In 1966, Army Staff Sgt. Barry Sadler, an active-duty Green Beret medic, became a national sensation with his song “The Ballad of the Green Berets.” The Beatles, the Beach Boys, and the Rolling Stones had chart-topping hits that year, but it was Sadler’s salute to the Special Forces that finished the year at No. 1 on the Billboard’s Hot Singles chart, based on sales and airplay.
Sadler’s rise from a tour in Vietnam to the top of the pops might have been interesting enough to fill a book.
Later in life and after serving time in prison for a fatal shooting, Sadler moved to Guatemala City in the mid-1980’s and often hung out at a bar called La Europa (also known as Freddie’s Bar for the German proprietor). During this time, he was engaged in various pursuits. He continued to publish the Casca books (mostly using various ghostwriters), produced a self-defense video (which was never released) and even helped with vaccination programs in rural villages. But it was often believed that he was involved in selling arms to the Guatemalan military or arming the Contras in Honduras and Nicaragua.
It was in Guatemala City that he was shot in the head one night in a taxi cab.
He was airlifted to the States by friends from the Soldier of Fortune Magazine, where he was hospitalized and remained in a coma for several months. He died a little more than a year later in his mother’s house in Murfreesboro, Tennessee. The circumstances involving his shooting remain a mystery. It has been claimed that he committed suicide, that he shot himself accidentally while showing off to a female companion, or, that he was assassinated for allegedly training and arming the Contras. It is also possible that he was simply a victim of random violence.
Memories and Legacies
Friends recently described Mr. Sadler as lucid and able to use one arm, though at times during his hospitalization, relatives said, he was unable to make legal decisions for himself. Mr. Sadler helped write the narrative “Ballad” while recuperating from a leg wound he received while serving as a medic in Vietnam. He was an Army staff sergeant at the time. The song glorified the fighting men of the Special Forces during the early days of America’s involvement in Vietnam. He went on to write 20 adventure books featuring a mercenary named Casca, but never repeated the musical success of the ballad. His other musical efforts included producing and writing a bicentennial year album called “Of Thee I Sing.” He also had established a trust fund for orphans in Vietnam. Survivors include his wife, Lavona, and three children.
One of the songs that SSgt Sadler left for us is the Badge of Courage. These songs talk about the medal