~~~~~ 720th Military Police Battalion Reunion Association WWII History Project ~~~~~

Johnny Cash 

Staff Sergeant     U.S. Air Force     1950-1954

 Folsom Prison Blues
 I Walk The Line
 I've Been Everywhere

        John R. Cash died on 12 September 2003. Everyone knows him as Johnny Cash the great country and western singing legend. But what a lot of folks do not know, is Johnny Cash was a military veteran before he was a country singing star.

        Before he was the "Man in Black," Airman Cash was the Man in Blue--Air Force Blue. He was born in 1932 in Kingsland, Arkansas and grew up on the family farm. He finished high school in 1950 just in time for the Korean War. While most young men waited for the Army to draft them for two years of service, Johnny Cash joined the Air Force for four years.

        He trained in Texas, where he met his first wife and then shipped out to Landsberg, Bavaria, Germany. He spent most of his Air Force enlistment in Germany. Cash was a Morse code intercept operator with the USAF Security Service. This meant he was listening to radio signals generated by people on the other side of the "Iron Curtain." There is a positive correlation in the abilities of people who work with signal codes and music.

        Apparently Mr. Cash had a strong natural ability in both areas. He came from a family with a musical background, but was extremely poor and buying musical instruments was low on the priority of needs. He was able to purchase his first guitar at the Base Exchange while stationed in Germany, using his military pay.

        I remember hearing an interview of Mr. Cash, talking about the fact that his military pay, regardless of how little Airman's pay was back then, was the first real money he had. The guitar was most assuredly a luxury he could never afford back home, as the son of an Arkansas sharecropper.

        He formed his first band while in the Air Force, called the Landsberg Barbarians. It was made up of his fellow Airmen. He entertained GIs as well as the local Germans. The difference was that, unlike Private Elvis Presley, Airman Johnny Case was not already a famous singer while stationed in Europe.

        After teaching himself to play the guitar in the Air Force he started writing music. He served in the Air Force until 1954, when he returned to Texas to marry his wife and eventually moved to Memphis, Tenn.

        Now a civilian, Johnny Cash used his G.I. Bill benefits to attend a radio-announcing course at a broadcasting school in Memphis. When you look at his singing career from the 1960s through the 1990s you don't think of Johnny Cash as a veteran. His "Man in Black" image, partly came out of his feelings for the Vietnam War. However I discovered that Mr. Cash toured Vietnam for the U.S. State Department and performed for the troops.

By Major Van Harl, USAF Retired


Johnny on the Vietnam War

       At the height of the Vietnam War, when the U.S. was divided between hawks and doves, Cash embraced both the soldiers fighting the war and the students protesting against it. Taking his show to the troops at Long Binh, he came back with "Singin’ in Vietnam Talkin’ Blues," a moving account of war, and "What Is Truth," where a father explains to his three-year-old son that war is simply a place "where people fight and die."


        The experience of performing in Vietnam and visiting the wounded soldiers has never left him. Even now, Cash is still writing songs about it. And though he’s always resisted the label of protest singer, "I’ve been called that a few times," he says, "but that’s not what I am. I’m not protesting anything; I’m just singing." In 1971, at the height of his popularity, he re-created himself as the Man in Black, dressed in mourning as a reminder of "all the ones held back":

~ The Man In Black 1971 ~

I wear the black for the poor and the beaten down
Living on the hopeless hungry side of town
I wear it for the prisoner
Who has long paid for his crime
But is there because he’s a victim of the times
I wear it for the sick and lonely old
For the reckless ones whose bad trip left them cold
I wear the black in mourning for the lives that could have been
Each week we lose a hundred fine young men

MD0222: PFC James R. Scarvey, C Company, 720th MP Battalion, 89th MP Group, 18th MP Brigade, 1968-1969, escorts Country-Western singing star Johnny Cash diuring the entertainer's recent appearance at Long Binh Post, Vietnam, 1969.

No Regrets (Part 2) Johnny Cash, the man in black, is back at the  top of his game, By Kenny Berkowitz

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