Memorial Day: 10 Country Stars Who Support Or Served In The US Military

CMT is reflecting on patriotic performers who stand proud with the US forces in honor of the fallen heroes.

The last Monday in May has officially arrived, and today we remember the brave fallen soldiers who have protected our country and fought fearlessly for our freedom.

The country music genre and the United States military has a rich history, which traces back to World War II. Old-school artist Red Foley released “There’s A Blue Star Shining Bright,” about a mother honoring her deployed son. In 1965 Johnnie Wright’sHello Vietnam” became a No.1 single, Loretta Lynn penned “Dear Uncle Sam” in 1966, and several other call-to-action or tribute tracks followed.

According to The Washington Post, the Army and Air force used country music radio and television performances as a tactic to recruit in the 1950s. Fast forward to the 21st century, where country artists still pay homage to the armed forces and veterans through the power of music. Some of the genre’s biggest hitmakers – Willie Nelson, Craig Morgan, and Zach Bryan even sing from experience as they endured numerous military missions.

In honor of Memorial Day, CMT has cultivated a roundup of musicians who have either served or proudly supported the United States military. Whether they placed pen to paper to create a patriotic anthem, embarked on a USO Tour, rubbed elbows with vets, or enlisted – they rightfully earned a spot.

Charlie Daniels

Taylor Hill

NEW YORK, NY - JUNE 16: Charlie Daniels performs on "Fox & Friends" at FOX Studios on June 16, 2017 in New York City. (Photo by Taylor Hill/WireImage)

The late Charlie Daniels has dedicated his livelihood and career to supporting the troops. The Country Music Hall of Famer started playing shows for soldiers in the 1960s and became one of the first country stars to travel to Iraq to perform after the 9/11 terrorist attacks. In 2014, Daniels and his long-time manager David Corlew launched The Charlie Daniels Journey Home Project – an organization that provides rehabilitation, trauma, and financial assistance to veterans. Following his death in 2020 due to a hemorrhagic stroke, the vocalist received military honors during his memorial service in Nashville, Tennessee. Journey Home Project has raised more than $2 million.

Chris Young

Country music star Chris Young has gone the extra mile to connect with US service members nationwide. In 2009, the hitmaker traveled to Kuwait, Germany, and Iraq with industry friend Craig Morgan for Stars For Stripes – an association that provides entertainment overseas. Following his performance, he raised over $30,000 for the organization in 2013. While the “Famous Friends” singer was on his 2019 Raised On Country Tour, he partnered with USAA to visit military bases to grant resilient personnel free tickets. At the 55th annual CMA Awards, Young acknowledged the military alongside host Luke Bryan to discuss NFL Salute to Service and the Bob Woodruff Foundation. The country crooner has close ties to the military, as his sister and brother-in-law served as marines.

Craig Morgan

U.S. Army Sgt. James K. McCann

Country music artist Craig Morgan poses for a photo with the military working dogs and their handlers after a demonstration of by the 51st Security Forces at Osan Air Base, Republic of Korea; the second stop on the annual Vice ChairmanÕs USO Tour, April 23, 2018. Comedian Jon Stewart, country music artist Craig Morgan, celebrity chef Robert Irvine, professional fighters Max ÒBlessedÓ Holloway and Paige VanZant, and NBA Legend Richard ÒRipÓ Hamilton will join Gen. Selva on a tour across the world as they visit service members overseas to thank them for their service and sacrifice. (DoD Photo by U.S. Army Sgt. James K. McCann)

Before Craig Morgan was a country music star, he served in the United States Army with the 101st and 82nd Airborne Divisions. The multi-platinum artist Craig Morgan was recently inducted into the U.S. Field Artillery Hall of Fame for 17-years of active duty. Morgan served in South Korea before heading to Panama in 1989 as part of Operation Just Cause. The brave veteran also worked alongside the CIA in Panama and combatted sex traffickers in Thailand. Morgan penned “Sippin’ On The Simple Life” with active Army Airborne Rangers before they deployed to Afghanistan.

Zach Bryan

INDIO, CALIFORNIA - APRIL 30: Zach Bryan performs onstage during Day 2 of the 2022 Stagecoach Festival at the Empire Polo Field on April 30, 2022 in Indio, California. (Photo by Rich Fury/Getty Images for Stagecoach)

Zach Bryan was an active-duty member in the US Navy, when he accidentally fell into the country music genre. The breakout star filmed himself singing "Heading South" on a phone outside his Navy quarters overseas. The acoustic original that displays his soulful sound went viral on social media. Bryan was only 17-years-old when he first joined the Navy, as he followed in his family's footsteps. His late mother, father, and grandfather all served in the Navy. After eight years of service, the fast-rising artist was honorably discharged to pursue music full-time.

Tim McGraw

TODAY -- Pictured: Tim McGraw appears on NBC News' "Today" show -- (Photo by: Peter Kramer/NBC/NBC Newswire/NBCUniversal via Getty Images)

Country music legend Tim McGraw comes from a long line of military members, as his sister is a veteran of the Army, his uncle served in Vietnam, and his grandfather also joined the Navy. Throughout McGraw's flourishing career, he made it his mission to pay tribute to the men and women who placed their lives on the line. The "Humble And Kind" singer launched a program called Operation Homefront in partnership with Chase. The organization provides mortgage-free homes to wounded warriors and individuals of the armed forces. McGraw has held several free concerts to thank troops at bases nationwide and released the military-inspired track "If You're Reading This."

Darryl Worley

Darryl Worley and Wynn Varble wrote "Have You Forgotten?" following the 9/11 attacks and it stomped all over his current radio single. Five weeks later, it was the No. 1 country song in America.

"It's funny how it has changed the course of my life," Worley said.

The song impacted others, too. Following a television taping in New York City, a woman approached him to share that "Have You Forgotten?" was the fuel her son needed to join the military.

He didn't make it home.

Eighteen years after the song's debut, Worley still prioritizes giving back to the military. His current album 22 is an eight-song collection that includes "Have You Forgotten?" and new song "Send Me." He released the themed project to raise money and bring awareness to the 22 veterans who commit suicide daily.

"I have these big ideas all the time, and they don't all pan out," Worley said. "But if we do it with the right heart, somebody will get something very special out of it. I think God puts us in a position to do good things for people."

Trace Adkins

Trace Adkins spent years trying to do an annual USO Tour to support the troops. “All I can say is ‘thank you’ to veterans,” Adkins said, “and hopefully bring a smile to people’s faces every now and then, and sing some songs they may enjoy hearing and just let them know that they’re appreciated.”

To commend him for his time spent boosting morale and doing charity, Adkins won the Outstanding Civilian Service Award at the Chief of Staff of the Army Salute. “I’m just trying to do my tiny little part,” Adkins said.

The country singer has been the spokesman for the Wounded Warrior Project since 2008.

“Many of these heroes struggle with visible and invisible wounds, and the Wounded Warrior Project is there to help them.” Adkins said.

Willie Nelson

AUSTIN, TEXAS - JULY 04: Singer-songwriter Willie Nelson performs onstage with Willie Nelson and Family during the 46th Annual Willie Nelson 4th of July Picnic at Austin360 Amphitheater on July 04, 2019 in Austin, Texas. (Photo by Rick Kern/WireImage for Shock Ink)

Willie Nelson is an Air Force vet, iconic singer and songwriter, an outspoken advocate for farmer’s rights, and a ferocious marijuana advocate.

Nelson was born in Texas during the great depression and sang in dance halls, taverns, and honky tonks to avoid picking cotton.

When he left high school in 1950, he enrolled in the Air Force but was medically discharged after about nine months due to back problems. Regardless, he remained passionate about veterans issues, and advocated for more healthcare for veterans, and supported veteran advocacy groups such as Operation Firing for Effect.

George Strait

LAS VEGAS, NEVADA - APRIL 07: George Strait performs onstage during the 54th Academy Of Country Music Awards at MGM Grand Garden Arena on April 07, 2019 in Las Vegas, Nevada. (Photo by Rich Fury/ACMA2019/Getty Images for ACM)

The King of country music George Strait is a veteran and has a history stopping concerts to honor troops and veterans. Across 32 states and for almost a decade, Strait helped Military Warriors Support Foundation the opportunity to present approximately 90 homes to combat wounded veterans and Gold Star Families.

At a concert to raise funds for Wounded Warriors, he told his fans: “We are all here to raise money for the Wounded Warriors through David Feherty’s Troops First Foundation that gives quality help to our brave American wounded soldiers from the Middle East. The least we can do is support these brave men and women who fight for us and we are all humbled and grateful for their service.”

Strait served in the U.S. Army from 1971-75. He was stationed at Schofield Barracks in Hawaii and attained the rank of Corporal.

Toby Keith

Rusty Russell/Getty Images

NASHVILLE, TN - APRIL 7: (U.S. TABLOIDS OUT) Toby Keith provides the grand finale of the 2003 CMT Flameworthy Video Music Awards in the Gaylord Entertainment Center on April 7, 2003 in Nashville, Tennessee. (Photo by Rusty Russell/Getty Images)

While Toby Keith didn't serve in the military, he's always among the first to release songs in support for service members. His catalog includes “American Soldier” and in the aftermath of the 9/11 attacks, he wrote “Courtesy of the Red, White and Blue (The Angry American)." His father, who was an Army veteran, inspired the song. He started touring over seas to visit the troops almost two decades ago.

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