All The Rock Legends That Served In The Military

via Willie Nelson / Youtube

As we celebrate Veterans Day, it’s essential to recognize the men and women who’ve served in the military, including some of the iconic figures in the world of rock and roll. These legendary musicians not only shaped the soundscape of their generation but also donned uniforms and served their country. Here, we take a closer look at 14 rock stars who, at one point, traded guitars for military attire.

1. Kris Kristofferson: The Captain of Country Rock

Service: U.S. Army, Captain

“I’m kind of amazed by the whole thing. I was on my way to a totally different life.”

Kris Kristofferson, known for his soulful songwriting, first walked a different path. The son of an Air Force general, he rose to the rank of captain in the U.S. Army before choosing the Nashville stage over a teaching position at West Point.

2. Ray Manzarek: The Doors’ Keys to Intelligence

Service: U.S. Army Signal Corps

“It was because he was of Polish descent and wanted to be able to visit the old country one day.”

Before founding The Doors and critiquing the Vietnam War, Ray Manzarek served in the Army Signal Corps. Despite aspiring to be a camera operator, his Polish roots led him to a role as a prospective intelligence analyst in Japan.

3. Willie Nelson: The Troubadour with a Backbone

Service: U.S. Air Force


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“And I think that’s a pretty good thing to go by. If everyone just takes care of their own area, then we won’t have any problems.”

Long before becoming an outlaw country legend, Willie Nelson policed the Air Force grounds. His short military stint ended due to back issues, but the experience left an indelible mark on his philosophy.

4. B.B. King: The Bluesman in Uniform

Service: U.S. Army


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“The Air Force taught me the things every military service imparts to its enlisted men.”

Before becoming the “King of the Blues,” B.B. King enrolled during World War II but was sent home due to his essential role as a tractor driver.

5. John Prine: From Mailman to Military Man

Service: U.S. Military, Mechanical Engineer


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“Your Flag Decal Won’t Get You Into Heaven Anymore” and “Sam Stone” reflect his overseas experiences during the Vietnam War.

Drafted during the Vietnam War, John Prine channeled his military stint in West Germany into poignant songs that addressed the war’s impact on soldiers like “Sam Stone.”

6. John Fogerty: The Creedence Commander

Service: U.S. Army Reserve, Supply Clerk


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“There’s a lot of insight that you learn about getting along with people and what is the mindset inside the military.”

Before penning “Fortunate Son,” John Fogerty served as a supply clerk, gaining insights that would later influence his music.

7. Johnny Cash: The Man in Black and in Uniform

Service: U.S. Air Force, Morse Code Operator

“If you ever need to know what one Russian is signaling to another in Morse code, I’m your man.”

Johnny Cash’s military service took him to West Germany, where he intercepted Soviet transmissions as a Morse code operator.

8. Harry Belafonte: The Navy Crooner

Service: U.S. Navy

“I utilized the veterans G.I. Bill to cover the cost of a drama workshop in Manhattan.”

After his Navy service in World War II, Harry Belafonte used the G.I. Bill to launch his entertainment career, ultimately becoming a renowned singer and actor.

9. Elvis Presley: The King in Uniform

Service: U.S. Army


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“All in all, it’s been a pretty good experience.”

At the height of his fame, Elvis Presley chose to serve as a regular soldier, earning respect for his decision and gaining valuable life experiences.

10. Maynard James Keenan: The Tool of the Military

Service: U.S. Army


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“The growth that occurs in those spaces where you’re just broken down and then being built back up – there’s a lot to be said for those kind of things.”

Maynard James Keenan, frontman of Tool, found discipline and connection during his Army service, shaping his worldview and approach to music.

11. Jimi Hendrix: The Guitarist in Uniform

Service: U.S. Army, 101st Airborne Division


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“Some of his fellow soldiers made fun of his musical habit, but others joined in as Hendrix and performed at base clubs on weekends.”

Facing a choice between prison and the Army, Jimi Hendrix chose the latter, performing on weekends at base clubs and widening his musical horizons.

12. Jason Everman: From Grunge to the Military Frontlines

Service: U.S. Army, Tours in Afghanistan and Iraq


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“At that point in time, in the world I was in, going into the military was probably the most uncool thing you could ever do.”

Jason Everman, known for his roles in Nirvana and Soundgarden, shifted from grunge to military service, earning an honorable discharge and continuing to work as a military consultant.

13. Jerry Garcia: A Short Stint in the Military

Service: U.S. Army

“I lasted nine months in the Army.”

Jerry Garcia, like Hendrix, chose military service over prison time. Though his Army stint was short-lived, it marked the beginning of his journey into the acoustic guitar.

14. Bill Withers: The Navy Veteran Who Overcame Adversity

Service: U.S. Navy


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“I still had to prove to people that thought I was genetically inferior that I wasn’t too stupid to drain the oil out of an airplane.”

Before crafting soulful hits, Bill Withers faced prejudice in the Navy but used the experience to overcome a childhood stutter.