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Arts & Culture

Book Excerpt—Johnny Cash: The Life

Photo: Courtesy photos, License: N/A

Courtesy photos

August 7, 1954—Cash marries Vivian Liberto at St. Ann’s Catholic Church in SA

Photo: , License: N/A

With Vivian and the girls (Rosanne, left, Kathy, Cindy and Tara) at the Casitas Springs home



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Even though Vivian’s father was concerned about his “baby” dating an Air Force man, Vivian’s younger sister, Sylvia, remembers that her parents couldn’t help but like this polite, respectful young man who said “Yes, ma’am” and “No, sir” without fail. Still, Sylvia recalls, her father was relieved when he learned Johnny was finally leaving for his new assignment in Germany. There was no way, he figured, that the relationship would last.

But Johnny convinced himself that it would. He told Vivian—or “Viv,” as he began calling her — that he loved her, would always love her, and wanted to spend his life with her. He told her he would write a letter every day—and he made her promise to do the same.

It was heady stuff for a nineteen-year-old boy, but it was even more of a fairy tale for a seventeen-year-old girl. He seemed so mature in his uniform. She also thought he was smart, caring, a man of faith, and, of course, very, very sexy.

Johnny wanted to make love to her, but she refused. In reality, he probably didn’t try that hard, because he didn’t want to jeopardize his new dream by giving her the wrong impression of his intentions. One day, he told himself over and over, Vivian Liberto would be Mrs. Johnny Cash and he’d be a singer on the radio. This vision gave him immense comfort as he returned to Dyess in the final days of August. He had promised Viv he would call her before the ship left Brooklyn for West Germany, but he couldn’t wait.

On the morning of September 4 he called from Dyess, and she was thrilled to hear his voice. In a letter he wrote her later that same day, he asked her to send him a large photo so he could put it over his bed in Germany and look at it every morning and night. He enclosed a photo he’d had taken at the base. He ended by urging, “Write, honey.” Seven days later, he wrote her the first of several letters from Camp Kilmer in New Jersey, where he and other members of what would eventually be named the 6912th Security Squadron were being assembled before they left for Germany. He signed it

“Love, Johnny.”

Excerpted from the book JOHNNY CASH: The Life by Robert Hilburn.   Copyright © 2013 by Robert Hilburn.  Reprinted with permission of Little, Brown and Company; all rights reserved.

Johnny Cash: The Life

By Robert Hilburn | Little Brown and Company | $32 | 704 pp

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