cover image Green Berets in the Vanguard: Inside Special Forces, 1953-1963

Green Berets in the Vanguard: Inside Special Forces, 1953-1963

Chalmers Archer. US Naval Institute Press, $28.95 (168pp) ISBN 978-1-55750-023-6

The Green Berets the Army's Special Forces conducted civilian-clothes, clandestine operations in 1956 in Thailand, in 1957 in Taiwan and South Vietnam and in 1959 and 1961 in Laos. Archer (Growing Up Black in Mississippi) gives a first-person account of those early and pivotal missions in this instructive memoir. Archer earned the nickname ""Sergeant Special Forces"" because he was there at the birth of the Green Berets, and his outfit, the 14th Special Forces Operational Detachment, was the first American combat unit deployed to Vietnam, taking part in a series of hazardous missions he describes in evocative detail. Their mission was to train the South Vietnamese in special forces warfare, as well as to seek out and engage the Viet Cong guerrillas. Archer clearly shows that he and his fellow Green Berets were highly motivated and extremely proficient in finding methods that worked. They concentrated on working with and respecting the people they trained and eschewed large-scale, conventional warfare they practiced winning ""hearts and minds."" Archer writes with wit and delicacy of his experiences in the jungle (his ""snake eater"" company often surviving on a plethora of seeming non-foods), and with unsparing clarity of the racism he sometimes encountered. He insists that if the tactics his team developed had been adopted by Washington something they repeatedly advocated the course of the war would have been different. (Mar. 26) Forecast: This is a book mainly for the Vietnam War academic industry in its military and civilian incarnations not a negligible market. And Archer's experiences as a black Green Beret, coming during a key period of post-WWII integration of the armed forces, will be of interest to historians of the period in general.