May 31, 1961: Jimi Hendrix Enlists in U.S. Army

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The young Hendrix shortly after leaving Seattle for the Army

After being apprehended twice for riding in stolen cars, a judge gave the 19-year-old future classic rock superstar a choice: do two years in prison or join the military. Jimi Hendrix signed up for the three-year Army hitch but only lasted 13 months, which included basic training at Ford Ord in California followed by assignment to the famed 101st Airborne at Fort Campbell, KY, where he underwent paratrooper training and earned the 101st’s “Screaming Eagle” patch.

Otherwise his service was problematic. Hendrix’s record (read it in full here) includes such citations as missing bed checks and napping and being caught masturbating while on duty, and an overall assessment of “Poor character. No known good characteristics” – all of which led to a still honorable discharge on June 29, 1962.

Related: Remembering Hendrix in Greenwich Village

One positive thing that came from the innovative guitarist’s stint in the Army was meeting and playing with bassist and fellow serviceman Billy Cox, who later was a member of Hendrix’s Band of Gypsys and appeared with him at Woodstock.

The military’s “loss” was rock music’s gain.

Related: Hendrix talks to Dick Cavett about his iconic performance of the national anthem

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