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Robin Moore's letter to 

Gen. Yarborough

 on his 88th Birthday

*Lt. General William Yarborough and Robin Moore, 16 May 2000, Tampa, Florida

Lt. General (Ret) William P. Yarborough  USA 2000

May 2000

Lt. General (Ret) William P. Yarborough  USA
160 Hillside Rd.
Dear Bill.

     On such an auspicious occasion as your 88th Birthday I feel a flood of memories of your last 37 years passing through my mind beginning when we met in 1963 when I was fortunate enough to come under your command just as I was finally growing up at age 37. (thus 74  at this moment). 
     I will always remember the philosophical discussions you led me into in your office at the top of Smoke Bomb Hill.  They were combined, of course, with the hard military concepts you were teaching at the USASWC.   

     I marveled in those meetings, and still do in retrospect, at the valuable time you gave to this first, and as far as I know last, civilian who wanted to learn about Special Forces by doing it. 

     And it was under your aegis, that after the Jump School at Fort Benning  I went through what is now called The SF Q Course at Fort Bragg.  

     Not that you made it any easier for me, that would have defeated the purpose both of us had in mind when I set out to become a "Green Beret".
     However, I still hear some hair raising legends (and indeed they are delightful myths) about my performance in the Uwarriwe National Forrest during the exercise in which we defeated the forces of the Pineland Aggressor with our Band of Gs. I did actually pin note on the gate of Lee Mize's opposition camp, saying we had been there. 
     A few months later, I spent a week with Lee's A team in the Mekong Delta and you can bet that when I pulled Guard Duty every night out there,  I was mindful of my minor victory in the Uwarrie Forrest and made certain that no VC repeated the stunt.

     Without the training at Maj. General (at the time) Yarborough 's command I would not have made it to Vietnam to write "THE GREEN BERETS" much less made it home.
    

     The book was published  and  hit the  #1 Best Seller spot on all lists.
     

     About that time General Bud Underwood called me into the Pentagon and let me know that (Sec. Of Defense) Bud McNamera was planning to prosecute me under the Secrecy Act.  Bud showed me a copy of the book with a bunch of red tabs sticking out.  "Each of those eighteen tabs marks a top secret piece of information."
     I couldn't believe it and reached for the marked book,  He snatched the book away.  "This book is classified," he growled.
     Fortunately Jerry Ford, minority leader in the house, heard about my problem.  I had addressed his House Armed Services Committee my first week back from Vietnam.    

     Jerry read all the classified sections of the book into the Congressional Record, automatically declassifying them and disposing of that problem for me.

     Bill you were about to head for Korea but you encouraged me to create a comic strip for further Green Beret use by the recruitment program. I did so with the assistance of Al Capp (L'il Abner) and his brother Jerry.  

     

     And then, as I was going to Vietnam for a second tour a year later writing for the Hearst Headline Service, Barry Sadler pitched up in New York (AWOL) and we
together rewrote and had produced by RCA Victor "THE BALLAD OF THE GREEN BERETS". 
     With Barry's appearances on The Ed Sullivan Show in 1966 the song and
book were number one on the lists.  

     Pentagon legs were going crazy.  

     The song, book, and comic strip were producing recruits faster than  they  could be drafted. All wanted to be Green Berets.  (About 1 in 10  made it).  

     But the anti-Beret faction at Defense did succeed in making RCA leave my name off the Album Jacket, though not the Record Label itself,  Their efforts to get rid of The Green Berets even extended to forcing David Wolper to cancel his movie contract with me.
    You, Bill, were safely away as a Three Star negotiating on the DMZ in Korea with the Commies, but we kept in touch.  And even from afar you encouraged me to keep going for the big picture.  

 

     Then in late 1966 John Wayne read the book and decided to make the picture.   

     The Pentagon of course opposed it. Duke wasn't sure he could make the picture but purchased the rights for $35,000.  Nothing really after agents and lawyers fees. He added on 5% of his profits.   I asked. "How much will that amount to, Duke?" He said "I dunno.  Haven't figured what I'm going to pay myself yet?"

     I suggested to Wayne that he should try to go around the Pentagon to get Defense Department assistance in making the picture.  

     As Mike Wayne, his son, told it to me, Wayne put in the call to the White House. "Lyndon," he said when he got the President on the phone, "I'm going to make this picture with you or without you.  What's it going to be?"  The President  said  "Oh, with you, Duke, with you,"            
         

      I guess you were on the Korean DMZ in 1967-8 when the picture was made and released -  right at the height of the Anti-War fever in America.
      CSM Ruddy led a procession of Special Forces men down Broadway to the theatre.  A crowd of fanatics jeered from the sidewalk but a couple of right and left oblique 'harch commands shut them up.  An emotional bitch, Renata Adler, on the New York Times gave it two hysterically negative  reviews  (and was eventually fired). 
    

     All in all the project you and I started, Bill, made news, excitement, and repercussions beyond our wildest dreams.  

     I still get letters from men who say the book and movie determined their future careers first in the Berets and later, on to successful pursuits in government, private industry, and more than a few into the FBI and CIA.

     I can't help but remember the women who I met on lecture tours and
wherever I went who told me "My son read your book, Saw the movie, and was proud to be a "Green Beret" and fight - and die for his country."
    

     Well, as I say in my lectures, if General Yarborough told me to jump off the empire state building with a parachute, I'd more than likely do it.   

     And when you mentioned Rhodesia and Ian Smith and Peter Walls to me I got all fired up all over again.
    And at fifty, ten years after Vietnam,  I took off for Rhodesia in 1976 after considerable briefing from you. That was a great adventure which we shared and I was always glad you saw and stayed at my "American  Embassy of Good Will".

     My Guys, former Berets, Brits, Aussies, Germans, Frenchmen, Foreign Legionnaires, put up a great fight alongside the Africans who wanted freedom, not a communist Mugabe and Nkomo.  

     Sad to say I couldn't beat a combination of Jimmy Carter, Andy Young, the lefty Brits led by Dr. Owens, and of course the adder in my own fruit basket, Vernon
Gillispie (who of course was only obeying his orders from Jimmy Carter's CIA).
    That was why I did not give the go ahead to the many Americans and others who wanted to take him out on a patrol from which he would not return.  I don't know whether I ever told you but the guys even tried to get Mary Olga to give the execution order.  Fortunately by then she had enough experience behind her to realize these guys didn't joke. 
     They meant it, they just wanted orders from what they considered to be the top of their group to do it.
     I called Ian Smith a few years  ago and asked about a return visit to Salisbury or Harare.  He said; "If you came back there would be a state dinner and I'd be the dinner. 

     Well, Bill, I could reminisce like this indefinitely.  And of course right from the beginning Norma was your greatest love and companion in life who gave all of us privileged to be a part of your life encouragement in our own ventures and those we shared with you. I was  so thankful to share that pre-Christmas luncheon at "your" window table at the club and be with Norma once again before she left us.  I remember sitting there with You and  Norma and Nick and Susan Rowe when thy were living in Southern Pines and he was Commander of the SERE school at Camp MacKall.
    

     Mary Olga joins me in warmest affectionate birthday wishes and I look
forward to seeing you next week in Tampa.
   

Robin

PS  I wish my handwriting was even half as good as yours so I could  write this out in longhand.  However, if I did you would never be able to read it.

 

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