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Elvis Presley wasn’t the only recording artist to serve his country

Elvis Presley poses for the camera in this undated photo during his military service at a U.S. base in Germany.  (Wikimedia Commons)
Elvis Presley poses for the camera in this undated photo during his military service at a U.S. base in Germany. (Wikimedia Commons)
By Ed Condran For The Spokesman-Review

An army of BTS fans have wondered why members of their favorite K-pop group must serve time in the South Korean military. Well, BTS band members aren’t the first pop idols forced to leave the recording studio and concert venues at their peak in order to serve their country.

Elvis Presley disappointed fans by reporting to the Army after he was drafted 65 years ago. Even the King couldn’t avoid military service, but Presley didn’t complain about the situation. Presley even declined special treatment – a comfortable role in the military’s Special Services.

Presley served as a regular soldier until the spring of 1960 and earned his discharge from the Army Reserve in 1964, just in time for the British Invasion.

Much has been made of Presley being drafted but a number of acclaimed music rebels also served Uncle Sam. However, not many focus on Jimi Hendrix’s brief time in the Army. The guitar hero was given two choices by the police after being caught stealing cars twice in Seattle. It was prison or the military, and Hendrix chose the latter.

Hendrix enlisted in May 1961 and was assigned to the 101st Airborne Division. After completing his paratrooper training Hendrix was awarded the Screaming Eagles Award in early 1962. Just months later Hendrix received an honorable discharge. Hendrix honored his country at Woodstock in 1969 by performing his mind-bending version of The Star-Spangled Banner.

Before Johnny Cash was known as “The Man in Black,” the country icon was a man in uniform. The larger-than-life singer-songwriter served in the U.S. Air Force shortly after graduating from high school in 1950.

Cash was assigned to the 12th Radio Squadron Mobile of the Air Force Security Service in Germany as a Morse code operator, intercepting Soviet transmissions.

His salary enabled Cash to buy his first guitar while stationed in Germany, which is where he wrote the classic “I Walk the Line.”

It’s hard to imagine country rebel Willie Nelson in the military but the longtime advocate for the legalization of marijuana enlisted in the Air Force shortly after graduating from high school in 1950. Even though the author of such legendary songs as “Crazy” and “Roll Me Up and Smoke Me When I Die” served only nine months due to back issues, Nelson has supported veterans throughout his long and storied career.

Tony Bennett was drafted into the Army in November 1944 during the final stages of World War II. Bennett narrowly escaped death several times as an infantryman.

Bennett served in France and Germany and participated in the liberation of a Nazi concentration camp.

Jazz saxophonist John Coltrane enlisted in the Navy the day the first atomic bomb was dropped on Japan in 1945. However, it didn’t take long for the Navy to notice Coltrane’s musical talent and he became part of a Navy band.

George Strait enlisted in the Army in 1971 and served from 1971 to 1975. “The King of Country” served in Hawaii and sang in the army-sponsored band, Rambling Country.

Rapper-turned-actor Ice-T joined the army to straighten out his life in 1979. The discipline and the paycheck enabled the intense entertainer to focus on a career in music and purchase music equipment.

Presley may be the most celebrated musician-turned-military man but it’s important to recognize the other recording artists who were either drafted before they hit it big, or interrupted their careers to serve Uncle Sam.

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