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.
RIVER SECTION 531, 1966-67
"Boats of Glass, Ball of Brass, Black Berets Forever!" (The RS 531 toast)
US ARMY PBR’s
Provided by: Bob Brower
Special Note: The US Army seemed displeased that their PBR Soldiers also wore the Black Beret and their own flash, depending upon your out port location. Never to be worn in formation, the brass could plainly see that the berets were there in our Jungle Fatigue pockets. Waiting to go out on their assigned patrol areas.
Eventually, they ( leadership) gave in a little but they just did not get it. We had earned our berets having trained, lived with in country and operated often in some of the same rivers and no less capable as the US Navy had. The Con Sats or Vietnamize Military Police were also with us as support in language and eyes on local boat traffic, etc.
So, one day we were instructed that we could wear a black hat with our rank on it…in white….AAARRRrrrg ☹ Same problem previously mentioned…baseball hats fly off the heads, our Black Berets stayed on and stuck. End of story
Bob Brower - Boat Captain
US Army 458 PBR’s 69-70
USN Orders Below, but ask a 458th PBR Soldier and he will claim them as well 😊
Boats of Glass, Balls of Brass, Black Berets Forever
Provided by Fred McDavitt
The PBRs were delivered in kit form and we had to assemble them ourselves. It took several days per boat as parts were missing, and the electrical systems were different on each boat. We also had to make modifications. For instance, the canopy ran to the stern of the boat. We had to cut about ten feet of material off each one and restich them by hand. The original boats also had no way to go in reverse. Another story. And the after guns were 30 cal, which didn't really work too well. Another story. I could go on.
The name game. Another little known fact. The designation of the organizational units changed several times during the first year. This was caused by the fight between the "Blue Water" Navy and the "Brown Water" Navy. Originally, I was ordered to be Commander, River Division 531 and was authorized to wear the command pin after the unit was commissioned. That didn't last long. Shortly after we arrived in country, we received a message that stated that the designation had been changed to River Section, and that the commander would now be designated Officer in Charge, with no command pin. A few months later, the name was changed again to River Patrol Section, "in order to more accurately reflect the mission of these units." By the time I left in late March of 1967, the name had been changed again to River Section, without explanation. I think it was in late '67 or early '68 the designation returned to the original River Division and the command pin reauthorized. The politics behind all these name changes is unbelievable and is another whole story in itself
It is right to toast our Navy’s Brown Water Sailors as they shouldered to Brunt of the fighting…still today
Proud-Brave & Reliable