Mark H. Wilson


Johnny CashLong before his first music smash,
Long before his first public splash,
while others still thought of him as poor southern white trash
He was a legendary ditty bopping flash!
With auditory skills rivaling Ogden Nash,
he had such brilliant panache!
Not brash.
Not rash.
More shyly abash
but, solid as his youthful Arkansas ash!
In the secret world of dot and dash
while others did gnash,
wanted their racks to slash,
about code they did trash,
his cold war adversaries he did superbly hash!
He knew first of Joseph Stalin’s life crash!
He knew first of the TU-16 badger flight bash!
Some of his later music cache,
was really a cold war early life covert stash?
The Tennessee flat top box was just one rehash?
He was Air Force Staff Sergeant Johnny Cash!

Author’s Note: I was taught by several instructors who had either worked with Cash in Germany in the early 1950’s or had known people who had. He was literally a legend with his code skills!

I noticed that the best off-duty guitar players, regardless of the branch of service, were always operators like Johnny Cash. They literally could copy code in one ear, talk with their analysts with the other ear uncovered, and scan the radio spectrum while whistling or singing under their breath! Listen closely to Johnny Cash’s “Tennessee Flat-top Box”. He is playing the guitar, singing, – and tapping a code on the body of his guitar! Many of his songs were veiled references to his military service that he could never openly discuss according to several of our instructors. Also, listen closely to “Folsom Prison Blues”. Folsom Prison is in the state of California yet the train is ‘ramblin’ on down to San Antone’. San Antonio is in the state of Texas. It also happens to have been the headquarters of the U. S. Air Force Security Service (USAFSS) in the early 1950’s during Johnny Cash’s service. It is still there but is now known as the Air Intelligence Agency (AIA).

Probably Johnny Cash felt ‘imprisoned’ by the secrets he was required to keep – especially in relation to lost recon flights in Eastern Europe! Johnny Cash did not know how to play the guitar prior to his military service. Once he learned code, guitar playing would have been relatively simple.

Johnny Cash was born in a small town in Arkansas with strong small town values – and very easy to run a background check for a high level security clearance. Most people I worked with, regardless of branch of service or location, had small town backgrounds just like Johnny Cash. I have speculated for years that this strong sense of values but his equally strong sense of patriotism, created a major internal contradiction and conflict for him. This may have been what contributed to his later alcohol and substance abuses problems.

Literally Johnny Cash could tell no one what he had witnessed! His military service background would make a great book or movie as a study in internal conflict! Johnny Cash probably identified more with Ira Hayes and his personal problems than most people would ever suspect.

Johnny Cash was not only a great singer and writer, but he was a still greater patriot – and one hell of a code operator!