Johnny Cash led one of the definitive American lives. From outlaw to elder statesmen, from convicted criminal to country great, his life and work towers over the American songbook.
Amid the historical facets he oversaw, however, one curio has just come to light. Johnny Cash could well have been the first American to have learned of Joseph Stalin’s death.
Sound crazy? Well, it might just be true.
Joseph Stalin died 70 years ago this week, passing away on March 5th. It’s a death riddled with conspiracies, in part due to the secretive post-war nature of Soviet society and the authoritarian Communist Party.
In 1950, Johnny Cash has signed up to do his bit for the United States, joining the the US Air Force. Assigned to Landsberg, West Germany, on a three-year tour he was placed on the front line of the Cold War. A wireless operator, Sgt. Cash was one of many required to ‘listen-in’ to Soviet communications, a rare insight into the country.
Across March 4th and 5th, Sgt. Cash was entranced by urgent Soviet communications, detailing the sudden decline in health of Joseph Stalin. These were decoded and sent through military lines, eventually reaching President Eisenhower.
Then, suddenly, news of Joseph Stalin’s death broke – so, was Johnny Cash the first to hear of it?
This curious piece of trivia went viral in line with the 70th anniversary of Stalin’s passing, and it seems that this is also Cash family lore. In a note on social media, Rosanne Cash writes: “This seems too bizarre to be true, but it is. He was an Air Force radio operator stationed in Germany. He told me and my siblings about it many times over our lives.”
So there was have it – a boy named Johnny, making history during the height of the Cold War.
For a deep dive into the life and legacy of Johnny Cash visit the Clash archives.