Book Interview - Ballad of the Green Beret: The Life and Wars of Staff Sergeant Barry Sadler by Sean Moores, Stars & Stripes
In 1966, Army Staff Sgt. Barry Sadler, an active-duty Green Beret medic, became a national sensation with his song “The Ballad of the Green Berets.” The Beatles, the Beach Boys and the Rolling Stones had chart-topping hits that year, but it was Sadler’s salute to the Special Forces that finished the year at No. 1 on Billboard’s Hot Singles chart, based on sales and airplay.
Sadler’s rise from a tour in Vietnam to the top of the pops might have been interesting enough to fill a book. His fall from that short-lived perch makes the story all the more compelling. Historian and Vietnam veteran Marc Leepson captures it all in “Ballad of the Green Beret: The Life and Wars of Staff Sergeant Barry Sadler from the Vietnam War and Pop Stardom to Murder and an Unsolved, Violent Death.”
“In a lot of ways his life is a tragic story,” said Leepson, Senior Writer, Books Editor and columnist for The VVA Veteran, the magazine published by Vietnam Veterans of America. “He was on top of the world, or at least the United States, in 1966. Then everything unraveled.”
Sadler’s music career stalled after one marginally successful follow-up. Before long, hundreds of thousands in royalty dollars were gone to booze and bad business sense. Less than 15 years after his song hit No. 1, Sadler was charged with murder in Nashville. As that legal struggle began, so did Sadler’s successful second act as pulp-fiction novelist. After years of drinking and womanizing, he spent his final years living apart from his family in Central America, where the carousing continued. In September 1988, he was shot in the head in a taxicab in Guatemala City. Who shot him remains unclear. Sadler died the following year, not yet 50 years old.
Leepson, 71, recently spoke by telephone with Stars and Stripes about his new book, Sadler’s famous song and the soldier’s rocky road after the fame faded.
H/T Dave Maxwell