U.S. ARMY 5TH SPECIAL FORCES GROUP (AIRBORNE) FLASH (OLD)

From 1962 to 1964 and then from 16 January 1985 until 23 March 2016, the flash of the 5th Special Forces Group (Airborne) consisted of a black background with a white border. The current version of the 5th SGF Airborne flash can be found here.

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Nicknamed “the Legion,” the 5th Special Forces Group (Airborne) was activated on 21 September 1961 as part of the U.S. response to the growing Communist insurgency by in South Vietnam. By October 1964, over 1,200 members of the 5th SFG (A) were in Vietnam, wearing their unit’s organizational flash: solid black with white trim.

That was the year that some of the Group’s personnel modified the flash by adding a diagonal stripe with three narrow stripes in its center. The reason for the modification is not totally clear; the Wikipedia entry for the 5th SFG says the Soldiers thought that the black-and-white flash resembled an armband worn at a military funeral, the implication to Vietnamese allies being that the U.S. forces thought the war was already over.

The official version of both the reason for the modification and the selection of the new design element is that the colors were chosen to represent the 1st (yellow flash) and 7th (red flash) Special Forces Groups (red) as a way of honoring them for having arrived in country before the 5th. However, a glance at the flag of the Republic of South Vietnam—featuring three parallel red stripes on a yellow background—is enough to make one wonder if it was merely a happy accident that yellow and red were the colors of the flashes worn by two other Special Forces Groups in Vietnam.

According to the Web site Military.com, it was the notion that the yellow and red addition represented the Republic of South Vietnam that led to 5th SFG Commander Colonel James Guest to push for its removal in 1985, arguing that it was not appropriate to have another nation’s colors on a Special Forces flash, particularly in light of the fact that the country had fallen to the North Vietnamese back in 1975.
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