Johnny Cash Served in the Air Force Before Becoming a Household Name

by Sean Griffin

Johnny Cash is an undisputed American musical legend. Known as “The Man in Black,” his signature baritone voice and gospel-tinged country sound influenced scores of musicians after him. The country music star churned out hit after hit for decades. Songs like “Ring of Fire” and “Folsom Prison Blues” remain etched in the American cultural fabric.

Cash is one of the best-selling artists of all time. His music spans a wide variety of genres. Cash can be classified as country, rock and roll, rockabilly, gospel, blues, and folk. He is a member of the Rock and Roll, Country Music, and Gospel Hall of Fames. His songs dealing with moral struggles, love and heartbreak, and resilience still touch and inspire modern audiences. Surely, Johnny Cash’s legacy will live on for decades.

However, before he began his storied music career, Johnny Cash was a humble Arkansas boy. He was called J.R. Cash for most of his younger years. It wasn’t until he signed with Sun Records in 1955 that he changed his name to ‘Johnny.’

He grew up in a poor family in rural Arkansas. He spent much of his younger years picking cotton in the fields. His family experience gave him his classic sympathy for the lower-class and downtrodden in society. Cash was also heavily influenced by a childhood tragedy. In 1944, Johnny’s older brother died after an accident involving a table-saw.

Cash began playing and writing songs at twelve years old, and he sang on a local radio station in high school. He was influenced heavily by gospel music.

Johnny Cash’s Military Service

Recently, Johnny Cash’s official Twitter account tweeted a video remembering Cash’s military service.

“In July of 1950, Johnny Cash enlisted in the US Air Force and began six months of training in Texas, where he distinguished himself as a radio intercept operator.”

Cash had his basic training at Lackland Air Force base. His technical training occurred at Brooks Air Force Base. Both bases are located in San Antonio, Texas. Then, Cash was assigned to the 12th Radio Squadron Mobile of the U.S. Air Force Security Service at Landsberg, West Germany.

During his time with the Air Force, Cash intercepted Soviet Army transmissions as a Morse code operator. While at Landsberg, he started his first musical group. His band was called “The Landsberg Barbarians.” During his military career, he received his distinctive scar on his jaw. The scar resulted from a cyst removal surgery.

The day before the Fourth of July in 1954, Cash was honorably discharged. He left the Air Force as a staff sergeant. He returned to Texas. Shortly after, he moved with his then-wife Vivian to Memphis, Tennessee.

Eventually, Cash won over Sun Records producer Sam Phillips. Once he switched his gospel style to his signature rockabilly sound, the producer signed him. The rest is history.

Check out Post Malone and Billy Strings covering a classic Johnny Cash tune.