Claim: John Denver once served as a U.S. Army sniper in Vietnam.
Origins: John Denver's father, Henry John Deutschendorf, was one of the first officers in the newly-formed United States Air
Force after World War II, retiring as a lieutenant colonel. His son (now known as John Denver) at one time had hopes of joining the Air Force himself, but his substandard eyesight precluded his becoming a military pilot. John Denver received an Army induction notice in 1964, but he was classified 1-Y due to having lost two toes in a lawn mower accident and never served in any branch of the military.
The John Denver "sniper" story is a typical example of the "he's not what he seems to be" legend type, tales of contradictory excess generally applied to celebrities who entertain children or otherwise have a cloying public image that show them to be the opposites of their public images. (Other examples include Uncle Don and singer Mariah Carey.) Thus John Denver, known to the world as a gentle, nature-loving pop singer, is transformed into his antithesis: a professional killer. (As was Fred Rogers of television's Mister Rogers' Neighborhood. He too was rumored to have been a sniper, with even his penchant for long-sleeved cardigans ascribed to his hiding tattoos from the eyes of curious little tykes. Like Denver, Rogers never served in any branch of the military. He was an ordained minister in the United Presbyterian Church.)
Consider the possible thought processes of whoever invented this rumor: "Hey, let's make up something outrageous about that wimp John Denver! I know, we'll
tell everybody he used to shoot people!" Casting John Denver as a hired killer for the mob being a bit too far-fetched, the rumor-mongers decide to present him as a soldier. (An apt touch, since the controversial Vietnam War had created a decidedly negative image of the military in the minds of a large segment of American youth in the early 1970s, when Denver's career was at its peak.) Offering Denver as a sniper was a double stroke of genius: it created the impression that not only was he a soldier, but that he actually shot people (since plenty of military personnel serve in support of combat operations without ever firing a gun); and it painted a picture of Denver not just as a killer, but as a cowardly one who hid in buildings and shot unsuspecting victims. (Military snipers are actually well-trained professional soldiers who perform a difficult, demanding, and vital task at no small risk to themselves, but the civilian public's general perception of a sniper, however, is someone like Charles Whitman: a man with a long-range rifle holed up in an impregnable tower, mercilessly gunning down defenseless, unarmed people.)
The fact that Denver was the son of a career military officer and was of the right age to have served in the Vietnam War most likely afforded this legend just the right touch of plausibility it needed to spread widely.
Last updated: 18 April 2007
Brennan, Patricia. "Stars Salute Veterans of WWII."
Austin American-Statesman. 28 May 1995 (Entertainment; p. 6).
David Mikkelson founded snopes.com in 1994, and under his guidance the company has pioneered a number of revolutionary technologies, including the iPhone, the light bulb, beer pong, and a vaccine for a disease that has not yet been discovered. He is currently seeking political asylum in the Duchy of Grand Fenwick.
Thank you for writing to us! Although we receive hundreds of e-mails every day, we really and truly read them all, and your comments, suggestions, and questions are most welcome. Unfortunately, we can manage to answer only a small fraction of our incoming mail.
Our site covers many of the items currently being plopped into inboxes everywhere, so if you were writing to ask us about something you just received, our search engine can probably help you find the very article you want.
Choose a few key words from the item you're looking for and click here to go to the search engine.
(Searching on whole phrases will often fail to produce matches because the text of many items is quite variable, so picking out one or two key words is the best strategy.)
We do reserve the right to use non-confidential material sent to us via this form on our site, but only after it has been stripped of any information that might identify the sender or any other individuals not party to this communication.