful role, so they developed their skills and ideology in the crucible of Vietnam.

The Special Forces forces, who were directly subordinate to the US Special Operations Command, were ready and able to work with foreign partners if the situation dictated it. Their rigorous training allowed them to carry out a wide range of tasks, including creating village medical facilities and engaging in covert or overt combat.


  • Green Berets in Action: Photos from Vietnam

    In 1964, Special Forces Capt. Vernon Gillespie Jr. uses a walkie-talkie radio to communicate with troops from Vietnam’s Montagnard ethnic group. / Photo: Getty Images

  • Green Berets in Action: Photos from Vietnam

    In 1967, a school run by the 5th Special Forces Group in Nha Trang gives cadets a three-week course in long-range reconnaissance patrols skills. / Photo: Getty Images

  • Green Berets in Action: Photos from Vietnam

    On Oct. 1, 1969, Special Forces commander Col. James Lilland works in the field with local militias. / Photo: Getty Images

  • Green Berets in Action: Photos from Vietnam

    As South Vietnamese and Montagnard troops fight to regain an outpost captured by the Viet Cong near Ha Thanh on September 1, 1968, a doctor administers to a wounded Special Forces man. Larry Burrows/Associated Press

  • Green Berets in Action: Photos from Vietnam

    Gillespie’s Special Forces personnel teach a South Vietnamese striking group how to use the.30-caliber machine gun. / Photo: Getty Images

  • Green Berets in Action: Photos from Vietnam

    While South Vietnamese soldiers burn a Viet Cong stronghold, Gillespie telephones his base camp. / Getty Images

  • Green Berets in Action: Photos from Vietnam

    After a meal of buffalo meat for his men and their Montagnard hosts, Gillespie supervises cleanup. / Photo: Getty Images

  • Green Berets in Action: Photos from Vietnam

    On April 2, 1968, Capt. John Gantt rides an elephant in front of Montagnard residents in Tra Bong. Gantt spearheaded an initiative to transfer elephants 200 miles to a mountainous area for labor in a lumber industry by cargo plane and chopper. Eddie Adams/AP Photo

  • Green Berets in Action: Photos from Vietnam

    On September 3, 1968, U.S. Special Forces and South Vietnamese troops retake a hilltop stronghold near Ha Thanh after two days of action. Dana Stone/Associated Press

  • Green Berets in Action: Photos from Vietnam
  • Green Berets in Action: Photos from Vietnam

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The diversity of skills that the Special Forces must master, including a variety of weaponry (including enemy weaponry), airborne operations, and foreign languages, is what makes them “special.”

The Army can deploy Special Forces units as an economy of force tactic since they have restricted but highly targeted skills. In 1987, the Army’s Special Forces were acknowledged as a separate branch. From Laos in 1959 to Afghanistan in 2023, they are ready to take on a range of assignments wherever they are sent. V

This article first published in Vietnam magazine’s June 2023 issue. Subscribe to Vietnam magazine and follow us on Facebook for more stories:

Green Berets in Action: Photos from Vietnam

This article broadly covered the following related topics:

  • green berets
  • green beret training
  • what is a green beret
  • green beret motto
  • green berets vietnam
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