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Music and Military: A Look at Country Music Stars Who Served Our Nation

10 Country Artists who served in the military

Legends come in two things: standing in front of thousands of people while performing their favorite songs, serving the country, and keeping everyone safe.

These 13 country singers that were in the military showed how patriotic they were by serving the country, some even just for short periods.

It’s a different thing to serve the people and ensure their safety and serving the people through your best-selling music.

Here are our favorite and award-winning country stars who served in the military.

1. Conway Twitty

Harold Lloyd Jenkins, famously known as Conway Twitty, served in the Far East when he was drafted into the US Army. While stationed in Japan, he played baseball and continued his passion for country music. To entertain his fellow soldiers, he formed a group named the Cimmerons.

Twitty, dubbed as “The High Priest of Country Music,” is known for his hit songs “Hello Darlin’” and “Linda on My Mind.” Most of Twitty’s songs were certified gold by the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA).

2. Johnny Cash

Johnny Cash has quite an interesting story while he was in service.

On July 1950, Cash entered the US Air Force. After completing basic and technical training in bases in San Antonio, Texas, he was assigned to the US Air Force Security Services’ 12th Radio Squadron Mobile in Germany. Using Morse code, his job was to intercept Soviet Army transmissions.

The Landsberg Barbarians was the first band he created while in Germany. Cash was a staff sergeant when he was honorably discharged.

Cash got the scar on the right side of his jaw due to a cyst removal surgery while he was in military service.

Johnny Cash’s songs, such as “I Walk the Line” and “Man in Black,” peaked at the #1 spot on the country charts when they were released.

3. Willie Nelson

Because of the big successes of his albums Shotgun Willie, Stardust, and Red Headed Stranger, Willie Nelson became a big name in the country music industry.

Before he made it huge in his music career, he joined the Air Force voluntarily after graduating high school. Nelson enlisted in hopes of becoming a jet pilot. Although he received basic training at the Lackland Air Force Base in San Antonio, he was sent to the Sheperd Air Force Base in Texas for further training because of his absentmindedness in the cockpit.

Nelson became a medic, but after having a bad back while training in Texas, he was medically discharged after nine months of service.

4. Zach Bryan

Joining the military service as a 17-year-old singer and songwriter, Zach Bryan proved that you could simultaneously pursue your dreams while protecting your country.

Bryan was born into a family of Navy veterans, which includes his late mother, his father, and his grandfather were all in the Navy. It was a family tradition to them. Bryan served in the US Navy from 2013 until honorably discharged in 2021. 

He made a breakthrough in his country music career when he uploaded his music on YouTube. His song “Heading South,” with the video filmed by an iPhone, went viral.

5. Sturgill Simpson

John Sturgill Simpson barely graduated from Woodford High when he enlisted in the US Navy. He spent three years in the Combat Information Center of a frigate. After spending some time in Japan, he moved to Everett and Seattle, where he waited tables. He moved back home to Kentucky after all that.

Simpson is known for his album A Sailor’s Guide to Earth, which sold over 217,000 copies in the US and peaked at the top spot of the hot country and rock song charts.

6. Craig Morgan

Country music singer Craig Morgan is known for best-selling albums such as My Kind of Livin’, That’s Why, and his self-titled album Craig Morgan.

Morgan is also famous for his military service for almost ten years in the US Army in the 82nd and 101st Airborne Divisions. He served in South Korea as a 13F fire support specialist before becoming a part of the combat in 1989’s Operation Just Cause in Panama.

7. George Strait

The “King of Country Music,” George Strait, pioneered the neotraditional country movement, thus becoming the most influential music artist of all time. Before he went on to create and perform his hit songs and become one of the best-selling recording artists in the US, he enlisted in the US Army in 1971 and served until 1975. He was an infantryman.

While stationed in Hawaii, he performed with Rambling Country, an Army-sponsored band that played off-base as Santee.

8. Jamey Johnson

Jamey Johnson became a mortar man, choosing to serve in the US Marines after quitting two years in college. During his service, he was already searching for bars in the Montgomery area to play country music.

Some of Johnson’s albums, That Lonesome Song, and The Guitar Song, were certified platinum and gold by the RIAA.

9. Gene Autry

“The Singing Cowboy” showed his skill and talent in the music and television industry and his patriotism by serving the country as part of the US Army in 1942.

Autry was a tech sergeant in the US Army Air Forces. He also had a private pilot certificate and served as a flight officer using a C-109 transport, flying over the Himalayas.

As an actor, Autry hosted the television series The Gene Autry Show and appeared in over 93 films. Some of Gene Autry’s songs are “Back in the Saddle Again,” “At Mail Call Today,” and his biggest Christmas song hits, “Rudolph, the Red-Nosed Reindeer” and “Frosty the Snowman.”

10. Josh Gracin

Josh Gracin tested out his luck when he joined the second season of American Idol. And with enough luck indeed, he finished fourth in the singing contest. Mind you, he served in the US Marine Corps when he auditioned for American Idol.

He completed his service in the US Marines after his American Idol journey. When honorably discharged, he signed a deal with a label to release his self-titled debut album.

11. George Jones

George Glenn Jones was referred to as the greatest country music singer of his time. During his music career, he was called “The Possum” for his nose shape and facial features and “The Rolls Royce of Country Music.”

Before charting over 160 singles, he enlisted in the US Marine Corps in 1951 and was discharged in 1953. He spent two years serving the country in California. 

12. John Prine

During the Vietnam War era, Country-folk music singer John Pine joined the US Army. He was a vehicle mechanic in West Germany during his service. Also, for five years, Prine was a US Postal Service mailman.

After his service, he returned to Chicago to start his country music career. Everyone referred to Prine as one of the generation’s most influential songwriters. He was also called the “Mark Twain of songwriting.”

13. Kris Kristofferson

Family pressures could significantly affect your career decisions.

In Kris Kristofferson’s case, he was pressured by his family to serve the country by joining the US Army. He eventually attained the rank of captain.

He received flight training at Fort Rucker in Alabama and finished Ranger School. He was stationed in West Germany under the 8th Infantry Division during the 1960s. 

When Kristofferson was assigned to teach literature at West Point, he left the Army and decided to pursue his passion for songwriting. Because of this, his family disowned him. Despite what happened with his family, Kristofferson took pride in his time in the military. In 2003, Kristofferson received the Veteran of the Year Award.

We hope you’re inspired like these country music singers who pursued their passion and career for music while showing their love for their country! Salute to these patriotic men! May your legacy continue to live on.