Barry Sadler (November 1, 1940 – September
8, 1989) was an American author and musician. Sadler
served as a Green Beret medic and Staff Sergeant in
the U.S. Army during the Vietnam War. Most of his
works have military themes, and he billed himself
under his military rank of Staff Sergeant as
SSgt Barry Sadler.
Sadler was born in Carlsbad, New Mexico, the second
son of John Sadler and Bebe Littlefield of Phoenix,
Arizona. Sadler's parents divorced shortly afterward,
with his father dying of a rare form of nervous system
cancer at age 36. Littlefield took Sadler's older
brother, Robert, to various places in the Southwest,
working temporary jobs in Arizona, California,
Colorado, New Mexico, and Texas.
Barry Sadler in the Military Service.
Sadler dropped out of the Leadville,
Colorado high school in the tenth grade. He hitchhiked
across the country, and joined the U.S. Air Force
after a year of wandering the country. Sadler was
trained in radar and traveled to Japan at age 17.
After a few years in the Air Force, Sadler joined the
Army, hoping for more excitement.
While serving in the Vietnam War, he was severely
wounded in the knee by a feces-covered punji stick
while leading a patrol in the Central Highlands of
Vietnam, southeast of Pleiku in May 1965. At the time,
Sadler was on an antibiotic for dysentery, so no major
ill effects from the punji stick were seen. He used
only a cotton swab and an adhesive bandage while
finishing the patrol. Later, Sadler developed a major
infection of the leg, sending him home. During
dangerous surgery, Sadler's doctors had to enlarge the
wound to drain it and administer penicillin. While
recovering in the hospital, Sadler heard Robert F.
Kennedy dedicating the new JFK Center for Special
Warfare at Fort Bragg. At that moment, Sadler promised
himself that if his leg fought the infection, he would
give away the rights to his song.
Sadler recorded his now-famous song, "Ballad of the
Green Berets," a patriotic song in ballad style. The
recording of his Vietnam songs was initiated by the
urging of 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 Sadlers' autobiography, I'm a Lucky
One, written with Tom Mahoney (Macmillan, 1967). The
book's title is also a Sadler recorded song. The "Ballad
of the Green Berets" was picked up by RCA Victor
Records in early 1966 and became a fast-selling
single, reaching #1 on the yearly single charts. The
song was a big hit in many U.S. cities, including 2
weeks at #1 on the weekly Good Guys music survey at
WMCA, the top pop music radio station in New York in
1966. Sadler recorded an album of similarly themed
songs, called Ballads of the Green Berets. None of the
other songs on the album (which generally tell the
common tales of soldiers serving in a time of war)
made an impact. Sadler was widely thought to be a
writer of simple songs, and having an average voice.
Sadler's photograph also appeared on the 1966
paperback cover of Moore's book as well as on his LP
and 45 version of Ballad of the Green Berets.
Unable to score another major hit, although "The
A-Team" was a top-30 Billboard charted single in 1966,
Sadler took to writing books. He chose to write about
soldiers, but his series of novels took a turn far
different from his music. His "Casca" series centers
on the title character, Casca Rufio Longinius (a sort
of combination of Longinus and The Wandering Jew), who
stabbed Christ during the crucifixion, and is cursed
to forever remain a soldier until the Second Coming.
The series of 25 novels takes Casca through to the
20th century. Sadler himself wrote only the first few,
with the remainder of the first 22 being farmed out by
the publishers to other writers and issued under his
name. Subsequent books have been written by different
Later in life and after serving time in prison for
a fatal shooting, Sadler moved to Guatemala City in
the mid 1980's and often hung out at a bar/restaurant
called La Europa (also known as Freddie's Bar for the
German proprietor). During this time he was engaged in
various pursuits. He continued to publish the Casca
books (mostly using various ghostwriters), produced a
self-defense video (which was never released) and even
helped with vaccination programs in rural villages.
But it was often believed that he was involved in
selling arms to the Guatemalan military or arming the
Contras in Honduras and Nicaragua.
It was in Guatemala City that he was shot in the head
one night in a taxi cab. He was airlifted to the
States by friends from the Soldier of Fortune Magazine,
where he was hospitalized and remained in a coma for
several months. He died little more than a year later
in his mother's house in Murfreesboro, Tennessee. The
circumstances involving his shooting remain a mystery.
It has been claimed that he committed suicide, that he
shot himself accidentally while showing off to a
female companion, and that he was assassinated for
allegedly training and arming the Contras. It is also
possible that he was simply a victim of random
Always, Barry Sadler was a great man, great singer and
a great soldier with a big heart who ever was arranged
to make the right before all order.
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