On January 30, 1966, 55 years ago, Staff Sgt. Barry Sadler debuted his song Ballad of the Green Berets on The Ed Sullivan Show.

SSG Sadler served with the 7th Special Forces Group as a Special Forces Medic. He co-wrote the Ballad of the Green Berets with Robin Moore, who wrote the book The Green Berets, which would later be turned into a film starring John Wayne.

Ballad of the Green Berets is a song that all Green Berets kn0w, have memorized, love, and loathe. It’s played when we don our Green Berets for the first time and our hearts are filled with pride, and it’s played when we honor a brother passing.

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. He was killed by Viet Cong gunfire while on a training mission with the South Vietnamese Army on April 8, 1962. Initially, one verse had mentioned Gabriel by name, but it was not used in the recorded version.

The lyrics to the Ballad of the Green Beret are the following:

Fighting Soldiers from the sky
Fearless men who jump and die
Men who mean just what they say
The brave men of the Green Beret
Silver Wings upon their chest
These are men America’s best
100 men will test today
But only three win the Green Beret
Trained to live off nature’s land
Trained in combat hand to hand
Men who fight by night and day
Courage take from the Green Beret.
Silver Wings upon their chest
These are men America’s best
100 men will test today
But only three win the Green Beret
Back at home, a young wife waits.
Her Green Beret has met his fate.
He has died for those oppressed.
Leaving her his last request
Put Silver Wings on my son’s chest.
Make him one of America’s best.
He’ll be a man he’ll test one day.
Have him win the Green Beret

The song is heard in the 1968 John Wayne film, The Green Berets, which is based on Robin Moore’s book.

The song appears in the films More American Graffiti and Canadian Bacon. It can also be heard in the gun show scene of the 2002 film Showtime, and in the film Jesus’ Son, in a scene that features a hitch-hiking Jack Black.

A vinyl copy of The Ballad of the Green Berets makes a brief appearance in the Simpsons episode Homer’s Phobia, from the show’s eighth season. In the episode, guest star and filmmaker John Waters is seen near the five-minute mark flipping through Homer and Marge’s record collection and Sadler’s hit is amongst them.

Bill Murray briefly sang the song in the 1980 film Caddyshack during his final attempt to kill the gopher.

The cast of the 2018 movie 12 Strong sings the tune as their Chinook helicopter takes off, a very fitting moment as they head into the unknown.

The Ballad of the Green Beret is often heard at Fort Bragg, North Carolina. Many will hear it at Charlie Mikes Pub in honor of fallen Green Berets on the anniversary of their passing.

Interested in more Green Beret content? Check out our Green Beret Complete Guide.