Remember When Jimi Hendrix Got Kicked Out Of The Army For Masturbating?

History
Jimi Hendrix performs at Golden Bear raceway in Sacramento, California on April 26, 1970.
Photo by Larry Hulst/Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images

Before Jimi Hendrix was a living icon, knocking out psychedelic guitar riffs and counterculture ballads that remained relevant after his untimely death on Sept. 18, 1970 — 47 years ago — he was a soldier in the U.S. Army. The man who once set his left-handed Stratocaster ablaze after playing it with his teeth wore olive-drab fatigues and a military cover before swapping them in for tie-dye shirts and headbands. But the way he left the service was as epic as any of his guitar licks.


James Marshall Hendrix’s short tenure in the service — exactly one year — began after he was arrested in connection with a Seattle car-robbery spree in 1961 and given a choice: serve two years in prison, or enlist in the military. Hendrix opted for the Army and enlisted in May 1961, getting assigned to the 101st Airborne. Almost from the start, Hendrix had doubts about military service, writing back home to his father after arriving at Fort Campbell, Kentucky, about the physical hardships of uniformed life.

Pvt. James Marshall Hendrix while in the Army.Photo via Wikimedia Commons

“There’s nothing but physical training and harassment here for two weeks, then when you go to jump school, that’s when you get hell,” Hendrix wrote in the letter, according to Steven Roby and Brad Schreiber’s 2010  biography Becoming Jimi Hendrix. “They work you to DEATH, fussing and fighting.”

Already a skilled guitarist while stationed at Fort Campbell, Hendrix was instantly drawn to the thriving music scene an hour away in Nashville, Tennessee. His late-night shows out at clubs and bars often put him at odds with military life.

He was frequently the subject of numerous counselings and disciplinary reports, and after repeatedly missing bed checks on base — due to playing late-night gigs out in town — Hendrix was demoted from private first class to private. In his defense, Hendrix wrote that his delayed return to base was “due to payday activities and [the] weekend,” Roby and Schreiber write in Becoming Jimi Hendrix.

They flag a report by Hendrix’s squad leader, Gerd H.K. Klepper, who wrote that “Private Hendrix has been found sleeping on duty several times, he has been given extra training as a corrective action on numerous occasions but to no avail.

Related: That Time The Army Had To Save All The Anti-War Hippies At Woodstock From Starvation »

“In my opinion,” Klepper concluded, “Private Hendrix is unsuitable to military service and should be eliminated from the service.”

The list of infractions grew, including “failure to pay overdue laundry expenses” and, finally, the kicker on April 26, 1962: getting caught masturbating in the latrine when he was supposed to be on a work detail. Roby and Schreiber cite this report written by Hendrix’s squadmate, Pvt. James Maddox:

There were six of us working pairs… Every once in awhile I would catch Hendrix setting down on his footlocker or laying down on his bunk trying to get some sleep. Around 1000 hours I looked all over the squad bay for Hendrix buy couldn’t find him… I then went into the latrine and saw Hendrix sitting in the last commode. I thought he was sitting there sleeping I stood on the stool in the commode next to his and looked into his commode, there sat Hendrix masturbating himself. At that time [Private Stroble] came into the latrine and I motioned him to come over and witness what was happening. He took a look and then went back into the squad bay and started working again.

Following the incident, Hendrix was honorably discharged from the military due an ankle injury incurred during a jump, which allowed him to quietly leave the service. However Hendrix’s official May 31, 1962, discharge request reads: “Behavior problems, requires excessive supervision while on duty, little respect for regulations, apprehended masturbating in platoon area while supposed to be on detail.”

Image via Wikimedia Commons

“Psychologically, Jimi was unprepared to cope with the military,” Roby and Schreiber write, “yet he never lost respect for those in the armed services. He studiously avoided public discussions of Vietnam, opting instead for general comments on peace and unity.”

Jimi Hendrix performs at Golden Bear raceway in Sacramento, California on April 26, 1970.Photo by Larry Hulst/Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images

That feels like a bit of a stretch — but then again, even Hendrix’s iconic anti war song “Machine Gun,” is more of a visceral ride through a firefight than a staunch stand against the war, with Hendrix telling the audience at the Fillmore East in New York City on Jan. 1, 1970: “I’d like to dedicate this one to the ‘draggy’ scene that’s going on. All the soldiers that are fighting in Chicago, Milwaukee and New York. Oh yes, and all the soldiers fighting in Vietnam.”

Though his time in uniform was short-lived, it’s probably for the best. If Hendrix had never pissed off so many of his superiors and gotten kicked out, there’s a chance he’d never have been able to inspire so many thinkers, artists and political activists during the height of counterculture movement, and that would have been a terrible loss.

WATCH NEXT:

Editor's Note: This article by Hope Hodge Seck originally appeared on Military.com, a leading source of news for the military and veteran community.

In the wake of a heartwarming viral video that was featured everywhere from Good Morning America to the Daily Mail comes a disheartening revelation: The 84-year-old self-described Army nurse cranking out push-ups in her crisp Vietnam-era uniform might not be who she said she was.

Maggie DeSanti, allegedly a retired Army lieutenant colonel who rappeled out of helicopters in Vietnam, was captured in a video challenging a TSA agent to a push-up competition ahead of a flight to Washington, D.C., with the Arizona chapter of the organization Honor Flight on Oct. 16. The video soon was everywhere, and many who shared it, including Honor Flight, hailed DeSanti's toughness and spirit.

Read More Show Less

The summer before sixth grade, Cindy Dawson went to an air show with her father and was enamored by the flight maneuvers the pilots performed.

"I just thought that would be the coolest thing that anybody could ever do," she said, especially having already heard stories about her grandfather flying bombers during World War II with the Army Air Corps.

So by the first day of school, she had already decided what she wanted to be when she grew up.

Read More Show Less
(ABC News)

Peach schnapps, sex on the beach, piña colada may be familiar cocktails to anyone who's spent an afternoon (or a whole day) getting plastered on an ocean-side boardwalk, but they're also specialty desserts at Ray's Boozy Cupcakes, Etc, a bakery in Voorhees, New Jersey run by a 93-year-old World War II veteran named Ray Boutwell.

Read More Show Less
Instagram/US Coast Guard

A former senior Coast Guard official has been accused of shoplifting from a Philadelphia sex shop.

Rear Adm. Francis "Stash" Pelkowski (Ret.) was accused of stealing a tester item from Kink Shoppe on Oct. 8, according to an Instagram post by the store that appeared online two days later. In the post, which included apparent security camera footage of the incident, a man can be seen looking at products on a counter before picking up an item and placing it in his pocket before turning and walking away.

The Instagram post identified the man as Pelkowski, and said it wished him "all the best in his retirement, a sincere thank you for your service, and extreme and utter disappointment in his personal morals."

Read More Show Less

SAN DIEGO —The Marines say changes in the way they train recruits and their notoriously hard-nosed drill instructors have led to fewer incidents of drill instructor misconduct, officials told the Union-Tribune.

Their statement about training followed an Oct. 5 Washington Post report revealing that more than 20 Marines at the San Diego boot camp have been disciplined for misconduct since 2017, including cases of physical attacks and racist and homophobic slurs. The story also was published in the Union-Tribune.

Read More Show Less