Country music and veterans a true friendship
Country music has long held a patriotic streak, with songs that honor the men and women who serve in the military. But for some of our biggest stars, that admiration comes from personal experience. Many successful country musicians served in the armed forces before taking the stage, and their time in uniform helped shape their music and their careers.
This Memorial Day weekend as we make new memories, I wanted to share some quick notes on the military careers of some of our most iconic singers like Elvis, Craig Morgan, and the two Georges: Jones, and Strait among others. We also thought it would be cool to show how the impact of military service has shaped country music as a whole. Lastly, we want to provide several opportunities to help the military community
The Military Careers of Country Music Legends
Elvis Presley: The King's Time in Uniform
Before becoming the King of Rock and Roll, Elvis Presley was a member of the army. In 1958, he was drafted and served two years in Germany. While stationed overseas, he met his future wife, Priscilla Beaulieu. His time in the military had a profound impact on him personally and professionally. He once said, "The army teaches boys to think like men." He also went on to write iconic songs about his time in the army, including "GI Blues" and "Soldier Boy."
Johnny Cash: The Man in Black and a War Hero
Johnny Cash served in the United States Air Force from 1950-1954. He was stationed in Germany during the Korean War and was responsible for intercepting Soviet Morse code transmissions. During his time overseas, he began writing music and performing for his fellow servicemen. In 1955, Cash released his first single, "Hey Porter," and the rest is history.
Kris Kristofferson: A Rhodes Scholar Turned Army Pilot
Before he became a legendary Nashville Songwriter, Texan Kris Kristofferson was a Rhodes Scholar, a Golden Gloves boxer, and an Army captain. After graduating from Oxford University, he joined the Army as a helicopter pilot and served in West Germany. During this time, he continued to write music, and after leaving the service, he moved to Nashville to pursue his dream of being a songwriter. Today, he is known for classics like "Sunday Mornin' Comin' Down" and "Me and Bobby McGee."
Willie Nelson: The Red Headed Stranger's Air Force Days
Willie Nelson served in the United States Air Force from 1950-1954. During his time in the service, he was stationed in Texas, where he formed his first band, The Off-Beats. After leaving the military, he pursued a career in music and eventually became one of the biggest stars in the country scene. Today, he's known for hits like "On the Road Again" and "Always on My Mind."
George Strait: Before He Was King
George Strait served in the United States Army from 1971-1975. He was stationed in Hawaii and played in an Army-sponsored band called Rambling Country. After leaving the Army, he returned to Texas and began playing in bars and clubs. In 1981, he released his first album, and since then, he has become one of the biggest stars in country music history holding several Guinness World Records. He's known for classics like "All My Ex's Live in Texas" and "Amarillo by Morning."
Craig Morgan: A Portrait Of Perseverance After Loss
Craig Morgan is a country music singer and songwriter who served in the United States Army for nearly seventeen years in different capacities. During his time in the service, he was stationed in South Korea and later in the 101st Airborne Division. After leaving the Army, he pursued a career in music and eventually became a member of the Grand Ole Opry.
In July 2016, Craig's son Jerry drowned while on a boating trip with friends. Morgan has been open in discussing the grief and difficulties of coping with this type of loss. As a former soldier, he understands that life can be unpredictable, but the loss of his child has been one of the hardest experiences he’s ever had to endure. Some of Craig's top hits include "Almost Home" and "That's What I Love About Sunday."
George Jones: The Greatest Country Singer Of All-Time
Before establishing himself as a beloved country music icon, George Jones spent time serving his country in the United States military. In 1951, at just 19 years old, Jones enlisted in the U.S. Marine Corps and served for three years during the Korean War era. During his time in the military, he rose through the ranks to become a corporal and was stationed in California, where he often performed for troops and developed his love for music even further.
While Jones never saw combat during his service, his time in the military shaped him into a disciplined and dedicated individual who would go on to achieve great success in the entertainment industry. His patriotism and appreciation for those who serve their country remained evident throughout his life, earning him respect not only as a musician but also as a proud American.
Performing for the Troops: Country Stars' USO Tours
Performing in USO tours is almost like a rite of passage in country music.
Artists like Brad Paisley, Toby Keith, and Trace Adkins have all traveled to Iraq and Afghanistan to perform for the troops and show their support for their service.
The interactions that servicemen and women share with the stars they admire during USO tours leave positive lasting memories and inspire them to continue serving their country with greater spirit and courage.
Soldiers often express sincere appreciation and gratitude for these performances as they feel it serves as a way of reminding them that people back home truly care about them and support their efforts.
The Influence of Military Service on Country Music's Sound and Themes
The military has also played a role in shaping the sound and themes of country music. From patriotic anthems to songs about the struggles of war and the sacrifices of military families, the military has inspired many of the most iconic songs in the country music canon like John Michael Nontgomery’s Letters From Home, Toby Keith’s American Soldier, and If You're Reading This by Tim Mcgraw . Today, the connection between country music and the military still remains strong, and the majority of today's stars continue to honor and support those who serve.
From Combat to Country Music: Inspiring Stories of Resilience and Dedication
As fans we don’t always realize that some of our faves actually got their start in the military. From serving in active combat to playing in military bands, the experiences these musicians had shaped not only their lives but also their music.
For example, country superstar Tim McGraw served in the Air Force before moving to Nashville to pursue a music career. The discipline and work ethic he learned in the military helped him hone his craft and become one of the most successful artists in country music history. A similar narrative can be gleaned from Grand Ole Opry member & Platinum Selling artist Jamey Johnson. Jamey was a Marine when he started playing country in the Montgomery, Alabama area bars He served eight years before moving to Nashville.
The Military Experience and Country Music's Shared Principles
One of the reasons why military service and country music go hand in hand is the shared focus on resilience and dedication. Both the military and the country music industry are built on hard work and a never-give-up attitude. Our songs highlight the struggles and sacrifices of life. These shared principles create a solid connection between the military, and country music. When you really think about it, it makes sense that in civilian life several veterans pursue careers in country music.
Country Music's Veterans: Honoring Those Who Served
Country music has also been a platform for veterans to tell their stories, whether it's through their own music or by collaborating with established artists.
Artists like Trace Adkins, who use his platform to support veterans' causes, have become champions for veterans in the country music community. Countless of other veterans as shared previously have found a home in country music, both as singers and as fans, drawn together by a shared love of music and a deep appreciation for those who serve.
Country Stars That Go The Extra Mile For Our Veterans
Legendary country singer George Strait is a great example of gratitude and appreciation towards veterans. The King Of County, as he is affectionately known, gifted a house to an army veteran in need. Seven-year army veteran Sergeant First Class Richard Turnage is the recipient of Strait's benevolent act after he lost his home during Hurricane Harvey.
The retired soldier accepted the surprise gesture with profound gratitude stating that it will provide his family with safety, security, and a strong foundation for their future. As one of the most successful country artists of all time, Strait has never shied away from worthy causes; he participated in several benefit concerts to support hurricane victims in Texas and donated hats to wounded soldiers through his brand name "Cavalry Court". All of George’s charitable efforts only solidifies his commitment towards supporting those who have experienced loss and sacrificed so much.
Because We Are A Family Here
Our country singers aren’t the only ones that go the extra mile in showing appreciation. Many veterans are also country fans, and are sometimes overwhelmed with gratitude for the help that our country stars offer selflessly. One such fan in a heartwarming act of gratitude and admiration, gave his Purple Heart award to one half of the country duo Big & Rich John Rich. The veteran, who wished to remain anonymous, explained that he had been moved by Rich's unwavering support for the military and his frequent visits to troops serving overseas.
The Purple Heart is one of the most prestigious military honors awarded to those wounded or killed in combat, making the gesture all the more significant. Rich was deeply touched by the gift and praised the veteran's bravery and sacrifice while vowing to continue using his platform to advocate for military service members. This touching moment highlights the enduring bond between our nation's Armed Forces and those who cherish their service and sacrifice.
Justin Patterson is yet another veteran that connected with a country music performer at a very deep level. Justin was an Army Sniper, and pulled five tours in Iraq, but in 2008 a bomb blast caused a brain injury that ended his career. As Justin tells it he would always see Country singer Brantley Gilbert sparking awareness about PTSD, a silent killer that claims the lives of 22+ veterans a day. Justin was so moved by Brantley’s tireless work that he gave him his Purple Heart. They are also both avid bikers, now that’s gratitude dear God..
I could go on, and on about all the ways country singers, and veteran fans support each other, and how country music plays such an important part in the lives of both. Instead, I’m listing below several charities, and events that directly support our veterans. This weekend, as we grill, laugh, and drink, take a minute to think about those that paid the ultimate price for our freedom, and do your part to put a smile on the face of a veteran, and or their families. Pay it forward as no act of kindness goes unnoticed. I am a big believer that the good we do always comes back sometimes sevenfold. Never forgotten, Semper Fidelis.
Here are 10 ways to help veterans, and their families
Did I miss one?
Feel free to comment with your favorite charity.
Building Homes For Heroes: Building One Home Every 11 Days
Blue Star Families: Supporting Military Families
Children Of Fallen Patriots Foundation: Educational scholarships to the children of deceased combat veterans
The Center For Veterans Issues: Transitional housing for military families and suicide prevention services
Fisher House: Paid medical travel/ lodging, and educational scholarships
The Gary Sinise Foundation: Help with housing, mental wellness, first responders and much much more
Give An Hour: Mental Health & Wellness Services
H.e.r.o.e.s. Care: emergency financial aid, employment opportunities, and mental health care services t
Hire Heroes USA: Employment assistance to transitioning military
Operation Gratitude: The charity has shipped a total of 3.5 million Care Packages containing carefully chosen items meant to boost the morale and resilience of our service members and give them warm reminders of home:
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