Colonel Aaron Bank – Father of Special Forces — November 23rd 1902 to April 1st 2004

Col Bank aged 101 passed away at his home in California April 1st 2004. His wife Catherine and two daughters Linda and Alexandra survive him.

Colonel Aaron Bank


Col Aaron Bank known as the Father of the Special Forces was a legend and unfortunately I never got to meet him in person.

I was to attend the 50th anniversary celebrations of the US Army Special Forces along with fellow International Close Combat Association members Major Johnny Whipp and Robbie Robinson from Australia where we were to meet up with fellow Association Director Lawrence Jordan. Unfortunately Military Close Combat instructing duty called and I had to withdraw. That meant I never got to meet the legendry Col Bank although Col Applegate did tell me of Col Bank and his OSS and US Special Forces status and work. Larry Jordan and Dave McCall both spoke to me of the man they knew as a father of their beloved Special Forces.

Robbie Robinson pictured with Colonel Aaron Bank and his wife Catherine at the 50th Anniversary of the U.S. Army Special Forces

Robbie Robinson pictured with Colonel Aaron Bank and his wife Catherine at the 50th Anniversary of the U.S. Army Special Forces

Colonel Bank was born November 23rd 1902 in New York City and as a young man traveled the world and worked as a chief lifeguard until 1939 when he joined the Army. In 1943 while serving as tactical training officer at Camp Polk he read the bulletin looking for volunteers for special assignments.

When the U.S. became involved in WWII Colonel Bank was an officer and over forty years old. He spoke both German and French and was in good shape for his duties in Intelligence and Special Operations.

He had just what the OSS, the forerunner to the CIA, was looking for. He served as an officer in the OSS and was assigned to a small unconventional warfare unit known as a Jedburgh team.

Colonel Bank led a team that parachuted into Southern France in August 1944 where they played havoc on the Nazi's with hit and run small unit tactics as they fled up the Rhone River. His French Spec Ops included working with French guerillas liberating a number of towns. September 1944 mission accomplished he returned to London.

He was then assigned as leader of Operation Iron Cross with the objective and orders to capture or kill Adolf Hitler. Col Bank, a lieutenant and two sergeants recruited 100 POWs from Nazi Germany to fight against the Nazi's. His cover was that he was a French Nazi from Martinique should he come in contact with the Gestapo.

General "Wild" Bill Donovan later changed the nature of the mission and ordered Colonel Bank to get Hitler. Bank and his men began training in prisoner snatches with the intention of taking Hitler alive and delivering him to the war crimes tribunal. In the twelfth hour the mission was cancelled as it was learned that Hitler was not in the target area.

After Iron Cross he was in China involved in training for yet another aborted operation, this time in Indochina. He parachuted into Laos in September 1945 where he was involved in post war cleaning up ops. He remained in the Army after WWII and promoted the small unit special warfare tactics of the OSS.

While serving in a combat unit in Korea in 1951 he was summoned to Washington to be part of the establishment of small special operations type units along with Brigadier General Robert McClure, the head of the Army Psychological Center and Col Russell Volckmann a former WWII veteran that commanded Filipino guerrillas against the Japanese.

After having to deal with politics and the obstacles of establishing such a group Colonel Bank was instated as the Commander of the 10th Special Forces at Fort Bragg. The total manpower of this very first Special Forces Airborne Group was just ten soldiers, a warrant officer, eight enlisted men and their commander Colonel Bank.

It was June 19th 1952 that the 10th Special Forces were officially activated under the command of Colonel Aaron Bank. He recruited only the best to be trained in his specialist methods of unconventional warfare from the ranks of the OSS and former Devils Brigade. Bank created an elite unit of operators trained in the methods of kill or get killed hand to hand combat, specialist weapons, demolitions, amphibious assaults, mountain warfare and every aspect of irregular warfare. His group's main objective was to infiltrate by land, air or sea in enemy territory and conduct special operations missions.

Col Bank retired from the Army in 1958 and worked as a Director of Security in the private sector in California. He wrote the books from OSS to Green Berets and the Birth of the Special Forces.

Before his retirement Colonel Bank requested consent for the Special Forces to wear berets as a mark of distinction but it was not until 1962 that president John. F Kennedy authorized Special Forces to wear the Green Beret.

Colonel Bank was the recipient of the following awards and decorations.

  • The Army Distinguished Service Medal which was awarded to him at age 97
  • The Soldiers Medal
  • The Bronze Star Medal
  • The American Campaign Medal
  • The Asia Pacific Campaign Medal with Bronze Campaign Star
  • The Europe – Asia – Middle East Campaign Medal with Bronze Campaign Star
  • The World War Victory Medal
  • The Army of Occupation Medal
  • The National Defense Service Medal
  • The Korean Service Medal
  • The China War Memorial Badge and Ribbon
  • The Combat Infantryman Badge
  • The Senior Parachutist Badge with Combat Star
  • The Special Forces Tab
  • The St Philip Neri Special Forces Medal

Colonel Aaron Bank


In 2002 President George W. Bush commended Colonel Bank then aged 100 years for the development of methods of unconventional warfare used in toppling the Taliban.

Fifty years after Col Bank established the Special Forces with little more than ten men the U.S. Special Forces Command number some ten thousand strong.

Article written by Fight Times Editor