William P. Yarborough, 93; Early Leader of Army’s Airborne Forces

From Associated Press

Retired Lt. Gen. William P. Yarborough, an early leader of the Army’s airborne forces who gained President Kennedy’s blessing for Special Forces soldiers to wear green berets, has died. He was 93.

Yarborough died Tuesday in Southern Pines, N.C., of complications from hip surgery, said Rudi Gresham, his longtime aide.

Born in 1912 in Seattle, he graduated from West Point in 1936 and served in the military for 35 years. He held high-level posts in the Army’s airborne, special operations and intelligence branches.


Yarborough was made commander of the Army’s Special Warfare Center, now the John F. Kennedy Special Warfare Center and School, at Ft. Bragg, N.C., in 1961 as the Vietnam War was increasing the demand for stealth combat skills. He retired in 1971.

In 1941, he designed the paratrooper boot and uniform, and the winged insignia given to qualified paratroopers, according to Yarborough’s official Army biography.

He led paratroopers into battle in North Africa, in Salerno and Anzio in Italy, and in southern France during World War II.

After the war, Yarborough was in charge of police activities in Vienna, where he organized patrols of U.S., Soviet, French and British troops.

As head of the Special Warfare Center in 1962, Yarborough tapped an old West Point classmate who was a military aide to Kennedy to press his case to allow the green beret to become part of the uniform of Army Special Forces soldiers.

Kennedy was visiting Ft. Bragg to see a demonstration of Special Forces units and said he wanted to see the troops in the berets.


Yarborough’s military service also is commemorated with a knife named after him and issued only to current or former Green Berets. Each knife bears a serial number registering its owner.

Yarborough is survived by a daughter, Patty Reed; and a son, retired Lt. Col. Lee Yarborough of the Army’s Special Forces.