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Memorial Day Rockers, Part 3: The Air Force

The early days of the U.S. Air Force, when it was still a branch of the Army known as the Army Air Corps, were a heady time. Pilots were testing out new planes and maneuvers, while manufacturers were still working out engineering kinks in the engines, making test pilots some of the most revered men in the country.

This branch turned out a handful of country legends, and quite possibly the smoothest soul singer who ever lived.


Johnny Cash: The Man In Black enlisted in the Air Force soon after graduating high school in rural Arkansas. He attended basic training at two installations in San Antonio and was trained as a Morse Code decoder. He spent the majority of his time decoding Russian transmissions and messages, and was honorably discharged as a staff sergeant in 1954.

One can't help but wonder if his signature loping and chugging sound wasn't in part influenced by all those days listening to code.

Boxcar Willie: The most famous hobo country singer, Boxcar Willie was actually a badass during the Korean War. He flew a B-29 Superfortress, which was one the most advanced bombers during both WWII and Korea. The gunners on these planes were deadly accurate, shooting 27 aircraft in the latter conflict, making Boxcar Willie one of the deadliest hobos to ever walk the Earth.

Willie Nelson: Willie Nelson only spent nine months as an airman, but his service still stands. After being discharged due to back problems, Willie went to Baylor University for a year and the rest is sticky, sweet Texas music history.

Marvin Gaye: Legendary tenor Marvin Gaye actually faked being crazy to get out of the Air Force, so we aren't sure if his service counts. Either way, "Sexual Healing" is a tight jam.

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Craig Hlavaty
Contact: Craig Hlavaty