The Green Berets – 50th Anniversary of the Movie

50th anniversary of movie The Green Berets

2018 is the 50th anniversary of the movie The Green Berets. Starring John Wayne in the lead role, this movie was released in 1968. It depicted the role of U.S. Army Special Forces missions during the Vietnam War. It was viewed as a patriotic film and proved to be an excellent recruiting tool for Special Forces as well as the U.S. Army in general.

During the Special Forces Association annual convention held this past June in El Paso, Texas the SFA members were treated to a special showing of The Green Berets. The event took place at a theater in downtown El Paso and was preceded with a cocktail hour where actors of the movie were on hand for photographs. Many of the SF soldiers attending the event were retired and veterans of the Vietnam War.

The Green Berets also starred David Janssen – a reporter with some serious doubts about the war – who is embedded with a Green Beret A-Camp in Vietnam. Although very cynical at the onset of the movie Janssen experiences a bit of an awakening as he learns more about the SF mission and gets ‘eyes on’ the situation in Vietnam. Other actors included Jim Hutton (team supply / engineer NCO), Aldo Ray (team sergeant), Irene Tsu (honeypot), and Jack Soo (South Vietnam Army officer). Most of the movie was filmed in the summer of 1967. Three of the actors in the film were present prior to the showing of the movie during a ‘meet and greet’ reception at the theater – Bill Olds, Irene Tsu, and Fred Balderrama.

The Green Berets - 50th Anniversary Showing

The movie begins stateside when Colonel Mike Kirby (John Wayne) finds out he is going to Vietnam. He recruits a couple of SF teams to go with him. One of the teams is shown in the film demonstrating the capabilities of the Green Berets to the press at Fort Bragg, North Carolina. SF veterans will recall the Gabriel Demonstrations of the past. [1]

The next stop in the movie is Vietnam where an incoming SF team is relieving an outgoing SF team at an A camp. The camp comes under attack and John Wayne flies in to the rescue with ‘Mike Force’ [2] and ‘Puff the Magic Dragon‘. Order is restored and the camp is reoccupied by SF and their host nation partners.

Then the movie depicts Col Kirby leading a select team of SF soldiers to kidnap a North Vietnamese Army (NVA) general played by Bill Olds – now a retired U.S. Army colonel. Olds played the part of General Phan Son Ti.

Bill Olds played the role of the North Vietnamese general in the movie The Green Berets.
Bill Olds played the role of the North Vietnamese general in the movie The Green Berets. Bill was present for the screening of the movie and during several days of the SFA Convention. Photo of Bill Olds by Brian Kanof, SFA Chapter IX, El Paso, Texas.

A ‘honey trap‘ is used to put the NVA general at the right place at the right time. This mission goes according to plan – a Fulton Extraction is featured – but along the way the team takes some losses.

Irene Tsu played the role of the 'honey trap' in the movie "The Green Berets".
Irene Tsu played the role of the ‘honey trap’ in the movie The Green Berets. In the film Irene was a top Vietnamese / French fashion model named Lin who lures the NVA general to a former French colonial mansion. She was present during the cocktail hour preceding the showing for photographs and autographs. Photo by author.

The military put a lot of support behind the movie – providing access to military bases, use of aircraft, and with the participation of U.S. Army soldiers. Many soldiers were ‘extras’ – marching in formation, in the background – while others had some minor roles. Fred Balderrama was in the movie along with many other soldiers. He was present for the SFA Convention in June in El Paso.

SGT Baldo The Green Berets
SGM Fred “Baldo” Balderrama played the role of “SGT Baldo” in the movie The Green Berets. Photo provided by SGM Balderrama. The SGM was present during the pre-show reception – signing autographs and taking photos.

SGM (Ret) Fred Balderrama served a tour in Vietnam (68-69). He saw service in several U.S. Army units to include the 1st and 7th Special Forces Groups, 101st Airborne Division, 173rd Airborne Brigade, and the 3rd Civil Affairs Group. He retired after 31 years of Army service.

The film was very anti-communist and supportive of the U.S. involvement in Vietnam. It was a financial success but not very well-received by the Hollywood insiders and film critics of the U.S. media – many who opposed the war. The movie was based on the book by Robin Moore entitled The Green Berets and features the song by Barry Sadler entitled Ballad of the Green Berets. It is a movie revered by SF soldiers young and old. It was an inspiring event to watch the 50th anniversary viewing of the film with so many Special Forces Vietnam veterans present in the audience.

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Footnotes:

[1] Watch an abbreviated filmed version of what the Gabriel Demonstration looked like in the 60s and 70s. Features a Special Forces A Detachment from the 5th Special Forces Group.
www.youtube.com/watch?v=ccrvI7rz_L0

Kevin O’Brien (a former SF NCO, now deceased) provides details on the video in his post entitled “The Gabriel Demo Team circa 1983-84”WeaponsMan, November 20, 2013.

[2] The Mike Force’s mission was to act as a country-wide quick reaction force composed of U.S. Army Special Forces personnel and indigenous soldiers – many from minority groups of Vietnam.

References:

The Green Berets (film) Wikipedia
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Green_Berets_(film)

The Green Berets – Movie Trailer
www.youtube.com/watch?v=uPB-Rt2U7jg

Images:
Top: John Wayne image from promotional poster.
50th Anniversary image – SFA Chapter IX, El Paso, Texas


About John Friberg 103 Articles
John Friberg is the Editor and Publisher of SOF News. He is a retired Command Chief Warrant Officer (CW5 180A) with 40 years service in the U.S. Army Special Forces with active duty and reserve components.