Barry Sadler’s “Ballad of the Green Berets”
It is due in large part to Hollywood, that America’s collective memory of the Vietnam War is now inextricably linked with the popular music of that era. Most of those links are with the music of the late-60s counterculture and antiwar movement. But opposition to the war was far from widespread 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 this day, American popular-music fans made a #1 hit out of a song called “The Ballad of the Green Berets” by Staff Sergeant Barry Sadler.
Barry Sadler was exactly what his name and uniform implied he was: a real-life, active-duty member of the United States Army Special Forces popularly known as the Green Berets. In early 1965, Sadler suffered a severe punji stick injury which prematurely ended his tour of in Vietnam as a combat medic.
While recovering from his wounds Stateside, Sadler, an aspiring musician prior to his enlistment, wrote the 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 original 12-verse ballad down to a pop-radio-friendly length, and Sadler recorded the song himself in late 1965.
Originally it was only distributed within the military,but quickly became an underground hit and was later released for RCA. 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.
Although “The Ballad of the Green Berets” was the biggest hit single of 1966, Sadler never duplicated its blockbuster success, and soon retired from music to become a successful author, Though between his singing and writing careers, he found time to star on the big screen. His biggest film credit was in “Dayton’s Devils” which was released in 1968.
In his writing, Sadler chose to write about soldiers, but his series of books was far different from his music. His popular Casca, the Eternal Mercenary series centers on the title character, Casca Rufio Longinius, the Roman soldier who stabbed Christ during the crucifixion. He was then cursed by Jesus to remain a soldier until the Second Coming. The novels take Casca on his journey through history from one war to the next; from warring dynasties in China to the front lines of World War II. While Sadler only wrote the first few books, the popular pulp fiction series was continued by the publishers using ghost writers and remained issued under his name.
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. The following year, Buffalo Springfield released the anti-war anthem “For What It’s Worth” which continues to this day to be Hollywood’s go-to choice for a majority of the films and television programs depicting American involvement in the Vietnam War. However, on this day in 1966, however, the American airwaves belonged to a clean cut, uniformed member of the U.S. Army and his anti-antiwar epic.
Today, we celebrate both Barry and the men he sang about with Deputy Dave’s Drink of the Day: The Commando Cocktail
1 ½ oz bourbon
¾ oz triple sec
2 dashes of Pernod Licorice Liqueur
¾ oz lime juice
Pour the bourbon whiskey, triple sec, pernod and lime juice into a cocktail shaker half-filled with ice cubes. Shake well, strain into a cocktail glass, and serve.0
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