Jimi Hendrix is undoubtedly one of the greatest guitarists to ever step on stage. The man who headlined 1969's Woodstock Festival was responsible for defining American rock as we know it. But when he was a young, dumb kid, he was given the choice of going to war or going to jail — he chose the Army.
He served for just 13 months before being discharged, leaving many to speculate (and start rumors about) how and why he didn't fulfill his original 3-year contract. Well, we think this rock legend (who is also a constant talking point in 101st Airborne trivia) doesn't deserve to have his name dragged through the mud. Let's dive a little deeper.
If we can't clear up the misconceptions about him, at least we can get his Wikipedia article corrected. (National Archives)
One of the rumors that has persisted is that Hendrix was discharged for displaying homosexual tendencies. Some say he put on an act in order to avoid going to Vietnam. This can be easily disproved by the fact that he was already out of the Army by the time President Kennedy signed the Foreign Assistance Act — he had no real reason to believe that American troops would be sent to Vietnam to stop the fall of Communist dominoes. Hendrix was also highly vocal about his hatred for communists, so he likely wasn't dodging a fight on any philosophical grounds.
Others say it wasn't an act — that Hendrix was, indeed, attracted to men. Contrary to this school of thought, his experiences with his "foxy ladies" were highly publicized. Preferences aside, there's just no evidence to support this myth, even if it appears in his highly-criticized biography. The simple fact is that his discharge documents say otherwise.
While I'm at it, the lyrics in Purple Haze are, "Excuse me, while I kiss the sky."
Another rumor states that he was dishonorably discharged because he got caught masturbating and was, generally, a sh*tty soldier. If you look through his documents, it's easy to see that he was no Captain America. He barely passed PT standards, was a sub-par marksman, and he got in trouble three times for missing bed checks on three different weekends.
To be honest, that sounds a lot like an average 19-year-old private — a lazy, apathetic troop who skims by doing the absolutely bare minimum. He was just your average Joe who'd rather be playing guitar than working.
One of his counseling statements even says "Pvt Hendrix plays a musical instrument during his off-duty hours, or so he says." I'm going to go out on a limb and say, yes, indeed he did.
There are nuggets of truth here: His NCOs did try to kick him out and they did submit a request for discharge after he was caught masturbating in the latrine. Make no mistake, the hammer was swiftly coming down on Private Hendrix. He stood a good chance of receiving a bad conduct discharge — but was instead given a discharge on the grounds of "unsuitability — under honorable conditions" on July 2, 1962.
After his 26th airborne jump, he suffered an ankle injury. His chain of command then had the perfect opportunity to get rid of him — and he wasn't fighting it. It's important to realize that while his superiors did submit a request for discharge on the grounds of bad behavior, that request was never fulfilled.
There are also claims that his broken ankle was on purpose. I'm impressed that he managed 25 jumps with perfectly fine ankles until then. (Photo by Dean John Lazzaro)
Hendrix didn't leave the military with the highest esteem for his chain of command, but he never bad-mouthed the Army as a whole. He regularly played in front of an American flag and performed the national anthem at many of his concerts (leaving behind nearly 50 live recordings outside of his iconic Woodstock '69 rendition).