By Katie Lange, Department of Defense
“If you have a story and you have a legend, print the legend. Jim Capers is both a story and a legend.”
That’s the start of a trailer for a documentary on the life and legacy of Marine Corps Maj. James Capers Jr. You’ve probably never heard his name before, but you’ll know it soon. The 22-year veteran is recognized as a pioneer in Marine reconnaissance training tactics, which are still used by special operations forces around the world.
Capers’ actions during combat in Vietnam were the stuff of legend, but they were never publicly known due to their top-secret nature. The files were declassified in the past decade. Now, his valor will be known to a whole new generation.
A DoD-supported documentary on Capers’ life is being shown this weekend at the GI Film Festival in San Diego. “Major Capers: The Legend of Team Broadminded,” includes once-classified mission orders, never-before seen photographs and videos, and personal audio recordings he made to his wife from the battlefield.
He has so many accomplishments that it’s hard to list them all, so we thought we’d break the most important ones down for you:
Capers broke barriers on and off the battlefield.
Capers was born in 1937 to a sharecropper in the south during the Jim Crow era. He enlisted in the Marine Corps in 1956 and worked his way through the ranks before volunteering in the mid-1960s for the 3rd Force Reconnaissance Company, and elite Marine unit where he became a legend. Capers broke training records, was part of 64 long-range reconnaissance patrols and fought in five major campaigns during the Vietnam War. He was the first black man to command a Marine recon company, as well as the first black Marine officer to receive a battlefield commission.
He was part of 50 covert “black op” missions, and he led a lot of them.
Capers became a father figure to a specialized group of those recon Marines, nicknamed Team Broadminded. Together, they went on some of the most dangerous top-secret missions in Vietnam, including:
- A prisoner-of-war rescue behind enemy lines
- Amphibious assaults in the demilitarized zone
- The recovery of a B-57 rumored to have a nuclear bomb
- Search-and-destroy patrols in Phu Loc, which was deep in enemy territory
Capers became the face of an iconic recruitment campaign.
In 1967, only seven years after the military was desegregated, Capers was named as the face of the “Ask a Marine” recruitment campaign, which became the most popular campaign in the history of the Marine Corps. His profile – the epitome of what a Marine should be – was plastered all over the country for several years.
He was wounded 19 times in combat.
When Capers was named the face of that campaign, he was still recovering from injuries he suffered in Vietnam. He took part in a long photo shoot for it, and it wasn’t easy.
“I could hardly stand up. My right leg was broken. I’d been hit pretty badly. On occasion, sometimes when I would stagger, a Marine would come up and stand behind me and say, ‘It’s going to be OK, sir. You can do this,’” Capers said in one of the trailers for the documentary.
Vietnam only got his career started.
Capers spent 22 years as a Marine. During the height of the Cold War, he continued clandestine operations in Africa and Eastern Europe. Details of these missions still remain classified.
He’s one of the most decorated Force Recon Marines in history.
Capers was nominated for a Medal of Honor – the first black Marine officer to earn that distinction. He received the Silver Star instead. He also earned three Purple Hearts and two Bronze Stars, among several other decorations.
In 2010, Capers was one of only 14 members inducted into the first class of the U.S. Special Operations Command’s Commando Hall of Honor at a ceremony in front of Socom headquarters at MacDill Air Force Base, Florida.
He’s been ready to tell his story.
It was Capers himself who wanted his story told. The now-81-year-old began the effort to make this documentary nearly a decade ago as a way to find “self-healing” after the deaths of his son and wife. He currently lives in North Carolina near Camp Lejeune in Jacksonville, North Carolina, and he continues to be part of the special operations community. In fact, he and the surviving members of Team Broadminded meet every year to celebrate and honor those on the team who have passed.
The documentary’s director, Ashley Cusato, said she was thrilled to tell his story and hopes it serves as an inspiration to others.
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