Jimi Hendrix is decorated as one of the most influential guitarists of his century. His time spent in the army, however, is less known.
Jimi Hendrix did enlist in the military at 19, in 1961, and served as a paratrooper of the 101st Airborne Division in Kentucky. He joined after being caught by the police twice for stealing cars, and was given the option between joining the army and going to jail. He chose the former. After serving for a year, he was discharged.
Hendrix reportedly did not enjoy his time in the military. Learn more below about what he had to say about his year serving in the armed forces.
Hendrix’s Time in The Military
In his biography A Brother’s Story, written by his younger brother, it is detailed that Hendrix was told that he could either join the army or go to jail and, fearing the latter, he enlisted in the military.
Shortly after this, Hendrix wrote to several of his close family members detailing his difficulties adjusting to army life.
In his first letter to his father, he wrote, “There’s nothing but physical training and harassment here for two weeks, then when you go to jump school … you get hell.”
He asked his father to send him his guitar, which he had left in Seattle, so he would have something to focus on.
After his father sent him his Silvertone Danelectro, Hendrix occupied his time by jamming, reportedly neglecting his role in the army for it, as detailed in the book Becoming Jimi Hendrix.
According to the book, this enlisted heavy mocking and bullying from his army colleagues.
After his paratrooper training, he was awarded the Screaming Eagles patch by his Major General.
Hendrix’s guitar playing allegedly consumed him, his creative nature preventing him from fully immersing himself in army life.
His commanding officer said, “This is one of his faults, because his mind apparently cannot function while performing duties and thinking about his guitar.”
Hendrix’ platoon sergeant made several notes regarding his neglecting of duties, including habits such as failing to report for bed checks and sleeping when he was meant to be on duty.
The sergeant wrote in a report, “He has no interest whatsoever in the Army … It is my opinion that Private Hendrix will never come up to the standards required of a soldier. I feel that the military service will benefit if he is discharged as soon as possible.”
A general discharge is given when the personnel’s performance is “satisfactory” but not up to standards due to divergence from the expected duties for any reason, from medical to personal.
Hendrix stated that he was given a medical discharge due to an ankle injury from a parachute.
Moving On To Music
After being discharged from the military, Hendrix immediately began to focus on music in 1963.
His career only lasted for 4 years, but he is widely considered one of the greatest guitarists in history, and has numerous UK and US number 1 hits.
He has been awarded the Greatest Guitarist of All Time by the Rolling Stone, among other notable achievements.
Despite Hendrix’s unfavorable experience with the military, he never spoke badly about them, leaving a legacy behind following his premature death at only 27 in 1970.