By: Tony Manfetano
Even a peacenik such as myself has to salute the intrepid men and women who have not only put there lives up but consequently laid them down to serve our nation. Our armed forces and a general spirit of patriotism is inextricably linked with country music. While artists such as Toby Keith, Trace Adkins and Hunter Hayes put forth great efforts to salute and entertain our troops, songs like Lee Brice’s “I Drive Your Truck” keep them on our minds here on the home front. Apropos of Veteran’s Day this week we are going to run down, in no particular order, the top 8 country music stars who have served our proud nation as a member of the armed forces. Shall we?
Jamey Johnson The “In Color” singer spent 8 years in the U.S. Marine Corps reaching the rank of Corporal. Johnson served as a mortarman, an infantry personnel who is responsible for tactical employment of light and medium mortars. That is some serious badassness. Jamey is said to have written and played original songs for his peers during his term.
George Jones The man who many call the greatest country music voice to ever have lived had already been performing on local radio from a young age. It was not until a failed marriage in 1951 that Jones enlisted in the Marines. The country crooner stationed in California continued to perform in bars through his service and dove right back into the business shortly after discharge. Although the Korean war was during Jones’ time in the corps he was never deployed.
Craig Morgan This seventeen time country Billboard charter holds the longest military career on our list with 10 years active duty in the U.S. Army and an additional 7 years in army reserves. Morgan says he would often mess around with guitar to relieve stress during his nearly two decades of service, but it was not till after a string of jobs including construction, security guard and WalMart that Craig began working in music as a Nashville demo singer.
George Strait Shortly after his marriage to high school sweetheart Norma in 1971 George joined the Army where he was stationed at Schofield Barracks on Hawaii. The reigning king of country played in both army sponsored and civilian bands during this time before returning home to attend Southwest Texas State University. He continued to play in honky-tonks till serendipitously befriending Erv Woolsey, a bar owner and former MCA Records man, who would eventually bring Strait to music row.
Willie Nelson Yeah. Willie does not seem to be one accused of having a propensity towards regiment. Yet, the hall of fame singer/songwriter did indeed serve in the Air Force before a medical discharge due to back issues. I guess this was before he discovered the medicinal herb. Nelson was stationed at Lackland AFB around the same time as our next legend but it is unclear whether the two ever crossed paths.
Johnny Cash Anyone who has seen the movie Walk The Line knows the rumors that “Folsom Prison Blues” was penned during Johnny’s time in the U.S. Air Force. Originally stationed at the aforementioned Lackland AFB he was subsequently deployed to Germany where he spent most of his military career as a morse code interceptor. Cash would go on to be one of the greatest champions of patriotism our nation has ever seen.
Kris Kristofferson Is there anything this Rhodes Scholar, helicopter pilot, movie star and prolific songwriter has not done? Well, add Army Ranger and Captain to the list. Already having obtained a Master’s from Oxford, Kris joined the forces in 1960. He formed his own band while stationed in Germany and worked on music. He would later turn down a position at West Point Academy to move to Nashville and focus on music.
Elvis Presley The most famous name on this list the king of rock and roll himself. One of only two artists holding places in both the Country Music Hall of Fame and Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, respectively. The other being Johnny Cash. Many do not know that Presley turned down two offers, one for “Special Services” and another to form his own troop and be stationed in Vegas, and insisted on serving as a regular soldier. The king trained at Fort Hood in Texas and met wife Priscilla while deployed. Unfortunately, though none war inflicted, Elvis’ service was fraught with undesirable events including the death of his mother and an addiction to stimulants.
While country music will always support our armed forces let us not get too caught up in what celebrities are doing lest we forget the Fathers, Mothers, Brothers, Sisters, Sons, Daughters, Husbands, Wives and Friends who proudly stand up for and protect our great United States. Happy Veteran’s Day.