Add to GoodReads

Ballad of the Green Beret

The Life and Wars of Staff Sergeant Barry Sadler from the Vietnam War and Pop Stardom to Murder and an Unsolved, Violent Death

Marc Leepson

The rough-and-tumble life of Special Forces vet and Sixties pop star Barry Sadler

The top Billboard Hot 100 single of 1966 wasn’t The Rolling Stones' “Paint It Black” or the Beatles' “Yellow Submarine”--it was “The Ballad of the Green Berets,” a hyper-patriotic tribute to the men of the Special Forces by Vietnam veteran, U.S. Army Staff Sergeant Barry Sadler. But Sadler’s clean-cut, all-American image hid a darker side, a Hunter Thompson-esque life of booze, girls, and guns. Unable to score another hit song, he wrote a string of popular pulp fiction paperbacks that made “
Rambo look like a stroll through Disneyland.” He killed a lover’s ex-boyfriend in Tennessee. Settling in Central America, Sadler ran guns, allegedly trained guerrillas, provided medical care to residents, and caroused at his villa. In 1988 he was shot in the head in Guatemala and died a year later. This life-and-times biography of an American pop culture phenomenon recounts the sensational details of Sadler’s life vividly but soberly, setting his meteoric rise and tragic fall against the big picture of American society and culture during and after the Vietnam War.
« less more »
Globe Pequot Press / Stackpole Books
Pages: 320Size: 6 1/4 x 9 1/2
978-0-8117-1749-6 • Hardback • May 2017 • $29.95 • (£19.95)
978-0-8117-6568-8 • eBook • May 2017 • $28.99 • (£19.95)
Journalist and historian Marc Leepson is the author of nine books, including What So Proudly We Hailed: Francis Scott Key, A Life; Saving Monticello; and Lafayette: Idealist General. A former staff writer for Congressional Quarterly, his work has appeared in many magazines and newspapers, including Smithsonian, Military History, the Civil War Times, the Washington Post, the New York Times, the Wall Street Journal, and USA Today. He has appeared on The Today Show, CBS This Morning, CNN, MSNBC, Fox News, The History Channel, BBC, and NPR; is a contributor to the Encyclopedia Britannica; and edited the Webster's New World Dictionary of the Vietnam War. He served with the U.S. Army in Vietnam in 1967–68, and is arts editor, senior writer, and columnist for TheVVA Veteran. He taught U.S. history at Lord Fairfax Community College in Warrenton, Virginia, from 2008 to 2015, and lives in northern Virginia. His website is marcleepson.com.
Staff Sgt. Barry Sadler's short life constitutes one of the strangest, saddest, and least known stories of the Vietnam War. Rocketing to fame as the author of "The Ballad of the Green Berets," this high school dropout turned Special Forces medic fell to earth just as suddenly, unable to handle his newfound celebrity. Later in life he would commit murder and support himself as a pulp writer before being murdered under mysterious circumstances in Guatemala. Marc Leepson does full justice to this bizarre and riveting tale.
Max Boot, Jeane J. Kirkpatrick Senior Fellow for National Security Studies, Council on Foreign Relations, author of Invisible Armies: An Epic History of Guerrilla Warfare from Ancient Times to the Present Day

Marc Leepson has written a biography worthy of his subject, full of shoot-outs, murder, mayhem, and the human foibles of a lost soul. Barry Sadler; soldier, musician, pop idol, womanizer, teller-of-tales (on and off the page). This book, like Sadler's life, is never boring, a volatile yarn about fame, fortune, comedy, and as such tales often go, tragedy. The meteoric rise and self-destructive fall of a momentary American icon.
Patrick Sheane Duncan, screenwriter and producer of Mr. Holland’s Opus and the HBO miniseries Vietnam War Story

Marc Leepson's in-depth plunge into the turbulent life and times of soldier/singer/novelist Barry Sadler is a treat; especially for those of us who were inspired—for good or ill—by his "Ballad of the Green Berets." It takes a writer and Vietnam veteran like Leepson to really dig beneath the surface of Sadler's roller-coaster life and trace the turbulent 60s events that so influenced a larger-than-life personality who was arguably the nation's most well-known veteran of that war. This is much more than an engrossing biography. It's a cautionary tale for generations that raise pop culture figures to iconic status. Nice work, Marc.
Dale Dye, Captain, US Marine Corps (Ret), author, actor, and military advisor

Marc Leepson, a noted historian and accomplished biographer, has written the definitive biography of the only Vietnam vet who became a famous musical performer. Barry Sadler's tragic life is recounted in intimate detail, especially his military service, for the first time. In doing so, Leepson masterfully captures the essence of a short-lived cultural icon who was a genuine casualty of his own fleeting fame. This is a timely book that all my fellow Vietnam veterans, as well as any American fascinated by the tumultuous Sixties, will find captivating.
Richard K. Kolb, publisher and editor-in-chief (1989-2016) of VFW magazine

In this fascinating and thoroughly researched biography, Marc Leepson has delved deeply into the story of Sgt. Barry Sadler, the singing soldier who wrote and performed the "Ballad of the Green Berets" that rocketed up the charts in 1966. Sadler handled soldiering in Vietnam well, but he could not handle the success, money, civilian life, women, and booze that followed. Sadler's one-hit wonder song was perfectly timed for a nation that still supported the war in Vietnam then, but none of the adulation and hero-worship felt right to him.
Joseph L. Galloway, co-author of We Were Soldiers Once...and Young, We Are Soldiers Still, and Triumph Without Victory: A History of the Persian Gulf War