Barry Sadler (November 1, 1940 – November 5, 1989) was an American soldier, author, singer and songwriter. Sadler served as a Green Beret combat Medic with the rank of Staff Sergeant in the U.S. Army during the Vietnam War. Most of his work has a military theme, and he billed himself as SSG Barry Sadler (although his label credits read SSgt Barry Sadler).
Sadler was born in Carlsbad, New Mexico, the second son of John Sadler and Bebe Littlefield of Phoenix, Arizona. His parents were both professional gamblers, and the family moved often. His parents divorced when Sadler was very young, and his father died not long after of a rare form of nervous system cancer at the age of 36. His mother took her sons with her as she worked at temporary jobs in Arizona, California, Colorado, New Mexico, and Texas. According to Sadler's autobiography, "I'm a Lucky One," his father developed a successful plumbing and electrical business in Carlsbad, NM. He also owned several farms in the area. He describes his mother as managing restaurants and bars, and at times games in casinos.
Sadler dropped out of high school in the tenth grade in Leadville, Colorado. After a year of hitchhiking across the country, he enlisted at age 17 in the U.S. Air Force. He was trained as a radar technician and was stationed in Japan. Following his discharge, Sadler enlisted in the Army, seeking more excitement.
After completing airborne training, Sadler volunteered for the US Army's elite Special Forces and passed the difficult selections tests. Following lengthy training as a combat medic at Fort Sam Houston, Texas, he was sent to South Vietnam. In May 1965, while on a combat patrol in the Central Highlands southeast of Pleiku, he was severely wounded in the knee by a feces-covered punji stick. He was already taking an antibiotic for dysentery, and no ill effects from the punji stick were seen. He used a cotton swab and an adhesive bandage, then finished the patrol. However, he developed a serious infection in his leg, and was flown to Walter Reed Hospital in the United States. Sadler's doctors were forced to surgically enlarge the wound to drain it and to administer penicillin. While he was recuperating, he heard Senator Robert F. Kennedy dedicate the new JFK Center for Special Warfare at Fort Bragg. Sadler promised himself that if he successfully fought off the infection, he would give away the rights to his song "The Ballad of the Green Berets." He recovered completely and kept his promise.
Sadler recorded his now-famous song, "The Ballad Of The Green Berets," a patriotic song in ballad style. The recording was encouraged by writer Robin Moore, author of the novel The Green Berets. The book became a 1968 movie, The Green Berets, starring John Wayne, with "The Ballad of the Green Berets" arranged in a choral version by Ken Darby as the title song of the film. Moore wrote an introduction to Sadler's autobiography, I'm a Lucky One, which he dictated to Tom Mahoney and which Macmillan published in 1967. "The Ballad of the Green Berets" was picked up by the RCA Victor Records label in early 1966 and became a fast-selling single, reaching No. 1 on the Billboard Hot 100 chart for five consecutive weeks from March 5 to April 2, 1966. It sold over one million copies, and was awarded a gold disc. The song was a big hit in many U.S. cities; it spent five weeks at No. 1 on the weekly Good Guys music survey at WMCA, the top pop music radio station in New York in 1966. He sang it for his television debut on The Jimmy Dean Show. Sadler recorded an album of similarly themed songs which he titled Ballads of the Green Berets. It sold a million copies in the first five weeks of its release.
According to the ribbons and badges worn by Sadler in a televised performance of "The Ballad of the Green Berets," he received the following awards for his military service: Army Good Conduct Medal, Air Force Longevity Service Award, Purple Heart Medal, Army Good Conduct Medal, Armed Forces Expeditionary Medal, Combat Infantryman Badge, Parachutist Badge, and the South Vietnamese Parachutist Badge.
The ribbons shown in Sadler's TV performance mentioned above did not reflect all of Sadler's awards, nor were they displayed in the proper order of precedence. Sadler was also entitled to the National Defense Service Medal and the Vietnam Campaign Medal. He had the option of replacing the Armed Forces Expeditionary Medal with the Vietnam Service Medal.
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