Fighting Soldiers From The Sky --The Ballad Of The (Jewish) Green Beret
12/24/2010 - 14:17
Jonathan Mark

The recent release of 1973 tapes from the Nixon White House (a barely audible conversation between Nixon and Kissinger) caught Nixon saying, "I didn't notice many Jewish names coming back from Vietnam on any of those lists; I don't know how the hell they avoid it.."

Most people who weren't around in the 1960s think of it as a time of anarchic, anti-war fervor. In certain places that was true. Nevertheless, for several weeks in 1966, the Number One and then the Number Two song in the country was "The Ballad of the Green Beret" by Sgt. Barry Sadler, a powerful song about the pride of the elite unit that, at the time, was fighting in Vietnam. Sadler's no-nonsense delivery of the song exuded honor, as if it was being spoken, rather than sung, by a soldier snapping to salute. At one point the song was selling more copies than songs on the charts by The Beatles, Rolling Stones, The Mamas and the Papas, the Supremes, the Beach Boys, the Four Seasons, Stevie Wonder. the Kinks, Simon & Garfunkle, Wilson Pickett, Petula Clark, Herman's Hermits, and the Lovin' Spoonful, just to give you the sense of what was being played on the radio on March 1, 1966. "The Green Berets" outsold them all.

Back to Nixon and "Jewish names" in Vietnam.

The other week, The Connecticut Jewish Ledger, an absolutely terrific Jewish newspaper out of Hartford, serving not only Connecticut but western Massachusetts -- absolutely the best Jewish newspaper being published outside a major Jewish city, and better than most papers in the bigger cities  --  published a memorial about the final Taps for a Jewish Green Beret, Captain Gerry Gitell.

".... Gitell’s special effort was his role in bringing to the public “The Ballad of the Green Beret,” sung by Barry Sadler and composed by Sadler along with author Robin Moore. In the words of a veteran who attended Gitell’s funeral, the song was “a national anthem for the Green Berets” of that time. Gitell saw the value in promoting this song and oversaw its recording, distribution and participated in its promotion. He witnessed it not only gain popularity, but rise to number one in the song charts, provide background for a John Wayne movie and become featured on the Ed Sullivan show, the leading TV variety show of the time. His efforts gave his generation who served in the armed services during that time the prideful recognition and positive reinforcement that was meaningful to them and missing from the general population around them.
 

"After he played his role in recording and promoting this song, Gitell continued his service as a combat officer in the field. His combat experience in Viet Nam was as a member of the 5th Special Forces Group in 1965 and ’66 and he acted as an adviser to South Viet Nam troops actively engaged in combat.

"He was born in Boston, Mass. to first generation Americans, the late Hyman and Rose Gitell. A graduate of Newton South High School, he went on to Boston University and enrolled in the ROTC program. (In an editorial this week, The Washington Post urged the Ivies and other universities to reconsider their removal of ROTC programs.

The "Ballad of the Green Berets" speaks about a dying fighter's last request, "put silver wings on my son's chest. Make him one of America's best," and if there were silver wings for Jewish journalists they'd be pinned to the chest of the captain's son, Seth Gitell, who wrote for the first edition of the English Forward and later The New York Sun, and who now works on the staff of Boston's Mayor Thomas Mennino in Boston. "He also continues to inform the Ledger’s editorial content."

Gerry Gitell, 69, was returned to God's earth in Las Vegas, where he lived for the last 10 years, reports The Ledger. "His funeral was attended by the Special Forces Association Chapter 51.'The Ballad of the Green Berets' was sung at his funeral.

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