December 25, 2012

Charles "Chargin' Charlie" Beckwith

   Charles Beckwith was born in Atlanta, Georgia January 22, 1929. An all-state football player for his high school team, he later enrolled in the University of Georgia, where he was a member of the Delta Chapter of the Sigma Chi Fraternity, and ROTC. Beckwith lettered in football for the Bulldogs, and was approached by the Green Bay Packers for the 1950-51 NFL draft, but turned it down in favor of a military career. He enlisted and was commissioned as a Second Lieutenant in the U.S. Army in 1952. After the Korean War, 2LT Beckwith served as platoon leader with Charlie Company, 17th Infantry Regiment, 7th Infantry Division in the Republic of Korea. In 1955, he was assigned to the 82nd Airborne Division as the commander of the combat support company of the 504th Parachute Infantry Regiment.

   Two years later, after also having completed Ranger School, Beckwith joined Special Forces, and in 1960 was deployed to South Vietnam and Laos as a military advisor. He served as an exchange officer with the British Special Air Service in 1962 where he picked up many of their capabilities. He conducted war-time guerrilla operations with the SAS during the Malayan Emergency. In the jungle, he contracted leptospirosis so severe doctors expected him not to survive, but he made a full recovery within months. Upon his return from England, he presented a detailed report outlining the Army's vulnerability in not having an SAS-type unit. For several years, Beckwith submitted and re-submitted the report to Army brass, only to be repeatedly thwarted in his efforts. SF leadership at the time thought that they had enough on their hands and did not need the trouble of creating a new unit. Meanwhile, as the 7th Special Forces Group's operations officer, Beckwith went to work revolutionizing Green Beret training. SF at the time focused on unconventional warfare, and especially foreign internal defense: i.e. training indigenous personnel in resistance activities. Beckwith restructured 7th's training, basically rewriting the book on American special ops training from the real-world lessons he had learned with the SAS. Beckwith also had learned that a symbol of excellence like a beret had to be earned. Officers were being assigned to Special Forces straight out of war college with no prior special ops experience and were given their Green Beret on arrival. The hard-nosed and practical training standards that Beckwith instituted would lend themselves to the birth of the modern Q-Course.

   In Vietnam, Beckwith commanded a Special Forces unit code-named Project DELTA. He was critically wounded in early 1966 (he took a .50 caliber bullet through his abdomen). It was so bad that medical personnel triaged him as beyond help for the second time in his military career. This time, again, Beckwith made a full recovery and went on to overhaul the Florida Phase of the US Army's Ranger School. Beckwith transformed this phase from a scripted exercise based upon the Army's World War II experience, into a Vietnam-oriented jungle training regimen. In 1968, LTC Beckwith returned to Vietnam, taking command of the 2nd Battalion, 327th Infantry (Airborne), 1st Brigade, 101st Airborne Division. For the nine months that he commanded the 2/327, they saw many successes in combat operations, including: Huế, Operation Mingo, Operation Jeb Stuart, Operation Nevada Eagle, and Somerset Plain. The toughest job the battalion had was clearing a seven kilometer stretch along Route 547, eventually defeating the determined NVA defenders so that Fire Support Base Bastogne could be established. From 1973 to 1974, LTC Beckwith served as Commander, Control Team "B" with the Joint Casualty Resolution Center located at RTAFB Nakhon Phanom, Thailand, and promoted to Colonel. Under the Command of BG Robert C. Kingston, JCRC's sole mission was to assist the Secretaries of the Armed Services to resolve the fate of servicemen still missing and unaccounted for as a result of the hostilities throughout Indochina. JCRC had a predominantly operational role - the carrying out of field search, excavation, recovery, and repatriation activities. Afterward COL Beckwith was stationed at Fort Bragg, North Carolina where he commanded training operations.

   Although Beckwith had presented proposals throughout the 1960s for a superbly elite, highly autonomous direct-action unit, the idea had sat on the shelf for a decade. Finally, in the mid-'70s, as the threat of international terrorism became imminent, Beckwith was appointed to form his unit. Delta Force was then established on November 17, 1977, by Beckwith and Colonel Thomas M. Henry, as a counter-terrorism unit based on the model of the British Special Air Service, but with a greater focus on hostage rescue in addition to covert operations and specialized reconnaissance. It was the first unit of its type designed specifically to react to international hostage events such as the airplane hijackings which were a common occurrence of the era. Delta Force's first mission, Operation Eagle Claw, was the assault on the captured American embassy in Teheran, Iran early in 1980. The mission was aborted due to helicopter failures during a sandstorm and a subsequent crash which led to several deaths. After this, the 160th Special Operations Aviation Regiment was formed to provide transport for Delta Force and other special operations units. JSOC was also formed, directly based on Beckwith's recommendations during Senate investigations into the mission's failure. Following his disappointment at the failure of the Iranian operation, Beckwith retired from the Army. He started a consulting firm and wrote a book about Delta Force. On June 13, 1994, he died at his home of natural causes. His remains are interred at Fort Sam Houston National Cemetery.

29° 28.632, -098° 25.513

Section 9
Fort Sam Houston National Cemetery
San Antonio

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