Monday, January 31, 2011

They Passed This Way: Barry Sadler

Barry Sadler was born in Carlsbad,N.M., the son of  John Sadler and Bebe Littlefield, originally from Phoenix,Az. the family moved around quite a bit.  After her husband's death from cancer, Bebe lived a transitory lifestyle, with stops around the southwestern states including a return to New Mexico.  The family would eventually settle in Leadsville,Co. where Barry attended high school.  Sadler would drop out in the 10th grade to spent a year hitchhiking across the U.S.   At the age of 17, with his mother's permission, he enlisted in the USAF.  After his discharge from the Air Force he put his musical skills to use,  teaming up with a musician friend  they played their way across the Northwest. After a year of working menial jobs and the grinding routine of playing bars and dives, Barry decided to enlist in  the U.S. Army.  He qualified for the paratroopers and was dispatched to Jump School at Fort Benning, Ga., while there he composed what would eventually become his ticket to fame "The Ballad of The Green Berets."   Sadler would eventually earn his Green Beret as a medic and was shipped off for duty in Vietnam.  He continued to play and perform his music while serving in Vietnam.  In 1965 while on patrol, Sadler suffered a serious punji stick injury that put him out of action.  While in the hospital, Sadler's musical talents were brought to the attention of  U.S. Army Support Command, Major General Delk N. Oden's staff.  They requested that Sadler perform "The Ballad of The Green Berets" for the General. Barry obliged, not knowing at the time, that it would help rocket him up the pop music charts.   RCA snapped up the song, sending Sadler to the studio backed with a male chorus and a fifteen piece orchestra.
On December 18th,1965  Sadler recorded his entire debut album in one day. Released in January, 1966 "The Ballad of the Green Berets" sold 2 million copies in 5 weeks after it's release,  it would eventually top out at 11 million.  It was #1 on the U.S. charts for 5 weeks, bumping the Beatles and the Supremes, by the time he appeared on The Ed Sullivan Show he was a household name.  However, fame is fleeting, his next single "The A-Team" barely made the Top 30 before it fizzled out, and then just like that, it was over.  Barry would try to keep his music career alive by moving to Nashville and trying his hand at country music, to no avail.  With his whirlwind music career seemingly finished, Barry Sadler re-invented himself as a writer.  He developed a fictional character, Casca Rufio Longinius, a Roman sentry  who stabs Christ during the crucifixion, and is cursed to remain a soldier eternally till the Second Coming.   The series  "Casca, The Eternal Mercenary" would reach 22 volumes, with over 2 million books sold, Sadler however only wrote the first few, different writers were hired to pen the novels under Sadler's name.  Barry Sadler would make headlines once again in 1978, when he shot and killed songwriter Lee Emerson following a dispute in front of Sadler's home.  Emerson a veteran of the Nashville music scene was best known as the author of the soulful weeper "I Thought I Heard You Callin' My Name" a hit for Porter Waggoner in 1957 (it was also recorded by Rodney Crowell and Jessi Colter)  Sadler would plead guilty to voluntary manslaughter charges and received a sentence of 4-5 years with all but 30 days suspended.
After that episode, Sadler, like so many old Vietnam hands, found his way to Central America. While living in Guatemala City, Barry is believed to have been involved in training Nicaraguan contras and running guns from the U.S.  On September 8th, 1988 while traveling by taxi on a highway in Guatemala, Sadler suffered a gunshot wound to the head. He was in the company of a woman, the driver having fled the scene.  When police arrived, the woman reported that Barry's wound was self inflicted. Friends speculated that he had been shot by Sandinista operatives or by bandits after his cache of weapons and money, the case was never solved.  Sadler was taken to a local hospital and then flown to a V.A. hospital in Nashville. Once back on U.S. soil, a custody battle over his body began and a comatose Sadler was kidnapped from the hospital and then returned, he remained in a coma for several months until his death. A sad ending for a man who brought a rush of patriotic fervor and pride to an entire nation.