The sergeant sat in his cubicle listening to the static and hiss of the shortwave. His duty was monitoring the signal being bounced from Moscow to West Germany, write down anything he heard and report it to the duty officer.
Three-years through his four-year Air Force enlistment, and with a couple of hours left in this shift, John had heard little worth reporting. It seemed to him that the so-called ‘cold war,’ was below the freezing mark, and he could hardly wait to rotate home.
He took a sip of his lukewarm coffee, then paused with a slight head jerk. He had heard something faint, but it was there nonetheless.
Dash-dot-dot, dot, dot-dash, dash-dot-dot. Dead in Morse code.
He transcribed the words that followed. Certain he had it right, John got up and went to the duty officer with the intercept.
“Are you sure?” the Captain asked.
“Yes, sir,” John answered.
Returning to his radio and headset, he would finish his shift with the knowledge that he knew something that the rest of the world, including those in the nearby cubicles, would learn later. For now, he had to remain tight-lipped and close out his day in silence.
Back at his single-room billet, the young sergeant tried to sleep, but it was impossible. His mind kept playing those four letters over and over.
Finally, he gave up and went to the corner and picked up his guitar. He sat back on his bunk and began plunking those four letters over and over until he found their rhythm.
It wouldn’t be for another two years that he’d finally find a use for that chord. By then, everybody knew what John had first learned that March day, and now it was old news, and still the Cold War continued.
Fifteen-years would pass before that chord would be considered a future county music classic. You’ve probably even heard the famous words, “But I shot a man in Reno just to watch him die,” a time or two.
Dash-dot-dot, dot, dot-dash, dash-dot-dot.
At one time, Johnny Cash had been the only person outside the Soviet Union to know that Joe Stalin had died. And the Man in Black would immortalize that secret in “Folsom Prison Blues,” hours before the world would learn this too.