George Jones Once Joined the Marines to Avoid Going Back to Jail

Before country music star George Jones found fame, he was a young person trying to navigate his way through life, working low-pay jobs to support his growing family. And when he was faced with the possibility of jail time at little more than 18, he’d been there, done that, and didn’t want to go back. So, he joined the Marines.

George Jones, shown performing in 1999, joined the Marines to avoid more time in jail
George Jones | Beth Gwinn/Getty Images

Why George Jones’ first marriage ended

Jones grew up in Beaumont, Texas, and began displaying a talent for music while he was young. His father bought him his first guitar when he was 9, and he was playing in dive bars by the time he was an early teen.

Decades before marrying Tammy Wynette, Jones wed his first wife, Dorothy Bonvillion. It was 1950, and he was 18, so he took odd jobs to support them. But he soon developed what she called an addiction to “the drinking of alcoholic beverages,” and she left in 1951 (per Texas Monthly.)

Notably, Jones’s first wife filed for divorce while she was six months pregnant with their first child. She told a judge he frequented the local drinking establishments and had a violent temper. So, the marriage was terminated, and he was ordered to pay her weekly support.

Why George Jones joined the Marines

In the months after their divorce, Jones spent time in jail twice for failing to make his weekly support payments. And when he faced another stint after their daughter’s birth, he took a judge’s advice and chose a different direction entirely.

According to the Jones museum’s website, he was 20 when he enlisted in the United States Marine Corps in 1951. He completed basic training in 1952 and was stationed at Moffett Field Air Station in San Jose, California, where he stayed.

While enlisted, Jones found he could make more money singing on the weekends or during his periods of leave. He would travel when he could, sometimes appearing on a live music show broadcast in Los Angeles. A life of performing soon became his focus.

In 1953, he returned to Beaumont as a civilian to pursue music. By the early ‘60s, he was known as one of the top artists in the country genre. But his drinking caused trouble in his performances from time to time, as once explained by Reba McEntire. And that wasn’t the only place the habit had an impact.

George Jones’ personal life after the Marines

Jones married his second wife, Shirley Corley, in 1954. She gave birth to two sons during their marriage. His drinking was again a problem that their union suffered, but his second marriage was over when he met his third wife, Wynette.

In 1968, Jones divorced, and he married the “First Lady of Country” in 1969. They had one daughter — the fourth child for each of them. But again, his drinking was considered intolerable, and he and Wynette split for good in 1975.

Jones’ fourth marriage to Nancy Sepulvado was his last. It began in 1983 and lasted until his death 20 years later. He was in and out of sobriety but said he stayed sober after 1999, crediting her with helping him find his way.

How to get help: In the U.S., contact the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration helpline at 1-800-662-4357.