Barry Sadler (November 1, 1940 – November 5, 1989) was an American soldier, author and musician. Sadler served as a Green Beret 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 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 Leadville, Colorado in the tenth grade. 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. At the end of his four year tour of duty, Sadler enlisted in the Army, seeking more excitement.
Following his 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: Air Force 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 possibly the South Vietnamese Parachutist Badge.
Unable to score another major hit, although "The A-Team " was a Top 30 Billboard chart 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 22 books being farmed out by the publishers to other writers and issued under his name. Subsequent books have been written by different authors.
On December 1, 1978 at around 11pm, Sadler killed country songwriter Lee Emerson Bellamy with one gunshot to the head. The shooting was the culmination of a month's long dispute the men had over Darlene Sharp, who was Bellamy's former girlfriend, and Sadler's girlfriend at the time. Bellamy was not pleased by her involvement with Sadler. Witnesses gave testimony that prior to the shooting, Bellamy made many harassing phone calls to Sadler, and numerous threats on his life.
On the night in question, Bellamy made several harassing phone calls, including one to the Natchez Trace Restaurant, where Sadler and Sharp were having dinner and drinks with several friends. That led to Sadler asking the bartender to call the police, who never responded. Bellamy later followed the group to Sharp's residence and knocked on the door. Sadler exited a side door to try to catch him in the act, and upon seeing Sadler, Bellamy proceeded to aggressively approach him. It was at this point, Sadler testified, that he saw a flash of metal. Thinking this was a gun, he discharged his weapon once. Bellamy was struck in the head and died the following morning. It was later shown that Bellamy was unarmed, and that the flash of metal was likely from his car keys. After the shooting, according to court records on the case, Sadler then placed a handgun into Bellamy's van. This may have been to strengthen his case for self defense, which initially, is what Sadler claimed. This was later changed to a plea of guilty.
On June 1, 1979 Sadler was convicted of voluntary manslaughter in the death of Lee Emerson Bellamy, and sentenced to 4–5 years in prison. Upon appeal, due to the circumstances of the case, his sentence was reduced to the 21 days already served in a Tennessee workhouse. Sadler was later sued for wrongful death by Bellamy's estate, and was ordered to pay restitution of around $10,000.
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.
The second verse of the Simon and Garfunkel song "A Simple Desultory Philippic" contains the line, "I've been Lou Adlered, Barry Sadlered".