Thanks to RCA Records, Sgt. Barry Sadler, and many more talented “Civilians” America’s collective memory of the Vietnam War is now inextricably linked with the popular music of that era. More specifically, it is linked with the music of the late-’60s counterculture and antiwar movement. But, much to our dismay, opposition to the war was far from absolute back in 1966—a fact that was reflected not just in popular opinion polls, but in the pop charts, too. Near the very height of U.S. involvement in the Vietnam War, on March 5, 1966, American popular-music fans made a #1 hit out of a song called “The Ballad Of The Green Berets” by Staff Sergeant Barry Sadler.
Sadler was exactly what his name and uniform implied he was: a real-life, active-duty member of the United States Army Special Forces—the elite unit popularly known as the Green Berets. In early 1965, Sadler suffered a severe punji stick injury. A favorite weapon used by the Viet Cong, with a razor sharp stake of bamboo hidden in the ground as a crippling “Booby trap.” The injury brought a premature end to his tour of duty as a combat medic in Vietnam. During his long hospitalization back in the United States, Sadler, an aspiring musician prior to the war, wrote and submitted to music publishers an epic ballad that eventually made its way in printed form to Robin Moore, author of the then-current nonfiction book called The Green Berets. Moore worked with Sadler to whittle his 12-verse original down to a pop-radio-friendly length, and Sadler recorded the song himself in late 1965, first for distribution only within the military, and later for RCA when the original took off as an underground hit. Within two weeks of its major-label release, The Ballad of the Green Berets had sold more than a million copies, going on to become Billboard magazine’s #1 single for all of 1966.
While it would not be accurate to call “The Ballad Of The Green Berets” a pro-war song, it was certainly a song that enjoyed popularity among those who opposed the growing anti-war movement. A year after “Green Berets” came out, Buffalo Springfield would release the anti-war anthem “For What It’s Worth,” which continues to be Hollywood’s go-to choice for many films and television programs depicting American involvement in the Viet Nam war! However, this week in 1966 the American airways belonged to a “Clean cut” uniformed member of the U.S. Army and his anti-anti war tome!
Check out this interview and performance, It says so much about “Then and Now! We’d love to hear your thoughts on this one!
I was lefty antiwar demonstrator back in late 60s, however Sadler’s record was catchy, heartfelt, and I couldn’t begrudge ut was a big hit. I met him in Nashville in 1976/77, he frequented my first music publishers office and recording studio.Barry was a pugnacious,foul-tempered drunk and his sad demise was no surprise.
I have former Ranger/Green Beret ‘Nam veteran friends that I admire, but Sadler is not one of them. Who was drummer on the 45?
He did a great job!
Great to see you once more! I had heard stories about Sadler, pit your post certainly clears a few things up!
Thanx Mark, don’t be a stranger!
As a 10 year old at the time, I loved the song for THE SONG. I did not really know what the war was about nor did I care. I could hear Victor Lundberg’s “Open Letter to my Teenage Son” a year later and not really understand what it was all about as well. I did not car for that because I was not into “spoken word” records much, yet I heard both songs constantly on WLS. Barry’s was just a great SONG. I listened to it about a month ago on an oldies station and again was singing along.
There were plenty of anti and pro-war songs I enjoyed and still do today.
I played the flip of Victor’s “My Buddy Carl” on my radio show once, but never played “Open Letter.” Dick Clark would even do a message song like this. Too bad about Barry’s life overall, but he did a very good SONG in 1966.
I too had mixed thoughts when this record came out! I was a big anti-war / anti- Nam guy but looking back strictly focusing on the song, he and his collaborator did creat a well crafted song! I was especially impressed with how he passes the message on to the next generation in the last verse!