November 11, 1995
Web posted at: 11:48 a.m. EST
From Correspondent Brian Cabbell
FAYETTEVILLE, North Carolina (CNN) -- What ever happened to the Green Berets? Thirty years ago the elite forces were celebrated as military demi-gods. But in the post-cold war era, one might ask if the Green Berets still exist.
In fact, the Green Berets, also known as Special Forces, are an integral part of the U.S. Army. They were America's elite fighting corps, and in the '60s the Green Berets became folk heroes.
One of their own, Barry Sadler, wrote and recorded a song, "Ballad of the Green Berets," (48K AIFF sound or 48K WAV sound) that went to number one. John Wayne starred in a movie glorifying them. A handsome young president, John F. Kennedy, honored them. And the war in Vietnam, on difficult terrain with a resilient enemy, challenged them to put their highly refined fighting, linguistic, survivalist and leadership skills to use. The Green Berets knew they were up to the task.
"Sure we thought we were better, better trained than other soldiers. Sure we had those feelings," said former Green Beret Howard Allen adding that the Green Berets were the best fighting unit in the world.
But after Vietnam, a confounding struggle that the United States lost, the glory died down. Many of the Green Berets returned to Fort Bragg, North Carolina, where the unit originated, to settle down.
Author Vince Coppola chronicles their difficult adjustment in "Uneasy Warriors."
"They never quite fit," said Coppola. "When they went to war, people were shouting, 'Make love not war.' When they came back, people were shouting, 'Make money, not war.' So here's a community of war heroes, for the most part, who have never fit back into our society and now choose not to."
After Vietnam came movies maligning the Green Beret's reputation. "Apocalypse Now," starred Marlon Brando as a crazed Green Beret. "The Deer Hunter" examined former Green Berets unable to cope away from the battlefield. "Rambo" starred Sylvester Stallone as another former Green Beret out of control.
"They never quite fit . When they went to war, people were shouting, 'Make love not war.' When they came back, people were shouting, 'Make money, not war.' So here's a community of war heroes, for the most part, who have never fit back into our society and now choose not to."
-- Vince Coppola
Fictitious, yes, but real-life former Green Beret Steve Sosa admitted he missed the lifestyle when he got out. He became a mercenary for a few years.
"Once you got into it, you were just right at home," Sosa said. "It's true. I remember when I was in El Salvador working with the troops and it was just like being reborn, you know."
After his mercenary experience, Sosa settled down as a real estate agent. Allen now operates a security company. Both said they've managed to move on with their lives, putting their army days behind them.
The Green Berets, who played major roles in the Gulf War, in Somalia, and in the invasions of Panama and Grenada, are a different force. They continue with their mission around the world but without the hype.
"I think it's gone back to the way it should be," said Allen. " Special Forces is the type of individual that should go out and do the job without a lot of publicity on what they're doing."
But the skills, the instincts are still there. Case in point: the Fort Bragg soldier who opened fire on fellow soldiers a few weeks ago was brought down and disarmed by three unarmed Green Berets.
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