Raff, Edson Duncan, COL

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Last Rank
Last Service Branch
Last Primary MOS
1542-Infantry Unit Commander
Last MOS Group
Infantry (Officer)
Primary Unit
1956-1958, 2500, US Army John F Kennedy Special Warfare Center & School (USAJFKSWCS)
Service Years
1933 - 1958


Special Forces

Six Overseas Service Bars

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Home State
New York
New York
Year of Birth
This Military Service Page was created/owned by MAJ Mark E Cooper to remember Raff, Edson Duncan (Little Ceasar), COL.

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Contact Info
Home Town
Not Specified
Last Address
Garnett, Kansas
Bora Bora, French Polynesia

Date of Passing
Mar 11, 2003
Location of Interment
Not Specified
Wall/Plot Coordinates
Not Specified

 Official Badges 

82nd Airbone Division Belgian Fourragere Meritorious Unit Commendation 1944-1961 French Fourragere

 Unofficial Badges 

 Additional Information
Last Known Activity

Col. Edson Raff, 95, Dies; Led Paratroopers in 1942


Published: Sunday, March 23, 2003

Colonel Raff, who lived in Garnett and Bora-Bora, French Polynesia, was 95.

The American paratroopers of World War II were an elite bunch. Colonel Raff, a graduate of West Point, was one of their first commanders, having trained at Fort Benning, Ga., in 1941, when the Army was inaugurating its jump school.

On the evening of Nov. 7, 1942, the 556 paratroopers of Colonel Raff's Second Battalion, 509th Parachute Infantry Regiment, took off from Cornwall in western England for the American airborne's first mission. Flying aboard 39 C-47 transports, the troops were in the vanguard of Operation Torch, the Allied invasion of French North Africa.

German paratroopers had succeeded in the 1940 invasion of the Low Countries, but Colonel Raff's men were undertaking the longest journey for an airborne invasion that had ever been tried. They were flying 1,600 miles toward two airstrips near Oran, Algeria, that they had been ordered to seize.

Many of the planes became lost and missed their objectives, and when Colonel Raff bailed out, he smashed into a large rock, breaking two ribs, and found himself 35 miles from his destination, the Tafaraoui airstrip. By time he arrived there by jeep, it had been taken by troops landed from the sea.

Soon Colonel Raff's paratroopers teamed up with British engineers, a small American anti-tank unit and lightly armed French troops to harass German forces in Tunisia, although greatly outnumbered.

Gen. Dwight D. Eisenhower, who had been the Allied commander for the North African invasion, called Colonel Raff's exploits in Tunisia ''a minor epic.'' ''The deceptions he practiced, the speed with which he struck, his boldness and his aggressiveness, kept the enemy completely confused during a period of weeks,'' the general wrote in ''Crusade in Europe'' (Doubleday, 1948).

Colonel Raff told of his early airborne experiences in ''We Jumped to Fight'' (Duell, Sloan & Pearce, 1944). He trained paratroopers for the invasion of Normandy, then commanded an armored task force that landed at Utah Beach on D-Day, June 6, 1944. The next winter, Colonel Raff commanded the 507th Parachute Infantry Regiment in the Battle of the Bulge.

On March 24, 1945, Colonel Raff became the first American paratrooper to jump into Germany east of the Rhine, leading his regiment in Operation Varsity, the last large-scale American airborne drop of the war in Europe. His paratroopers landed near Wesel, then took part in the capture of Essen and Duisburg.

Edson Duncan Raff was born on Nov. 15, 1907, in New York City. He graduated from West Point in 1933 with a concentration in mathematics.

After World War II, Colonel Raff turned to another aspect of unconventional warfare. In the 1950's, he commanded the 77th Special Forces Group, Airborne, and the Psychological Warfare Center, both at Fort Bragg, N.C. He was an early proponent of having Special Forces troops wear green berets, despite the Army's opposition on the ground that the berets carried a foreign flavor and seemed elitist. In 1961 the Special Forces obtained formal Army approval for their green berets, thereby gaining their informal name.

Colonel Raff retired from the military in 1958. He was awarded the Legion of Merit and the silver and bronze stars, and was a member of the French Legion of Honor.

He is survived by his wife, Alomah Make of Bora-Bora; a son, James, of Greenville, S.C.; a daughter, Leila Boyer, of Harrisonburg, Va.; a brother, Herbert, of New York City; 10 grandchildren; and 2 great-grandchildren. His first marriage, to Virginia Chaney, ended in divorce.


"Colonel Edson Duncan Raff


 Memorial services for Colonel Edson Duncan Raff, 95, Garnett, are Saturday, March 22,  2003, at 11:00 a.m. at First Baptist Church, Garnett, with Rev. Vernon Beleuw  officiating. A portion of Colonel Raff's remains will be scattered in the Pacific Ocean  off the coast of Bora Bora, French Polynesia and in Germany during an anniversary  parachute jump. The remainder of his remains will be interred in Arlington National  Cemetery, Washington, D.C. Col. Raff died Tuesday, March 11, at Anderson County  Hospital Long Term Care Unit."



Other Comments:
Where It Began
By Col. John W. Frye

During the summer and fall of 1954, the 77th Special Forces Group (SFG), Airborne, was in an expansion and training status at Smoke Bomb Hill, Fort Bragg, N.C. The 10th (SFG), Airborne, had deployed to Germany in late 1953 leaving a severely understrength 77th as the sole Special Forces (SF) unit at Fort Bragg.
The independence verging on autonomy and the high priority previously enjoyed by SF at Ft. Bragg was waning rapidly with HQ, XVIII Airborne Corps and Ft. Bragg exercising ever-tightening control.
One hot morning, CPT Miguel (Mike) de la Pena and I were sneaking an illicit Coca-Cola during training hours when we were caught red-handed by the 77th's severe commanding officer, Col. Edson F. Raff II. Steeling ourselves for at least a few caustic remarks on our weakness in violating orders regarding strict attendance by all during morning training, we were relieved when, instead of chewing us out as we expected and deserved, the CO began to philosophize on the lowering priorities and independence we were experiencing and their effect on esprit.
Looking for ideas, he put forth a trial balloon that perhaps some kind of distinctive headgear such as a colored baseball cap would partially substitute for our waning recognition. Fortunately, Mike de la Pena collected military berets and suggested that an appropriately colored beret would be just the thing to help bolster esprit. Col. Raff immediately seized on the idea. he asked Mike and me to report to him the next day with several berets so he could see how they would look.
After we had 'modeled' the berets that Mike had brought for the purpose, Col. Raff was sold on the idea and, typically, took off with it at a dead run. Not listening to our suggestion that it should be 'rifle green' or red, the colonel decreed that it would be adopted in branch-immaterial colors which unfortunately for the purpose are teal blue and gold - a teal- blue beret with gold piping around the sweat band.
The word spread rapidly through the group and aroused in everyone emotions ranging from displeasure to outright fury. Mike and I bore the brunt - enlisted men scowled sullenly and officers snarled openly at our approach. We were keenly aware that we were held responsible and everyone expected us to put a stop to the indignity that was about to be perpetrated upon them.
A fortuitous turn of events saved our bacon. A 'prop-blast' party was held to initiate newly qualified parachutists at which, under the influence of liberal lubrication by strong libation, skits lampooning the sacrosanct were a feature. the main skit caricatured our CO wearing an immense teal-blue 'chicken' and draped to the wearer's elbow. Col. Raff, a strict teetotaler, took it all with good humor, but he shortly thereafter commented to Mike and me that he had the impression that our beret idea wasn't being received with much enthusiasm.
We, not willing to let our idea drop, said that it wasn't the idea of a beret, but the outrageous color that was generating the opposition. The interview ended with Col. Raff accepting the suggestion that our new headgear be rifle green in the tradition of the famous British Royal Marine Commando units.
The next episode involved then CPT Frank Dallas who was detailed to find a source for berets. In the short time allowed, Frank had to take what he could get - what looked like man-sized Girl Scout berets complete with a half-inch pig-tail sticking up out of the center of the crown.
The first version of the beret was sold for a few months by the Ft. Bragg Exchange for something less than two dollars. The pigtail could be easily clipped off flush with nail clippers and, in spite of their suspected origins, the berets were presentable and military in appearance.
It was not until the first really public appearance of the beret that two conflicting trends became apparent. the 77th, wearing the new beret, participated with a large contingent in the retirement review for Lt. Gen. Joseph P Cleland. Afterward, you could hear spectators and troops asking, "Who were those foreign troops at the review?"
Perhaps because of the furor or maybe for other unguessed reasons, the beret captured the 77th's imagination and was taken fiercely to heart as the symbol of their self-image. The contradictory trend was the skepticism - even opposition - to the beret by "higher headquarters" who understandably wanted to know who authorized the wearing of "those tams".
Col. Raff, never short on courage, stood up to the new XVIII Airborne Corps (ABC) commander, Lt. Gen. Paul D. Adams, who demanded to know the authority for adopting the beret. By this time, Col. Raff had succeeded to the command of the Psychological Warfare Center which included the PSY War Board. Col. Raff designated the beret as a troop-test item and we blithely continued to wear it in spite of the XVIIIth ABC.
The opposition didn't slack off in the face of our colonel's stand and the wearing of the beret became more and more limited. First, it wasn't permitted off-post, then it could only be worn in the field. The handwriting was on the wall, but
fortune again kept a spark of life in the beret. The CO and other members of the 10th SFG, while at a conference at Ft. Bragg in 1955, had seen the beret and also adopted it. Stationed at Bad Tolz, Germany, the 10th was out of reach of the counterpressures at Ft. Bragg and withstood whatever local opposition it encountered.
When it became apparent that the beret would 'fly', Col. Raff assigned then CPT William V. Kock the mission of obtaining real military berets to be sold through the Castro-Payne Chapter of the Airborne Association of which Bill Koch was president. After overcoming incredible and, in retrospect, hilarious obstacles which would make a story in themselves, Bill Koch was able to obtain and bring through customs Canadian military berets. The berets, now the prized badge of SF qualification, were snapped up at something over six dollars each.
Exercise Sagebrush in Louisiana almost sounded the death knell of the beret. The SF contingent was abruptly withdrawn from the maneuver following some overenthusiastic actions with which the conventional forces could not cope. Under close scrutiny, the 77th was severely limited in its actions and options and was forced to choose a path of accommodation.
The 82d Airborne Division, choosing the worst moment possible, drove the final nail in the coffin. When their request to DA for red berets was turned down, they presented the argument that SF was wearing berets. DA countered - the 77th was ordered to give up the beret. Just as the DA order fell over us in midsummer 1956, a contingent of several A teams, B teams and a C team was enroute in 13 C-119 aircraft from Camp Hale, CO, to Ft. Bragg. We in the 77th were sure that our opponents on the Airborne Corps staff would be present at Pope AFB to catch our troops deplaning in the now-forbidden beret.
I radioed to an enroute stop and obtained the hat size of each man on the aircraft and instructed them to remain aboard the aircraft until they'd been released on arrival at Pope. Each aircraft was met on arrival and the despised field caps were issued. I wish I could relate that the troops deplaned each wearing a well-fitting cap. Each man was wearing a field cap, but the caps couldn't have been distributed deliberately to provide a worse fit.

Officers and men, not being party to the recent developments, confusedly fell in by their aircraft with field caps perched precariously atop their heads, down over their eyes or any way but properly fitted. Many had arctic caps, others summer - but no one wore a beret. The frustration of those who were there to "catch us red-handed" was obvious.
There had been a few "end-run" attempts to gain approval for the beret. One such entailed out troops in Colorado presenting a beret to President Dwight D. Eisenhower when he was visiting the new Air Force Academy in Denver, but he was hospitalized with a heart attack at Fitzsimons Army Hospital. President Eisenhower received the beret, but made no comment. The beret was kept alive in Germany by the 10th and on Okinawa by the newly formed 1st SFG and it remained close to our hearts in the states.
Just after the field-cap incident I regretfully left the 77th for a field artillery assignment at Ft. Sill, OK, and subsequently in Germany. I don't know how the beret was kept alive at Ft. Bragg, but alive it remained. When President John F. Kennedy visited Ft. Bragg in the early 1960s he was extremely impressed by the SF's part of the demonstration and said that he wished he had 10,000 men like these who wore the green beret.
A beret was presented along with a request for authorization to wear it. The request was
granted in recognition of the prowess of those who had so clearly earned it. The quest for authorization was long and difficult. Men such as Col. Raff stood up under heavy pressures and sacrificed promotion and career to enable the present generation to have this symbol.
Not until an imaginative leader, President Kennedy, had the clear vision to perceive the immense value of SF did its symbol become universally recognized in the Army. Recognition by the world of the SF's Green Beret finally came only with the tragedy of President Kennedy's assassination. Sgt. Maj. Francis J. Ruddy, a member of the graveside honor guard, stepped forward, removed his beret and laid it on the temporary grave - giving back for all SF men the honor that our President had given us. Television and press coverage of that terrible hour seemed to insure that the green beret would be known and respected throughout the world.
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 Ribbon Bar

Combat Infantryman 1st Award
Master Parachutist (3 Combat Jumps)

 Unit Assignments/ Advancement Schools
2nd Battalion, 509th Infantry Regiment (Airborne)82nd Airborne Division507th Parachute Infantry Regiment (PIR)77th Special Forces Group
US Army John F Kennedy Special Warfare Center & School (USAJFKSWCS)
  1942-1943, HHC, 2nd Battalion, 509th Infantry Regiment (Airborne)
  1944-1944, 1542, HHC, 82nd Airborne Division
  1944-1945, 507th Parachute Infantry Regiment (PIR)
  1954-1956, 1542, 77th Special Forces Group
  1956-1958, 2500, US Army John F Kennedy Special Warfare Center & School (USAJFKSWCS)
 Combat and Non-Combat Operations
  1942-1942 WWII - Africa Theater of Operations/Algeria-French Morocco Campaign (1942)/Operation Torch
  1944-1944 WWII - European Theater of Operations/Normandy Campaign (1944)/Operation Overlord/D-Day Beach Landings - Operation Neptune
  1944-1945 WWII - European Theater of Operations/Ardennes Alsace Campaign (1944-45)/Battle of the Bulge
  1945-1945 WWII - European Theater of Operations/Central Europe Campaign (1945)/Operation Plunder
  1945-1945 WWII - European Theater of Operations/Central Europe Campaign (1945)/Battle of the Ruhr Pocket
 Colleges Attended 
United States Military Academy
  1929-1933, United States Military Academy
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