A Real American Hellbilly
:: Elvis Hitler – The Ballad Of The Green Berets ::
This American chest-thumper is brought to you by the defunct Detroit psychobilly band, Elvis Hitler, off of their out-of-print 2nd LP, Hellbilly. It's a cover of the 1966 smash hit, "The Ballad of the Green Berets", written and recorded by a true hellbilly, Staff Sgt. Barry Sadler.
Sadler led a thoroughly interesting American life, which I'll try to recount here briefly. Born in New Mexico to a broken family, he moved around a lot throughout the Southwest, his mother taking work where she could. At the age of 12, he was living in a logging camp and being exposed to Mexican and Western songs, began to teach himself to play the guitar. He dropped out of high school and hitchhiked around the country for awhile until enlisting in the Air Force and later re-enlisting in the Army, earning his green beret after being recommended for Special Forces.
He was injured in 1965 by a Vietnamese punji stick while leading a patrol in Saigon. Recuperating in the hospital, he sang and wrote songs for fellow wounded soldiers. A television news crew happened to film him one day performing, "The Ballad of the Green Berets", and aired it back home. It became a huge sensation, tapping into the consciousness of those who were sick of the dissent surrounding Vietnam and yearning for confirmation of American valor and heroism. RCA signed him and he recorded a full album of soldier songs, quickly selling two-million. After donating much of his royalties to fund Vietnam casualty charities, Sadler acted in a film, became a bar owner, then moved to Nashville in an attempt at becoming a country singer. In the mid-1970's, he shot and killed a man outside of a bar (the man had threatened him inside) and was convicted of second-degree manslaughter. Undeterred in the late 1970's, he began a successful series of 24 novels based around the character of "Casca, the Eternal Mercenary", a Roman soldier who stabbed Christ with a spear and was cursed to walk the earth until the second coming. In the early 1980s, he moved to Central America to train and supply arms to the Nicaraguan Contras. After a night of carousing in Guatemala in 1988, he was shot through the head in either a mishap with his own gun or an assassination attempt by drug-runners looking to steal his cache of firearms. This event remains shrouded in mystery. He was flown back to the United States by the editor of Soldier of Fortune magazine, where he remained bed-ridden and brain-damaged until his death in November of 1989. You couldn't make this shit up! For better or for worse, Sadler's life says much towards what being an American, and America itself, is all about.