Charles Alvin Beckwith
|This article relies on references to primary sources. (November 2011)|
|Charles Alvin Beckwith|
January 22, 1929|
|Died||June 13, 1994
|Allegiance||United States of America|
|Service/branch||United States Army|
|Years of service||1952—1981|
|Commands held||Support Company, 504th Airborne Infantry Regiment
Special Forces Detachment B-52 (Project DELTA)
2nd Battalion/327th Parachute Infantry Regiment
1st Special Forces Operational Detachment-Delta
Operation Eagle Claw
|Awards|| Distinguished Service Cross
Silver Star with Oak Leaf Cluster
Legion of Merit
|Other work||Security consultant|
Charles Alvin "Charlie" Beckwith (January 22, 1929 – June 13, 1994), known as Chargin' Charlie, was a career US Army Special Forces officer best remembered as the creator of Delta Force, the premiere counter terrorism and asymmetrical warfare unit of the U.S. Army. He served in Malaya and Vietnam, and attained the rank of Colonel before his retirement.
Beckwith was born in Atlanta, Georgia in 1929, and was an all-state football player for his Boys High School team. He later enrolled in the University of Georgia, where he lettered in football for the Bulldogs in 1950-51, but was not drafted by NFL teams. He was a member of the Delta Chapter of the Sigma Chi Fraternity. He joined the university's Army Reserve Officers' Training Corps program and was commissioned as a Second Lieutenant in 1952.
After the Korean War (1950–1953) was over, then-2nd Lieutenant Beckwith served as a Platoon Leader with Charlie Company, 17th Infantry Regiment, 7th Infantry Division in the Republic of Korea. In 1955, Beckwith was assigned to the 82nd Airborne Division as the commander of the combat support company of the 504th Parachute Infantry Regiment.
Beckwith served as an exchange officer with the British Special Air Service (22 SAS Regiment) in 1962 where he picked up many of their capabilities. He conducted war-time guerilla 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, Beckwith presented a detailed report outlining the Army's vulnerability in not having an SAS-type unit. For several years, Beckwith (who then was a Captain) 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 didn't need the bother of creating a completely 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. But Beckwith recognized that, "Before a Special Forces Green Beret soldier could become a good unconventional soldier, he'd first have to be a good conventional one... Because I had commanded rifle and weapons companies, I was appalled on arriving in Special Forces to find officers who had never commanded conventional units." 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, following Tet, 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 (“No Slack”), they saw many successes in combat operations, including: Huế, Operation Mingo, Operation Jeb Stuart, Operation Nevada Eagle (clearing the Huế-Phu Bai area), and Somerset Plain (sweeping the southern portion of the A Shau Valley). The toughest job the battalion had was clearing a seven kilometer stretch along Route 547, running west of Huế; 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 (JCRC) located at RTAFB Nakhon Phanom, Thailand. He was promoted to Colonel while there. Under the Command of BG Robert C. Kingston, USA, 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 '60s 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 founded in November 1977 as a counter-terrorist 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 it's type designed specifically to react to international hostage events such as the airplane hijackings which were a common feature of the era. Its first mission (Operation Eagle Claw, the assault on the captured American embassy in Iran) was aborted due to helicopter failures during a sandstorm and a subsequent crash which led to several deaths. After the 'debacle in the desert' 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. In 1994, he died at his home of natural causes.
Charles Beckwith was married to Katherine Beckwith, and they had three daughters.
- Beckwith, Charles. Delta Force: The Army's Elite Counterterrorist Unit, Avon Books, 2000. (Mass market paperback; original work published 1983.) ISBN 0-380-80939-7
- Beckwith, Charles. "Delta Force", Avon Books, 2000. (Mass market paperback; original work published 1983.) ISBN 0-380-80939-7
- Beckwith, Charles. "Delta Force", Avon Books, 2000. (Mass market paperback; original work published 1983.) ISBN 0-380-80939-7 (pg. 36)
- Beckwith, Charles. "Delta Force", Avon Books, 2000. (Mass market paperback; original work published 1983.) ISBN 0-380-80939-7 (pg. 48)
- Beckwith, Charles. "Delta Force", Avon Books, 2000. (Mass market paperback; original work published 1983.) ISBN 0-380-80939-7 (pg. 52)
- Beckwith, Charlie; C.A. Mobley (1993). Delta Force: The Army’s Elite Counterterrorist Unit. New York: Avon. p. 352. ISBN 0-380-80939-7.
- Beckwith, Charles. "Delta Force", Avon Books, 2000. ISBN 0-380-80939-7
- "Col. Charlie Beckwith, 65, Dies; Led Failed Rescue Effort in Iran". The New York Times. June 14, 1994. Retrieved April 28, 2010.