I remember the summer that I first became interested in collecting vinyl record albums. My dad was an Air Force officer who had spent his career as a satellite engineer. He was nearing retirement and after many years of hearing the ribbing of fellow military men of his lifetime as part of the “chair force” he decided he wanted to shift gears and go for the gusto. He began actively pursuing an assignment in a deployable radar unit. I was in 6th grade.
My Dad sang the song “The Ballad of the Green Beret” over and over. He even acted it out and his friends started buying him GI Joe figurines as gag gifts. He became determined to find the album from his youth that featured that famous song. He bought an old turntable at a garage sale and then we began the hunt. My mom, brother, sister and I dug through boxes of albums at every thrift store, estate sale and garage sale in town and in time for Father’s Day, we had our treasure—a near mint vinyl LP of Sergeant Barry Sadler singing his most famous song along with other patriotic ballads.
Barry Sadler was a songwriter, singer and author; but, more importantly he was the real deal—a Green Beret and combat medic who had fought in the Viet Nam War. Seriously wounded while in Viet Nam he earned the Army Good Conduct Medal, Air Force Longevity Service Award, Purple Heart Medal, Army Good Conduct Medal, Armed Forces Expeditionary Medal, Combat Infantryman Badge, Parachutist Badge, and the South Vietnamese Parachutist Badge, among others.
It was while recuperating from his wounds that he wrote the song and the album was released in 1966. The song topped the Billboard Chart at #1 and stayed there for 5 weeks. And for a brief period of time in 1990 it was #1 again—at least in the Brown house. There was something mesmerizing about the sound of that 33 1/3 LP album dropping into place and the rhythmic scratching of the needle as the smooth voice of Barry Sadler crooned “100 men will test today, but only 3 wear the Green Beret.” I was hooked.
My dad got his assignment with the combat unit—fortunately we were not in any conflicts at the time and he spent his final years in military service practicing for battles that never came to be. It was my little sister, in 3rd grade in 1990, who joined the Army and became the combat medic. She was injured while serving 15 months in Iraq and is now a 100% disabled veteran.
It isn’t an album that gets played in my house; it’s not really a genre that I appreciate. I enjoy Cat Stevens, the Beatles and Van Morrison much more. But that album does hang on my wall. It is after all where the collection began. Some of the thrill of collecting is owning the records, but a lot of the thrill goes back to that summer and the thrill of the hunt—I still can’t pass by a box of records at a thrift shop or flea market!
Ben Brown of Sienna’s Sandbox