Memorial Day 2017

They were Marines. Musical Marines. They’re gone now, but we remember, this Memorial Day 2017.

The only group composed entirely of active duty service members to hit #1 on the music charts. Easier said than done, to hit #1 on the music charts, but they were Marines. Named after an aircraft carrier:

Founding members Walter Vickers (guitar) and Rodney Taylor (drums) were members of the United States Marine Corps stationed in Okinawa, Japan. After being transferred to Camp LeJeune in North Carolina, they enlisted fellow Marines Billy Hill (aka Billy Proctor) and Rudolph Johnson as group members. Next they added a female lead singer, Anita Humes, another Marine.

The band was signed to a recording contract in 1963 after submitting a demo to Roulette Records. “Easier Said Than Done” was written by Larry Huff and William Linton. Released as the B side of their first single, the song reached the top of the U.S. Billboard Hot 100 chart. The track sold over one million records and received a gold disc award from the R.I.A.A. “Easier Said Than Done” charted at #41 in the UK Singles Chart in August 1963.

Anita Humes was the last survivor of the group named after the light strike carrier Essex. Humes died in 2010.



We can’t think of any current popular musical group with a record contract composed of active duty personnel.

There have been musical stars that served in the armed forces of the United States – but none that achieved fame as a group while in service. The Everly Brothers, hit the top of the music charts before active duty service. They were Marines.



Elvis. Joined the United States Army in a state of fame.





Guitar legend Jimi Hendrix was in the Army.



Hendrix was not a bright light in the service. But once out of service, as a musical star, he served along the watchtower:



Staff Sgt. Barry Sadler (November 1, 1940 – November 5, 1989) was a Green Beret. For five weeks starting on March 2, 1966, his song was #1 on the music charts:

“The Ballad of the Green Berets” was released by RCA Victor Records became a fast-selling single, holding No. 1 on the Billboard Hot 100 chart for five consecutive weeks from March 5 to April 2, 1966. The record sold more than a million copies. The song was a great success in many U.S. cities; it scored five weeks at No. 1 on the weekly Good Guys music survey at WMCA, the top popular music radio station in New York during 1966. He sang it for his television début on January 30 on The Ed Sullivan Show. Sadler recorded an album of similarly themed songs which he titled Ballads of the Green Berets. It sold a million copies during the first five weeks of its release. Sadler had another minor success, the similarly patriotic-themed “The ‘A’ Team”, later the same year when that single scored #28.

According to the ribbons and badges worn by Sadler in a televised performance of “The Ballad of the Green Berets,” he received the following awards for his military service: Purple Heart Medal, Army Good Conduct Medal, Armed Forces Expeditionary Medal, Air Force Longevity Service Award, Combat Infantryman Badge, Parachutist Badge, and the South Vietnamese Parachutist Badge.

The ribbons shown in Sadler’s television performance mentioned above did not represent all of Sadler’s awards. Sadler was also entitled to the National Defense Service Medal and the Vietnam Campaign Medal. He had the option of replacing the Armed Forces Expeditionary Medal with the Vietnam Service Medal.



We’ve written of Memorial Day and its origins in earlier years. It’s a day to remember the fallen in service to the nation.


For some the mystic chords of memory are stretched thin but they still remember.


We remember.

During the Battle of Guadalcanal, Private Ahrens was mortally wounded while single-handedly fighting back a group of Japanese soldiers attempting to infiltrate Allied lines. After his superior officer discovered Ahrens the next morning surrounded by dead Japanese troops, he whispered these words and died.



They didn’t know. We know. He was a Marine.

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