Arts & Culture
Book Excerpt—Johnny Cash: The Life
Published: October 23, 2013
Security Service bases were located in Alaska and several foreign countries, including Japan, Korea, and Germany.
After interviews and a detailed security check, John was formally invited to join the unit and given his choice of duty in remote Adak, Alaska, or Landsberg, West Germany. They were choice outposts, reserved for the most promising intercept operators. The selection process didn’t focus just on test performance, but also weighed character, intelligence, and emotional stability. John opted for Landsberg because he wanted to see the sights of Europe.
To his great frustration, the security operation was so top secret that he was prohibited from telling anybody, including his family, about the delicate nature of his assignment. All he could say was that he was going to be stationed in Landsberg. But first he had to go through four more months of intense training to sharpen his intercept skills. On April 27, he headed back to San Antonio, this time to Brooks Air Force Base.
By late May, John was settled enough to begin thinking about life overseas, and again, he daydreamed about having someone special back home. Six months earlier he would not have had the nerve even to approach a girl he didn’t know. But his success in the training classes emboldened him—to a point. He began looking for a girl of his own everywhere he went in San Antonio, from movie theaters to cafés. It was easier said than done.
While his Air Force blues caught the eye of young girls, his shyness and his insecurity over his dirt farm roots resurfaced, making it hard for him to introduce himself to them. How, he kept asking himself, could anyone from Dyess stand up to a sophisticated big city girl? Even if he got a girl’s attention, John found himself unable to keep the conversation going for long. “Surely,” he kept thinking, “she’ll see right through this Air Force uniform and dismiss me as some hillbilly.”
After all the setbacks, John had little reason to believe that July 18, 1951, a Wednesday, would be any different. He and a friend were heading back to Brooks after a movie when John spotted the St. Mary’s roller rink, and it reminded him of the good times he’d had skating in Dyess. Specifically, he remembered the way girls used to show up eager to meet boys.
Dragging his friend along, John headed for the rink. It was near closing time, but he rented a pair of skates anyway and watched groups of young girls skating by. That’s when he spotted someone he would later describe as the prettiest girl he had ever seen. She was petite—no more than five feet, ninety-five pounds—and she was skating with a girlfriend. He watched her for a few minutes, hoping she’d stop so he could introduce himself. But the pretty brunette kept circling the rink. The pressure on him increased when the announcement came over the loudspeaker that the rink was closing in fifteen minutes.
Almost before he knew what was happening, John started skating slowly toward the girl, not stopping until he actually bumped into her. To anyone watching, it would have looked like a scene from a screwball comedy. When the girl fell to the ground, John reached down to help her up, apologizing profusely. Though he wouldn’t find out until later, Vivian Liberto had been watching him, too, hoping he would come over and say hello. She might even have exaggerated the impact of their encounter and fallen on purpose.