Origin of the Black Beret

Provided by Fred McDavitt

It was born out of necessity. I was the first CO of RIVER SECTION 531 out of My Tho, VN. We arrived in country in the March/April 1966 timeframe, and had to train with the Swift Boats and USCG WPBs because the first Pbrs had not yet arrived in country. (Think about this - the first time the original Pbr sailors saw a Pbr is when they went into combat. But that's another story)

The Navy sent us to VN with no jungle uniforms. The first RIVSEC COs spent a good deal of time scrounging around Saigon trying to get jungle uniforms, boots, and hats. I got the first uniform issue for the members of my Section from the USAF and jungle boots from the Army. But I could never find 60 of the same type of hat. When we arrived in My Tho in late May 1966, several of my boat crews started wearing black berets that they had purchased in town. I had the boat captains take me to the shop, where I was able to buy 60 berets, one for everyone in the Section. I thought I had solved a problem. But I had really just traded one problem for another.

My immediate boss, LCDR Jim Toole, Commander River Division 53, said he thought it was a good idea, but he had little hope that his boss, Captain Kronander, CTF 116, would support the idea. He was right. Captain Kronander said that there was nothing in Uniform Regs about black berets. But, Captain Kronander was relieved shortly thereafter by Captain Burt Witham as CTF 116, and I took up the black beret issue with him. Captain Witham's initial reaction was predictable, not only no, but hell no.

As other River Sections came up the Mekong, enroute to their bases, they stopped in My Tho for fuel, provisions, and intelligence. They also saw my boat crews wearing black berets. By the time they left My Tho, their crews were also wearing black berets.

To make a long story short, by the time Captain Witham made his first tour of the Pbr bases in the Mekong Delta, everywhere he went the boat crews were wearing black berets.

I'm sure that all the other River Section CO's and Boat Captains made their case for black berets to Captain Witham too. The end result was that he sent out a message in 1967 stating that Pbr sailors could wear the black beret - but with a long list of restrictions that most folks ignored. One restriction was that it could not be worn in Saigon. However, when the boat crews went to Saigon on convoy duty, they left My Tho wearing their green jungle uniform ball cap. As soon as they were out of sight - out came the black berets and off went the ball caps.

Fred McDavitt
RIVER SECTION 531, 1966-67
"Boats of Glass, Ball of Brass, Black Berets Forever!" (The RS 531 toast)

*  COMRIVPATFOR Message, Provided by Cecil Martin

*  "Boats of Glass, Balls of Brass, Black Berets Forever", RiverSection/Division 531 Toast