The Ballad of the Green Berets

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"The Ballad of the Green Berets"
Ballad of the Green Berets.jpg
album cover
Single by Barry Sadler
from the album Ballads of the Green Berets
B-side"Letter from Vietnam"
ReleasedJanuary 1966
RecordedDecember 1965
LabelRCA Victor
Producer(s)Andy Wiswell[2]
Barry Sadler singles chronology
"The Ballad of the Green Berets"
"The A Team"

"The Ballad of the Green Berets" is a patriotic song in the ballad style about the United States Army Special Forces. It is one of the few popular songs of the Vietnam War years to cast the military in a positive light. In 1966 it became a major hit, reaching No. 1 for five weeks on the Hot 100 and four weeks on Cashbox. It was also a crossover hit, reaching No. 1 on Billboard's Easy Listening chart and No. 2 on Billboard's Country survey. Billboard ranked it No. 10 in its year-end chart for 1966,[3] while it tied for first with "California Dreamin'" by the Mamas and the Papas in Cash Box's year-end rankings.[4]

The song was written by then-Staff Sergeant or "SSG" Barry Sadler, beginning when he was training to be a Special Forces medic. The author Robin Moore, who wrote the book The Green Berets, helped Sadler write the lyrics and get a recording contract with RCA Records. The demo of the song was produced in a rudimentary recording studio at Fort Liberty, with the help of Gerry Gitell and LTG William P. Yarborough.[5]

The lyrics were written, in part, in honor of U.S. Army Specialist 5 James Gabriel Jr., a Special Forces operator and the first native Hawaiian to die in Vietnam, who was killed by Viet Cong gunfire while on a training mission with the South Vietnamese Army on April 8, 1962.[6] One verse mentioned Gabriel by name, but it was not used in the recorded version.[7]

Sadler recorded the song and eleven other tunes in New York in December 1965. The song and album, Ballads of the Green Berets, were released in January 1966. He performed the song on television on January 30, 1966 on The Ed Sullivan Show, and on other TV shows including Hollywood Palace and The Jimmy Dean Show.


The song was the No. 1 hit in the U.S. for the five weeks, spanning March 1966; also the No. 21 song of the 1960s as ranked by Joel Whitburn. The single sold more than nine million copies; the album, more than two million.

"The Ballad of the Green Berets" is currently[when?] used as one of the four primary marching tunes of the Fightin' Texas Aggie Band.

In film[edit]

The song is heard in a choral rendition by Ken Darby in the 1968 John Wayne film The Green Berets, based on Robin Moore's book. The film's score was not released as an album until Film Score Monthly released it in 2005. A movie tie-in featuring artwork from the film and a cover version by Ennio Morricone was released in Europe, though the album's other tracks were from A Fistful of Dollars and For a Few Dollars More. In The Many Saints of Newark, while Dickie Moltisanti is driving over in his car to meet Harold McBrayer for the first time, "The Ballad of the Green Berets" is playing on the radio.[8]

The cast of the 2018 movie 12 Strong sing the tune as their Chinook helicopter takes off.

This song is featured in the 1979 film More American Graffiti, during the first sequence of Terry the Toad's New Year's Eve in 1965 Vietnam.

Other versions derivatives[edit]

Many other American recording artists did their own versions of the song ranging from Kate Smith and Duane Eddy to unknown artists singing on various drugstore records.

Many versions in other languages are rewritten to reference local units; these include:

  • A German version (Hundert Mann und ein Befehl), sung by Freddy Quinn and later again by Heidi Brühl had considerable success in Germany. The German version is a song against the war. Freddy Quinn sings the song from the point of view of a reluctant but forced soldier,[citation needed] Heidi Brühl from the point of view of the crying girlfriend of the soldier.[citation needed] Freddy Quinn's version was later recorded by Welle: Erdball and also by Cryptic Wintermoon.
  • The Royal Netherlands Army's Korps Commandotroepen (KCT) use the original lyrics with a couples changes referencing the Netherlands. This version is sung to recruits who have successfully completed the harsh Basic Commando Training (ECO), and who receive their Green Beret.
  • The Residents recorded a cover of the song for the album The Third Reich 'n Roll as a part of "Hitler was a Vegetarian"
  • Rhodesian singer-songwriter John Edmond recorded the "Ballad of the Green Berets" with reference to the soldiers of the Rhodesian Light Infantry (RLI), commando-style fireforce units of Rhodesian Security Forces who wore berets of green color, with a slight difference in the chorus, saying "These are men, of The Fatherland’s Best." & "Make him one of The Fatherlands best" A "Ballad of the Red Beret" was sung by the Rhodesian Ministry of Internal Affairs at their battlecamp in Chikurubi. In South Africa, the "Ballad of the Green Berets" was recorded as the "Ballad of the Maroon Berets". The Maroon beret is a symbol of the South African Special Forces Brigade and the South African 44 Parachute Regiment. Also this song was re-recorded by South African opera singer Leonore Veenemans as "My Land Suid-Afrika".
  • The Swedish version "Balladen om den blå baskern" is a salute to the Swedish soldiers serving in the United Nations' peace-keeping forces (the Blue Berets). It was sung by Anita Lindblom.
  • The Italian version is called La Ballata del Soldato, sung by Quartetto Cetra.
  • Since 2004, the Infantry Officer's School of the Swiss Armed Forces uses a quadrlingual (German, French, Italian and Rumansch) version of the song, Die Infanterieballade (The Infantry Ballad), as their anthem. The lyrics were written by cadets from all linguistical regions of Switzerland.[9] It is sung everyday onwards to the morning roll call, before the National Anthem.
  • In 1966, Bernard Tapy (real name Bernard Tapie, businessman and politician), recorded an adaptation in French as "Passeport pour le soleil"[10]
  • The Ukrainian version 2015 100 Soldiers. Lyrics by Oleksa Negrebetskiy.[11]
  • The Finnish version titled "Balladi punaisista bareteista" was released in 1966 by Kivikasvot. [12]
  • The Norwegian version "Balladen om den grønne beret" (both norwegian and english lyrics) is about the Garrison of Sør-Varanger (GSV). They monitor the border between Norway and Russia 24/7. Their motto is "VOGT OG VERN" (GUARD AND PROTECT).

Parodies or humorous use[edit]

  • The melody and rhyme pattern were adapted by Filipino musician Eddie Tallada recording the Ballad of Subic Bay describing Vietnam war sailors' liberty in the town of Olongapo adjacent to the Subic Bay Naval Base.[13]
  • In 1968, The Beach Bums, an ad hoc group featuring a young Bob Seger, recorded "The Ballad of the Yellow Beret", chronicling the adventures of a draft dodger. The record was withdrawn after a cease and desist letter from Sadler.
  • The Residents parodied the song on their Third Reich & Roll album.
  • Another parody was used on an episode of Saturday Night Live that William Shatner hosted in 1986, called "Ollie North, The Mute Marine". Shatner participated in the sketch, outfitted in a USMC Class A uniform, alluding to Oliver North's refusal to speak about his participation in the Iran-Contra Affair; Shatner spoke no words.
  • The song is used to humorous effect in Michael Moore's film Canadian Bacon as ill-informed Americans prepare for an invasion by Canada.
  • In the film Caddyshack, Bill Murray mumbles the song under his breath while he is connecting the wires to the plunger as he prepares for his final battle with his gopher nemesis.
  • In an episode of Cheers, Cliff Clavin aborts his plans to emigrate to Canada with his love interest when Sam, Woody, and Frasier appeal to his patriotic side by singing the song.



  1. ^ Molanphy, Chris (December 16, 2022). "Hits of the Year Edition". Hit Parade | Music History and Music Trivia (Podcast). Slate. Retrieved February 26, 2023.
  2. ^ "SSgt. Barry Sadler* - The Ballad Of The Green Berets". Discogs.
  3. ^ "Top Records of 1966" Billboard December 24, 1966, p. 34. Retrieved March 7, 2019.
  4. ^ "Top 100 Chart Hits of 1966" (PDF). Cash Box. 1966-12-24. pp. 29–30. Archived (PDF) from the original on 2022-10-09. Retrieved 2021-03-18.
  5. ^ "'Ballad of the Green Berets' singer's biographer talks about Barry Sadler's meteoric rise, murder charge, violent death". Stars and Stripes.
  6. ^ Mizutani, Ron (May 18, 2010). "First Native Hawaiian Killed in Vietnam Conflict Honored". KHON-TV. Archived from the original on June 16, 2011. Retrieved March 12, 2011.
  7. ^ I'm a Lucky One by Staff Sgt. Barry Sadler (Macmillan 1967, pp. 80–81)
  8. ^ "Many Saints of Newark Soundtrack: Every Song in the Movie". Screen Rant. 2 October 2021.
  9. ^ "Die Infanterieballade". Archived from the original on 13 May 2016.
  10. ^ ≪Passeport pour le soleil. Bernard Tapy. 1966. RCA Victor≫, sur le site Encyclopédisque
  11. ^ 100 бійців. 29 December 2014. Archived from the original on 2021-11-23 – via YouTube.
  12. ^ "Search Results for track Balladi punaisista bareteista". Archived from the original on 2018-08-05.
  13. ^ "Eddie Tallada BALLAD OF SUBIC BAY Vietnam US Navy Souvenir, Rare Raunchy Parody". WorthPoint. Retrieved 12 May 2022.
  15. ^ "Nederlandse Top 40 – Barry Sadler" (in Dutch). Dutch Top 40.
  16. ^ "South African Rock Lists Website - SA Charts 1969 - 1989 Songs (A-B)".
  17. ^ "Staff Sergeant Barry Sadler: Artist Chart History". Official Charts Company.
  18. ^ "SSgt Barry Sadler Chart History (Hot 100)". Billboard.
  19. ^ "SSgt Barry Sadler Chart History (Adult Contemporary)". Billboard.
  20. ^ "SSgt Barry Sadler Chart History (Hot Country Songs)". Billboard.
  21. ^ "Billboard Hot 100 60th Anniversary Interactive Chart". Billboard. Retrieved 10 December 2018.

Further reading[edit]

  • Collins, Ace (2003). Songs Sung, Red, White, and Blue: The Stories Behind America's Best-Loved Patriotic Songs. HarperResource. ISBN 0-06-051304-7.

External links[edit]