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 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.
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 was stationed in Japan at age 17. After a few years in the Air Force, Sadler joined the Army, hoping for more excitement.
Wounded in action
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. But later, Sadler developed a major infection of the leg, sending him home. During dangerous surgery, Sadler's doctors found themselves forced to enlarge the wound in order to drain it and administer penicillin. While he was 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 successfully fought off the infection, which it eventually did, he would give away the rights to his song.
The Ballad Of The Green Berets
Sadler recorded his now-famous song, "The Ballad Of The Green Berets," a patriotic song in ballad style. The recording was encouaged 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. However, 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.
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 Saint Longinus and The Wandering Jew), who stabbed Christ during the crucifixion, and is cursed to remain a soldier eternally till the Second Coming. The series of novels takes Casca through to the 20th century. Sadler himself wrote only the first few, with the remainder of the original 31 books being farmed out by the publishers to other writers and issued under his name. Subsequent books have been written by different authors.
In the late 1970s, Sadler shot and killed country songwriter Lee Emerson. The shooting took place at night in front of Sadler's house. Pleading guilty to voluntary manslaughter, Sadler was sentenced to four to five years in prison, but all but 30 days was suspended.
Sadler moved to Guatemala City in the mid 1980s and often hung out at a bar/restaurant called La Europa (also known as Freddie's Bar for the German proprietor). 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.
It was in Guatemala City that he was shot in the head one night in a taxi. He was airlifted to the U.S. by friends from 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 the Alvin C. York Medical Center in Murfreesboro, Tennessee. The circumstances involving his shooting remain a mystery. It has been variously 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. The most common story identifies the incident as a robbery. According to his companion at the time, he had been training Nicaraguan counter-revolutionaries and had received death threats.
In Mitchell Freedman's alternative history novel A Disturbance of Fate (ISBN 1931643229), Barry Sadler becomes president in 1984 after serving two terms as governor of Arizona. In Freedman's scenario, Sadler carries out the agenda pursued by Ronald Reagan of promoting pro-business policies and personnel into federal posts. His use of the military promotes a second Civil War in 1986 (which Freedman's characters refer to as "the Great Struggle") which leads to the defeat of the forces under President Sadler's control. Sadler himself is captured in the novel after a failed suicide attempt and dies in 1991 of a heart attack while in solitary confinement.