Music played an important cultural role during the Vietnam War, it represented the rebellious views of a young generation seeking for peace and justice. Songs during the war era represented the traditional values so-called “silent majority.” Music captured the emotions of people for and against the war and reflected the mood of an increasingly diverse country amid dramatic social and political change.
The Beatles, Rolling Stones and Beach Boys may have been the most popular musical icon during in the 196o’s, the song that went hot on the charts world wide did not came from them. In 1966, the most popular song that filled the airwaves talked about U.S. Military Special Forces fighting group called the Green Beret.
“The Ballad of the Green Berets” was co-written and sang by Staff Sgt. Barry Sadler. He penned the track when he was recovering from a major injury he suffered from the war. He was 25 years old back then. He was given the chance to perform the song on The Ed Sullivan Show. And eventually, The song became a monster hit, selling more than two-million copies in its first five weeks of release.
There’s more to this story however than just the music. Some politics are involved, a paperback book, additional music, and a Hollywood film.
Dissection and Digestion of the Song
Fighting soldiers from the sky
Fearless men who jump and die
Men who mean just what they say
The brave men of the Green Beret
Silver wings upon their chest
These are men, America’s best
One hundred men we’ll test today
But only three win the Green Beret
Taking the song as a whole, the first stanza tries to say how honorable men like Sadler and men fighting in the war are, he wants respect. In the second stanza, he continues with the respect aspect and says how important and valuable the Green Beret is. Moving on the third, he is getting a point across that these soldiers go through a lot preparing for the war and obviously in the war. In the fourth stanza, Sadler wants the listeners to be empathetic towards soldiers and their families. And finally, in the last stanza, he talks about this tradition continuing on from generation to generation and letting America know we can’t hate our soldiers forever, and we never should.
Again, many people were against the war in Vietnam. That being said many people sometimes would take it out on American Soldiers. So, Sadler tried to voice out their side in a song. He waned to ask empathy from among the people. He also wanted the reputation for Soldiers to go way up since his lyrics were entirely about how honorable these men are and how hard they work.
Highlights of the song
Fighting soldiers from the sky
Fearless men who jump and die
These lines directly refer to the Green Berets’ core and most dangerous duties. They go through the most risky procedures such as going under a paratrooper drops in the middle of a ranging war. According to history records, the earlier members of the Green Berets in 1952 experienced the most dangerous kind of jumps during the World War II and during the Korean War. These maximum degree of difficulty is far different from the duties of other soldiers. Sadler highlighted the important role of the Green Berets during these major wars that happened in history.
Men who mean just what they say
One of the measures of a true man is his loyalty with his words. The line mentioned above brings forth a confirmation of the inherent values held by those who made it to the Green Berets team. They don’t only focus on strengthening their physical power, but also they were trained to become man of moral values, who take on dangerous missions and deal with every person fairly. A green Beret should walk by their definition – fundamentally honest and reliable.
The patriotic ode to the military made Sadler briefly famous and rich. To better understand the essence of the song, it’s important to know the background of its singer and songwriter.
Barry Sadler: One of America’s best
Where it all began
Born on November 1, 1940, Barry Allen Sadler grew up in Carlsbad, New Mexico, U.S. In 1945, his parents divorced three years after his father’s death. His mother managed to operate various restaurants and bars, that’s how they survived.
At the age of 12, Sadler became interested in music. He taught himself how to play guitar and picked a range of Western and Mexican songs. His natural talents continued to be discovered as he explore the world. He noticed his ability in shooting, and developed a startling accuracy. Years later, they settled in Leadville, Collorado. This is where he attended high school, but he dropped after finishing his 10th grade.
And his military journey begins
He hitchhiked around the country then decided to join the U.S. Air Force in June 1958. He bravely served for four years. His deployment in Japan as an air traffic controller and radar specialist gave him opportunity to become a proficient martial artist. He then had his honorable discharge on the navy in June 1962. This was the time he started to practice his musical skills. Together with his friend, they traveled around the west and played music at night while working occasional jobs during daytime.
In August 1962, Sadler returned to military service, that time, he joined the U.S. Army. He first volunteered as a paratrooper. Along his training, the instructors were impressed with his toughness and recommended him for Special Forces. He completed his airborne training and became a medic for the Special Forces. He then became a member of the Green Beret and needed to be trained at Fort Sam Houston’s Brooke Army Medical Center in Texas, the Advanced Medical Training School at Fort Bragg, North Carolina, and the U.S. Army Hospital at Forth Jackson, South Carolina. He completed all his medical training in December 1963.
Along his duty, he met his wife Lavona Edelman, a Women’s Army Corps nurse. They married on July 18, 1963.
He was then deployed to Vietnam from December 1964 to May 1965. He served as a medic with the 5th Special Forces Group’s Detachment A-216 at Camp Hardy in Plei Do Lim in the Central Highlands of South Vietnam. Their role is to administer medical needs of the local hill people called the Montagnards, and the other civilians. Also, they were responsible in treating their fellow military members who had been wounded or injured.
The creation of “The Ballad of Green Beret”
A blessing in disguise
One tragedy happened to Sadler that became a blessing in disguise. He was severely wounded in the knee by punji stick, a sharpened bamboo covered with feces that increased the chances of infection. This happened while he was on a combat at patrol in the southeast of Pleiku in the Central Highlands. Dedicated to finish the mission, he dressed the wound with a cotton swab and adhesive bandage, and completed the mission.
Unfortunately, he subsequently developed a serious infection on the the wounded part. He had to be evacuated to the Philippines for treatment. The doctors had to surgically enlarge the wound to drain it. After which, they administer a large dosage of penicillin to complete the medication process. The infection did indeed set in, and Sadler nearly had to have his leg amputated. He then returned to Fort Bragg to have a complete recovery.
The completion of the Green Berets song
During the time he was recovering, he spent time with his music. He sang songs for his fellow wounded soldiers. He began composing a song about the Green Berets. Robin Moore helped him finish the song he had been writing for several years, “The Ballad of the Green Berets.” Moore is the author of the novel The Green Berets, which became a movie in 1968. Also, he wrote an introduction to Sadler’s autobiography, I’m a Lucky One, which was published in 1967 by Macmillan company.
“The Ballad of the Green Berets” pays tribute to the Special Forces soldiers. During that time, Sadler signed a recording contract with RCA Records, which helped him release a single and album titled Ballads of the Green Berets.The song immediately found success in in many U.S. cities.
The song peaked number one on the Billboard Top 100 chart in February 1966. It stayed there for five week. As per records, the album sold over two million copies, and eventually awarded as the best-selling album in April of the same year it was released.
Barry Sadler enters the show business
Sadler took his honorable discharge from the military in May 1967. He then moved with his family to Tucson, Arizona. He wanted to expand his experience in the show business. His musical career went lukewarm though. His single, “The A-Team” reached the top 30 spot on the Billboard chart single in 1966, but he was unable to score anything close to a major success.
Sadler also tried his luck on other businesses. He operated a bar and luckily it went well. Having been closely in touched with the war, he donated a portion of his wealth to fund the families of Vietnam families.
Going back to his entertainment career, he was able to get minor acting roles in four episodes of two television western series which are “Death Valley Days” and “the High Chaparral.” Also he got a role in the film Dayton’s Devils showed in 1968.
Sadler as a novelist
After these film experiences, he moved to Nashville and began writing pulp novel fictions. His Casca series became popular in the literary world. It is a series of paperback novels. The plot revolve around the life of the Roman soldier Casca Longinus, who drove the Holy Lance into the side of Jesus Christ on Golgotha. He was then doomed by Jesus to wander the Earth aimlessly as a soldier, until the Second coming. Sadler based his character from the Longinus legend of Christianity.
Sadler penned the first twenty-two books, and after his death, different authors continued the other series for the novel until this time. Some of the current authors for the novel include Paul Dengelegi and Tony Roberts.
The Lee Emerson Tragedy
The Green Beret’s life have been prone to ups and downs. On the middle of the night of December 1, 1978, Sadler killed a man with a gunshot to the head. That was Lee Emerson Bellamy, a country songwriter, who had been in conflict with him because of a lady named Darlene Sharpe. Sharpe was Bellamy’s ex-girlfriend, and Sadler’s lover at that time.
According to narrations, Bellamy made many harassing telephone calls to Sharpe and Sadler for over a month. The three even had a violent confrontation on a parking in Nashville, where Bellamy threatened both of their lives.
One night while Sharpe and Sadler together with their friends were having a dinner, Bellamy made several harassing telephone calls. The frustrated man then went to Sharpe’s apartment. Upon seeing Sadler opening the door, Bellamy fled to his van.
Acoording to Sadler’s testimony, he saw a flash of metal held by Bellamy, which he believed to be a gun. Due to self defense instinct, the ex-military fired one shot that went straight right between the other man’s eyes. Bellamy then died several hours later in a Nashville hospital.
Sadler was convicted of of voluntary manslaughter on June 1, 1979. He was sentenced 4 to 5 years in prison. With the help of his legal team, his sentence was lowered to 30 days in the county workhouse. He paid a total of $10,000 for death compensation.
Life goes on for Sadler
Still striving to make a better living, Sadler moved to Central America to train and supply the Nicaraguan Contrabands. He later on settled in Guatemala City, where he sold weapons and transportations to the military. Also, he continued writing and publishing his Casca books. He had some self-defense videos that were never released. Exercising his medical skills, he offered free treatment to people in the rural villages.
The Green Beret’s finale
September 7, 1988 must have been the most tragic day for Sadler. He was shot in the head while sitting in a cab in Guatemala City. Some witnesses narrated that he accidentally shot himself. However, his family and friends believed it was caused by a robbery or an assassination attempt. Thor, his son, was convinced that drug runners were after the cache of guns he was holding that time. Right after the incident, his friends brought him to the United States via private jet plain paid for by Bob Brown, the publisher for Soldier of Fortune Magazine.
He was operated and remained in coma for about six weeks at the Nashville Veteran’s Administration Hospital. Although he survived from coma, he suffered from severe brain damage. He went back to Nashville in January 1989. He eventually recovered his consciousness and regained his speech, but he had to remain in a hospital bed for the rest of his life.
The famous Green Beret died of a heart failure on November 5, 1989, four days after his 49th birthday. He was survived by his wife, Lavona, his daughter Brooke, and sons Thor and Baron.
Sadler’s awards and recognitions
From his service in the military, Sadler gained a promising number of awards. These include South Vietnamese Parachutist Badge, Purple Heart Medal, Air Force Longevity Service Award, Army Good Conduct Medal, Combat Infantryman Badge, and the Armed Forces Expeditionary medal.
Adding to his recognitions are his National Defence Service Medal and the Vietnam Campaign Medal.
Songs become more special with the message they relay. These songs that relate to soldiers’ endeavors give more poignant effect as they impart to us the deepest wounds that can ever be endured.