By MIKE VINSON
DATE: Prior to A.D. 30
LOCATION: Calvary Hill, just outside Jerusalem
Nailed to a cross, Jesus of Nazareth is near death. Casca...a Roman soldier standing at the foot of the cross...thrusts his spear into Jesus' side. Before dying, Jesus dooms Casca to wander the earth, as a soldier, until the Second Coming. Though he is immortal and never ages, Casca, feels all pain inflicted on him.
DATE: May 1965
LOCATION: Central Highlands, Vietnam
Staff Sergeant Barry Sadler, a medic with the elite Green Berets, was on a patrol mission with his unit, attempting to gather intelligence on the enemy, the Viet Cong. While on patrol Sadler was injured in the leg by a feces-covered punji stick, a deadly tactic used by Viet Cong soldiers. The infection became so serious Sadler was flown to Walter Reed Hospital in the United States. (NOTE: A "punji stick" is a bamboo stake sharpened at the exposed end, concealed in high grass, in a hole, or in deep mud, intended to wound and infect enemy soldiers.)
Though accounts vary, it's been written while a patient at Walter Reed, Sadler heard/watched Senator Robert F. Kennedy dedicate the JFK Center for Special Warfare at Fort Bragg (North Carolina). After hearing Senator Kennedy, Sadler vowed if he fully recovered from the leg infection, he would finish up a "special song" on which he'd been working.
What we know for a fact is this: Staff Sergeant Barry Sadler, dressed in his Green Beret uniform, debuted his song "The Ballad of the Green Berets" (co-written by Sadler and Robin Moore) on "The Ed Sullivan Show," January 30, 1966. Sadler wowed viewers with his patriotic lyrics, accented by a haunting drum beat.
"Fighting soldiers from the sky
Fearless men who jump and die
Men who mean just what they say
The brave men of the Green Beret
Silver wings upon their chest
These are men, America's best
One hundred men we'll test today
But only three win the Green Beret"
Ironically enough, "The Ballad of the Green Berets" was an instant pop hit, quickly reaching number one on the Billboard Charts, selling a reported one million copies during the first five weeks of release. Further, some music polls had it as the "number one song of 1966," surpassing even the Beatles and the Rolling Stones. And I use the term "ironically enough" because in 1966 there was tremendous outcry against the Vietnam War, and much of that outcry was expressed in rock 'n' roll songs.
The following years would prove eventful for Barry Sadler, no longer a Green Beret in the U.S. Army. In 1978, Sadler shot to death a man in Nashville, Tennessee. Supposedly, the two men were arguing over a woman, and Sadler claimed he acted in self defense. Sadler was convicted of involuntary manslaughter; however, he received a relatively light sentence.
In 1979, Barry Sadler wrote and released the novel "Casca 1: The Eternal Mercenary," upon which the opening scene of this column was based. The novel sold well.
Sadler moved to Guatemala City, Guatemala, in the mid-'80s. Over the years, several sordid stories have circulated regarding what actually happened to Barry Sadler on September 7, 1988: While returning home via taxi from a nightclub in Guatemala City, patronized by mercenaries, Sadler intentionally shot himself in the head; Sadler was shot in a robbery attempt; Sadler's handgun accidentally discharged inside the taxi; Sadler was shot by a shady acquaintance, with whom Sadler had been drinking, after an argument over an arms deal gone badly. Others than those actually involved, no one knows the true story.
With the help of friends, such as folks from "Soldier of Fortune" magazine, Sadler was airlifted from Guatemala City back to the United States, where he remained in a coma for several months. Though he came out of the coma, Sadler suffered significant brain damage.
Sadly enough, at age 49, Barry Sadler passed away at the Alvin C. York V.A. Medical Center in Murfreesboro, TN, November 5, 1989, from injuries related to having been shot in the head.
Barry Sadler: Green Beret, patriot, songwriter, author, one-time Middle Tennessean.