Silver wings upon their chest
These are men, America’s best
One hundred men we’ll test today
But only three win the Green Beret
“The song was the No. 1 hit in the U.S. for the five weeks encompassing March 1966 and the No. 1 hit on the Billboard Hot 100’s end of the year chart for 1966, despite the competing “California Dreamin'”, sharply dividing the popular music market, and the No. 21 song of the 1960s, even though the Vietnam War later became unpopular.
“The rivalry between “Green Berets” and “California Dreamin'” was so fierce that the two records tied for the No. 1 record of 1966, according to Cashbox. “Green Berets” has sold over nine million singles and albums and was the top single of a year in which the British Invasion, led by the Beatles and the Rolling Stones, continued to dominate the U.S. charts.
“For comparison, according to Billboard, The Beatles’ top hit in 1966 was “We Can Work It Out” (No. 16), while the Stones’ top hit in 1966 was “Paint It, Black” (No. 21).
“The lyrics were written in honor of Green Beret James Gabriel, Jr., the first native Hawaiian who died in Vietnam, who was executed by the Viet Cong while on a training mission on April 8, 1962. One verse was written in honor of Gabriel, but it never made it into the final version.” — La Wik