The song “The Ballad of the Green Berets,” sung by Staff Sgt. Barry Sadler, hit No. 1 on the U.S. music charts on this day in history, March 5, 1966.
Unlike many songs that would emerge from the Vietnam War era, “The Ballad of the Green Berets” painted the American military in a relatively positive light.
The song’s title refers to the colloquial name of the United States Army Special Forces, who wear green berets as part of their uniform.
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The song’s opening verse refers to the Green Berets as “fearless men who jump and die,” and as “men who mean just what they say.”
The song’s chorus calls the group “America’s best,” and notes that “100 men will test today, but only three win the Green Beret.”
The song continues, “Trained to live off nature’s land, trained in combat hand-to-hand, men who fight by night and day, courage peak from the Green Berets.”
The third verse departs starkly from the upbeat tone of the first two, stating, “Back at home a young wife waits, her Green Beret has met his fate.”
The song goes on, “He has died for those oppressed, leaving her his last request.”
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His last request, of course, is for his son to become a Green Beret himself.
“Make him one of America’s best. He’ll be a man they’ll test one day, have him win the Green Beret,” says the song.
Sadler himself was a Green Beret, joining the U.S. Army in 1962 after a successful stint in the U.S. Air Force, notes Britannica.
Sadler volunteered for the Special Forces and served as a medic.
He finished his training in December 1963, said the encyclopedia.
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Less than two years after he finished his training, Sadler was injured by a punji stick — a booby-trapped stake — in Vietnam, forcing him to return home to the United States, says History.com.
“Within two weeks of its major-label release, ‘The Ballad of the Green Berets’ had sold more than one million copies, going on to become Billboard magazine’s #1 single for all of 1966.”
During his hospitalization and recovery from his injury, Sadler wrote an “epic ballad” about the Green Berets and submitted it to music publishers, says Britannica.
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Robin Moore, author of the nonfiction book, “The Green Berets,” assisted Sadler in trimming down the ballad significantly, notes the website.
Moore is credited as a co-writer of “The Ballad of the Green Berets.”
Initially, the song was distributed only among the military, says History.com, but was later picked up by recording company RCA Records.
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“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 No. 1 single for all of 1966,” the site also said.
Sadler left the military in 1967, but was unable to replicate his musical success.
Instead, he became an author, writing 29 pulp fiction books, said Britannica.
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In the 1980s, Sadler would move to Guatemala City. It was there that his life would take a tragic turn.
In 1988, Sadler was shot while sitting in a car. The injuries from the gunshot would render Sadler quadriplegic and brain-damaged, said Britannica.
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Sadler died on Nov. 5, 1989, at the Alvin C. York Medical Center in Murfreesboro, Tennessee.
He was just 49 years old, said an Associated Press article about his death.