The long, turbulent, and tortured period in American history that was the Vietnam War will always be viewed as encapsulated by two very different popular songs from that time. One of those songs was "Give Peace a Chance" by John Lennon; the other was "The Ballad of the Green Berets", by Staff Sergeant Barry Sadler. This is a group of Sadler's personal papers and photographs that, while they post-date the fall of Saigon by a year, still resonate with the history of that war and Sadler's attempts to describe its effects in song.
Sadler was a Special Forces Green Beret and combat medic who himself served in Vietnam, where he was in fact wounded in May of 1965. It was only a matter of a few months later that Sadler wrote and then recorded "The Ballad of the Green Berets". After performing the song on "The Ed Sullivan Shows" in January of 1966, Sadler saw his composition become the number 1 song in the nation, a status that it held for five weeks in March and April.
Following his departure from the army, Sadler pursued a career in music, forming the "Green Beret Music Company" and continuing to both write and produce music in Nashville, Tennessee. Ultimately, Sadler moved to Central America where he wrote novels, provided medical treatment to villagers and, finally, where he was critically wounded when he was shot in the head in Guatemala City in 1988, dying from the effects of the wound a few months later.
The materials in this group consist of a three ring notebook with alphabetical dividers and containing a varied assortment of Sadler's photographs and documents, including multiple documents bearing his original signature.
The group includes the following materials:
- Multiple copies of music industry contracts, signed by Sadler as a principal of the Green Beret Music Company.
- An 8 by 10 black and white photograph of Sadler in green army fatigue uniform, wearing a green beret with the flash of the 7th Special Forces Group (Sadler's assignment after his return from Vietnam. It was this beret that he wore in his public appearances in 1966 to perform "The Ballad of the Green Berets", such as on the Sullivan show. He also wears this beret in the photograph that appeared on the picture sleeve of the 45 RPM recording of the song, and in the photograph that was used on the cover of the novel "The Green Berets", by Robin Moore, made into a film of the same name starring John Wayne). In the photograph Sadler kneels between a machine gun and a mortar, cradling a Thompson sub-machine gun. This photograph was undoubtedly an official publicity image created by the army once Sadler had become the face and the voice of the U.S. Army Special Forces. The photograph has a hole in the bottom center, as though it had been maintained in a file, and the lower left corner is torn. The photograph was obviously still quite important to Sadler for him to have kept it. The photo takes on even greater significance, though, because Sadler used the back of the photo on which to write by hand the lyrics of another song about the Vietnam War. The lyrics to this (apparently unrecorded) song are entirely different from the inspirational words of Sadler's original ballad, and includes verses such as:
"I heard a drum & fife
play the military blues
as 50 thousand dead
passed in review .
I heard their voices speaking
thru their tears and pain
God forgive you America
You let us die in vain."
- The archive contains a number of pages of Sadler's hand written lyrics to other songs.
- There are two 8 by 10 inch photos of Sadler, circa 1976, one of them a publicity portrait photo and another showing him in a recording studio.
- There is an 8 by 10 inch photograph of Sadler wearing West German camouflage and a German field cap, firing a machine gun. The photo was presumably taken when Sadler was undergoing training with the army of the Federal Republic of Germany. There is also a contact sheet of photographs of Sadler behind the wheel of something like a German Kubelwagen.
- There are a number of documents relating to Sadler's work in the music industry circa 1976.
- There are two 8 by 10 inch photographs which are somewhat mysterious. They show men who appear to be Latin American soldiers wearing "duck hunter" camouflage. One photo is a group shot while the other shows a shirtless man brandishing an M79 grenade launcher. There are no written details on the backs of the photographs that would establish when or where they were taken. They are intriguing, however, because of the rather murky circumstances surrounding the shooting of Sadler in Guatemala. While one account described it as a robbery attempt, there were other reports that Sadler was in fact the victim of an assasination attempt. These accounts suggest that Sadler's true role in Central America was to provide assistance to the anti-communist "Contras" who were waging a guerilla was against the leftist regime in Nicaragua at that time. In this respect it is interesting that, after Sadler was critically wounded, he was flown back to the United States in a private jet that was paid for by the publisher of "Soldier of Fortune" magazine.
This archive is a fascinating collection of some very personal and truly noteworthy materials that belonged to, and tell a part of the story of, a man who served as a Green Beret in the Vietnam War, and whose artistic talents and abilities gave voice to one of the most memorable songs ever written about military service in wartime.