JIMI HENDRIX PRETENDED TO BE GAY TO GET OUT OF THE ARMY

JIMI HENDRIX PRETENDED TO BE GAY TO GET OUT OF THE ARMY

By FRED L. BORCH

No matter where you served in Vietnam in the 1960s, the slashing rock ’n’ roll guitar of James “Jimi” Hendrix was heard on radios, record players and eight-track tape decks. Electric Ladyland, the critically acclaimed album released by Hendrix in 1968, sold millions of copies and showcased Hendrix’s incredible talents. More than a few GIs soon came to think that “All Along the Watchtower” was really Hendrix’s tune—and not a cover of a song by Bob Dylan. “Purple Haze” and “The Wind Cries Mary” also were played over and over. Rolling Stone magazine considers Hendrix to be the greatest guitar player of all time.

But many who served in Vietnam and admire Hendrix’s skill with a guitar do not know that he was a paratrooper in the 101st Airborne Division. They also do not know that Hendrix figured out how to cut short his three-year enlistment to launch his career as a musician.

Hendrix, born in Seattle the day after Thanksgiving 1942, grew up poor and dropped out of high school. Some of his African American male friends, who like him had few job opportunities, joined the armed forces. Hendrix also considered enlisting, especially after he was arrested by the local police for riding in a stolen car.

After being arrested again just four days later for riding in another stolen car, Hendrix knew he would be prosecuted this time and could go to jail for 10 years. Yet he also knew that prosecutors in Seattle often were willing to make a deal—a plea bargain—with a young male defendant if he would leave town and join the Army. Hendrix went to an Army recruiter in Seattle and asked if it was possible to join the 101st Airborne Division. He had read about the “Screaming Eagles,” as the division’s soldiers were called, and wanted to be a paratrooper.

On May 16, 1961, a public defender representing Hendrix struck a plea bargain with the local district attorney. Hendrix received a two-year suspended prison sentence on the condition that he enlist in the Army. The following day, he enlisted for three years as a supply clerk and shipped out to Fort Ord, California, for basic training.

%d bloggers like this: