Sunday, April 8, 2012

JFK statue dedicated at Ft. Bragg by H. Ross Perot

JFK statue dedicated

Larger-than-life likenesses of then-Brig. Gen. William P. Yarborough and President John F. Kennedy loom over the crowd assembled for the statue's dedication Thursday at the John F. Kennedy Special Warfare Center and School on Fort Bragg.

The Army's newest Special Forces soldiers received and donned their green berets Thursday in front of the newly dedicated statue of President John F. Kennedy approving the official headgear more than 50 years ago.
H. Ross Perot donated the 7-foot bronze statue that depicts Kennedy and then-Brig. Gen. William P. Yarborough during the presidential visit to Fort Bragg on Oct. 12, 1961.

The larger-than-life likenesses of the two men stand on a marble base about 5 feet high in front of Kennedy Hall, one of the two main buildings on the campus of the John F. Kennedy Special Warfare Center and School.

Special Forces were founded in 1952 during the Cold War at Fort Bragg for a possible role behind enemy lines if war broke out in Europe. In the early 1960s, Yarborough had been trying to persuade a reluctant Army to approve the green beret as the official headgear of the specially trained men well adapted for United States' growing fight against communist insurgencies worldwide.

"He found an ally in President Kennedy," Perot said during the dedication and graduation ceremony.

Kennedy called the green beret "a symbol of excellence, a badge of courage, a mark of distinction in the fight for freedom," Perot said. Those words are inscribed on the base of the statue.

"And I can't think of a better series of words to describe the green beret," Perot said.

Perot spoke to the 127 graduates of the 267th Special Forces Qualification Course and hundreds of their family members during the outdoor ceremony in the parking lot. The Texas billionaire and past presidential candidate stood behind the podium last used by JFK during the visit to Fort Bragg.

Perot brought to the podium the green beret that belonged to the late Col. Arthur "Bull" Simons. During his remarks, Perot recalled the exploits of Simons, whose statue he donated earlier is visible across Ardennes Street.

The Yarborough-Kennedy statue is based on photographs of the event. The president, who was 6 feet tall, stands taller than Yarborough. The president is trim and holding his glasses, looking fit, relaxed, intellectual and in charge.

The general stands at attention, wearing his beret, general's belt, bloused pants and jump boots. One detail from the photograph not in the statue is the class ring on Yarborough's left hand.

The sculptor, Paul Moore of Oklahoma, did not attend the ceremony.

The audience included friends and family members who came from places ranging from Southern Pines to Seattle.

At the start of the ceremony, the graduates, wearing camouflage patrol caps, marched to their seats through green smoke with a bagpiper playing "Scotland the Brave."

The qualification course produces Special Forces detachment officers, weapons sergeants, engineer sergeants, medical sergeants and communications sergeants. Training an Army Green Beret takes longer than an Air Force fighter pilot, said Maj. Gen. Bennet S. Sacolick, the commanding general of the John F. Kennedy Special Warfare Center and School.

"Some of these young men have been training for well over two years, some longer," Sacolick said. "This doesn't count the months they spent just preparing for the physical rigors of the course. It doesn't count the endless miles, solitary hours they spent in the gym, on the side of the road with a rucksack on their back, usually very early in the morning or very late at night, and almost always on their own time."

Sacolick said Perot has quietly helped provide medical care and transportation for soldiers and their families in times of need.

"As always, if there's anything we can do to help and support, we'll be right there," Perot said during his remarks.

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