Barry Sadler was a real soldier. The Vietnam War was going strong in 1966 and Barry was serving active duty at the time. He was a medic and had achieved the rank of Staff Sergeant (SSgt.)
In 1961, President John F Kennedy had created a special army combat unit that they called the Special Forces, but they soon became known by the unique caps that they wore, the green beret. Barry Sadler was a member of the green berets and in 1965, decided he would write a song as a tribute to his unit.
Barry Sadler was born in 1940 in Carlsbad, New Mexico. His family moved around a lot and when he was in tenth grade in high school, he dropped out and joined the U.S. Air Force, where he spent four years, being discharged in 1962. He then joined the U.S. Army, volunteering for Special Forces and becoming a medic. In May 1965, while on patrol, he was wounded by a punji stake. These are devices which are sharpened to a point (with poison on the tip) and then placed in pits in the ground and positioned at an angle. The pit was then camouflaged and when the soldier stepped into the pit, he would get speared by the punji stake and find it very difficult to remove it. This is what happened to Sadler and so, he received an honorable discharge from the Army on medical reasons.
Barry wrote the song with the help of Robin Moore who had written a book called “The Green Berets.” A movie was produced based on the book, with the same name and which starred John Wayne. “The Ballad of the Green Berets” was first just released to the military, but it did so well that they took it to RCA Records, who picked it up and released it in January, 1966. Unlike some of the protest songs about the Vietnam War, this song was more positive about the military and sold more than a million copies in the first two weeks of release pushing it right to the number one spot. It became RCA’s fastest selling record of all time, up to that point.
Barry Sadler recorded another military themed song, “The A-Team” later in 1966, but it only reached number 28 on the chart and, so, Barry Sadler career as a singer came to an end. He ended up re-enlisting in the U.S. Army and then doing some acting work. In 1988, after living in Guatemala for four years, he was shot in the head, while sitting in a taxi. It was never proven if he shot himself or was the victim of an attempted robbery. It did not kill him,but it disabled him enough that he died on November 5, 1989, just four days after his 45th birthday.
“The Ballad of the Green Berets” entered the pop charts on February 19, 1966 and stayed at the top spot for five weeks. It was the best-selling record of the entire year, 1966.