Country music is known for its patriotism. Over the years, several artists have produced anthems honoring both the country and the men and women who fight and die to protect it. But some country music singers actually served in the military themselves.
In honor of Veteran’s Day, Outsider remembers country music veterans both past and present.
Willie Nelson Served in the Air Force Before Country Music
“I was in the Air Force a while and they had what they call ‘policing the area,'” Nelson said. “That’s where you looked around and if there’s anything wrong here, there, anywhere, you took care of your own area. And I think that’s a pretty good thing to go by. If everyone just takes care of their own area then we won’t have any problems. Be here. Be present. Wherever you are, be there. And look around you and see what needs to be changed.”
George Jones Found Country Music in the Marines
Completing his basic training, Jones served on an airbase in San Jose, California. It was during this time that Jones continued to hone his musical craft. He would leave base on the weekends to play at local events.
George Strait Served in the Army
Many country music fans may not know this, but George Strait is also a military veteran. He enlisted in the U.S. Army in 1971 and served four years.
Strait spent his final leg of service stationed in Hawaii where he worked on his music career. Like Jones, the military was a productive time for Strait’s music. He joined the Army-sponsored band Rambling Country and also played with Santee off base.
John Prine in the Army Before Becoming a Country Music Singer
After his service, Prine worked as a mail carrier before finding a career as a songwriter and singer. He passed away earlier this year from COVID-19 related complications.
Kris Kristofferson Served in the Army
The military was a tradition in Kris Kristofferson’s family. Both Kristofferson’s father and brother served as did Kristofferson himself. He joined the Army in 1960 becoming a helicopter pilot. It wasn’t long before he worked his way up to the rank of Captain. West Point even offered him a teaching position, but he turned them down to pursue a career in music.
“I want you to know I’m an Army brat,” Kristofferson said. “I was a captain in the Army and my brother was a jet pilot in the Navy. So I support our troops; I identify with them. But I sure as hell don’t identify with the bastards who sent them over there.”
Sturgill Simpson is a Navy Veteran
Before he was a country singer, Sturgill Simpson served in the U.S. Navy. The musician hasn’t forgotten his military roots since transitioning into a music career. His third album was titled A Sailor’s Guide to Earth. Simpson has continued to find success in the industry.
“The fact that there are a million people around the world Googling my name and trying to figure out who the hell I am right now is just enough for me,” Simpson said.
Jamey Johnson Spent Eight Years with the Marines
“I respect the Marines,” he said. “They gave me guidance and stability. I’d wake up every day and have a purpose.”
Conway Twitty Served in the Army Before Finding Love For Country Music
Country music legend Conway Twitty almost became a professional baseball player instead. The Philadelphia Phillies wanted Twitty to play on their team. But the U.S. Army drafted him in the Korean War.
While stationed, Twitty continued to play baseball for a local Army team but also found a renewed love for music. After serving, Twitty decided to focus on musical aspirations instead of baseball.
James Otto Served in the Navy
James Otto also grew up in a military family. Both his father and grandfather served their country. Otto followed in their footsteps by joining the Navy.
“I come from a military family. My Dad served in the Army for 23 years,” Otto said. “My grandfather on my mom’s side is a Korean War vet, and by serving in the Navy, I was able to see the world by the time I was 20 years old. It gave me discipline and made me a man, and let me tell you, experiencing places all over the world made me really grateful to live in this country. Life may not be perfect here, but man, it could really be a lot worse. Ultimately, I think I gained the fortitude to move to Nashville and really pursue music.”
Johnny Cash Was a Code Breaker for the Air Force
“We were terrible,” he said later, “but that Lowenbrau beer will make you feel like you’re great. We’d take our instruments to these honky-tonks and play until they threw us out or a fight started.”