Johnny Cash is of course known for his contributions to the music world, and rightfully so, but on this Veterans Day I wanted to share a story from Cash’s time in the military and how he learned of some important news.
In 1950, at the age of 18, he joined the Air Force and worked his way up to serve as a Morse code operator. His job, decoding communications between Soviet officials and passing along any vital information.
Well, on March 3 1953, one of those important messages made its way through to Johnny Cash. The message that beeped in was the news that Russian Premiere Joseph Stalin, who was ill for years, had passed away.
According to BBC, Cash recalled the accomplishment in his 1997 book, Cash: The Autobiography:
“I was the ace. I was who they called when the hardest jobs came up. I copied the first news of Stalin’s death. I located the signal when the first Soviet jet bomber made its first flight from Moscow to Smolensk; we all knew what to listen for, but I was the one who heard it…”
Cash passed that info up the chain, and that’s how the rest of the Western world found out about the passing of the leader of the Soviet Union. Due to the highly classified info he was taking in, he wasn’t allowed to talk about his job in the military, even with his closest friends and family.
However, Steve Turner’s biography The Man Called Cash from 2001, revealed that there might’ve been a bit of exaggeration from Johnny. That comment brought a “wry smile to the faces of those who worked with him. ‘That’s nonsense,’ says one. ‘He didn’t understand Russian, and if it came in code we wouldn’t have been able to decipher it anyway.'”
So whether or not he was actually the first, and whether or not he actually transcribed the code all by himself, Johnny was involved in someway. Most likely Johnny copied down the code and somebody else transcribed it, but either way, it’s still a pretty incredible story.
Johnny Cash was honorably discharged in 1954 and would then go on to sign with Sun Records in 1955. The rest is history at that point.
Is there anyone more badass than Johnny Cash? From his life as a musician to being the one to break the news on Stalin, the man led one incredible life.