You might know Johnny Cash as a singer, songwriter, guitarist and actor. What you might not know is that Johnny Cash also served in the Air Force during the Korean War. Although he only served in the military for four years before being honorably discharged, Cash’s time in the Air Force shaped his life and career in more ways than one.
A New Military Career, a New Name
The Man in Black, who was the fourth of seven children, was actually named J.R. Cash at birth. Since he wasn’t allowed to use initials as a first name when he signed up for the Air Force, he changed his name to John R. Cash. This eventually morphed into the name Johnny Cash, the name he used throughout his music career.
While in Training, Johnny Met the Girl Who Would Become His Wife
When you think about Johnny Cash’s love life, you might naturally think about June Carter. Before he fell in love with June, though, Johnny Cash was married to Vivian Liberto. They met in 1951 when he was in Air Force training, and they exchanged hundreds of love letters during his three-year tour in Germany. When he returned in 1954, the couple married and had four daughters. Vivian filed for divorce in 1966, blaming the dissolution of their marriage on Johnny’s drinking and drug use, as well as his constant touring and close relationship with June Carter.
“Folsom Prison Blues” Was Written While Johnny Was in Germany
When Cash was stationed in Germany, he was separated from family, friends and his then-new love interest, Vivian Liberto. He was also only allowed to make one phone call home per year. To help distract himself from the isolation and loneliness of his military deployment, Cash began writing songs. In fact, he wrote the hit song, “Folsom Prison Blues” while in Germany. Feeling much like a prisoner himself while stuck on base, he got the inspiration for the song after watching the documentary “Inside Folsom Prison” at the on-base theater on his third day of deployment.
The Man in Black’s First Guitar Was Purchased During His Deployment
Long before he was “The Man in Black,” Johnny Cash had an interest in music and had even won a talent show in his hometown for his singing skills. However, he never owned a guitar of his own until he was stationed in Germany. While there, he purchased his first guitar for around $5.
Johnny’s First Band was Started on a German Air Force Base
While serving as a Morse code interceptor in southern Bavaria, Cash started up a band of his own known as the “Landsberg Barbarians,” which was a play on the name of the base newspaper, the “Landsberg Bavarian.” His band regularly played at events at the on-base officer’s club and drew large crowds of service members who wanted to hear his music.
After Returning Home, Cash Chased His Dream
After returning home from Germany, Johnny Cash worked a few assorted jobs to attempt to provide for his wife and children. However, his true passion was for music. In the evenings, he sang with the “Tennessee Two,” made up of Luther Perkins, a guitarist, and Marshall Grant, a bassist. Johnny Cash signed a record deal with Sun Records in 1955, and the rest is history.