Army dumps beret as official ACU [Army Combat Uniform] headgear

Army Times

My generation is conflicted: John Wayne in the movie Green Berets versus Brigitte Bardot in a Frenchie beanie-beret cooing “Love is a broken gas main.” “Airborne soldiers from the sky…” versus some Pernod-sucking Gauloises-puffing thin-mustachioed denizen of a dark Parisian café.

During my ‘Nam era ROTC/Ranger training they literally dangled a black Kangol beret in front of our noses—or as our noses were usually buried in mud, at least held it where we could see it—to encourage, um, morale. I along with many other military history buffs knew about British and Commonwealth berets. Whether the beret tipped to the left, right, or just sat there flat as a pancake with a tassel on top was a test of international military knowledge as essential as recognizing other uniforms items or rank insignia.  

I bought into the beret big time. Shaping it wet onto an upside-down bowel the size of your head is an art—they pre-shape now. Knowing how to place the beret’s front edge straight across your brow, tug on the back edge, then tug on the right tip so the flash stood straight is part of the initiation rites into an elite unit. Donning one changes your life. Of course—like Indiana Jones’ hat—it looks better on some people than it does on others. I still have my “morgue photo” studio picture for back-page article which would have been titled: Local area man killed in (fill in the blank). Long since bald with a grey fringe I fondly recall having to push my dark curly locks from my forehead up under the beret’s front edge before the shoot.

Later when I was on the Philadelphia Crime Commission, Curtis Sliwa, founder of the Guardian Angels turned loose on urban streets guys—and gals—sporting red berets. The gals, including his then-wife Lisa who I met in New York City, sold the look. Other fashion statements by rockers, hipsters, models, and ethnics were often dubious and less successful

Then came the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and the whole US Army is wearing berets. Ex-NFL football player Pat Tillman, in a publicity still taken before he was killed by friendly fire in Afghanistan, is shown wearing the tan beret that replaced the Ranger black beret when the black beret went force-wide. For better and worse it became the signature headgear of the Global War on Terrorism (GWOT)—or whatever it’s now called—as recognizable as the French Foreign Legion kepi. As US fortunes rose and fell over the past decade the popularity of the beret with the troops, such as it was, seems to have dissipated.

(For details and photos see Wikipedia article)

I close with the sage words of a Green Beret major and my CO [commanding office] (who also had SAS [Special Air Service—“sand-colored” beret] training in Malaysia) that the only thing a beret is good for is keeping the tip of one ear warm! But I still consider the military beret classic, even iconic.

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