Elvis the Army Veteran

By Major Van Harl, USAF Ret.

On January the 8th I turned eighteen and like all law abiding teens in 1973 I registered for the draft. But I got lucky, the draft ended that spring and I was never forced into the military. I later got to pick when I wanted to go and in what branch of the military I wanted to serve.

There was another young man who had to register for the draft after he turned eighteen on January the 8th, but this was in 1953. The draft was going strong and the Korean War was still in the news. Elvis Presley was not a recording star on that January day when the Selective Service gave him a number and then sent him back to high school, so he got to sweat out being called up by the draft just like other males in the US.

His call to service did not come right out of high school and Elvis got on with his civilian life, which meant in his case he became the rock-n-roll superstar of the late 1950s. By 1956 he was an internationally known recording artist, had made a movie and was on the road performing concerts across the nation.

On January 8, 1957, which was Elvis's twenty-second birthday, the Memphis Draft Board held a press conference in reference to the draft status of Elvis Aron Presley. He was advised he was now classified 1A and should prepare himself to be inducted into the Army that calendar year. Not many men get a nationally broadcasted press conference when he is being told to come join the ranks of the US Army, but most young males did not have a manager and shameless promoter named "Colonel" Tom Parker.

The Navy and Air Force both made Elvis offers to enlist in their branch of the service before the Army draft got him, but he turned them down. I would suggest that the real reason he turned down the Navy and Air Force was they had four year enlistments and the Army could only draft him for two years. Elvis was extremely worried that his music career was headed for ruin. He was going to be out of the recording and performing spotlight for two years and Elvis truly believed he would be forgotten.

"Colonel" Parker was not worried. He knew that there was enough recorded material that Elvis had already finished. Using this, Parker could in a timely manner feed it out to the public and keep new songs on the record charts throughout Elvis' time in the Army.

When Elvis was finally called up on 20 December 1957, he was just about to start filming the movie "King Creole". He asked for and received a deferment until March of 1958 so he could finish the movie. On 24 March 1958 Elvis reported to the Memphis Draft Board. He was sent to Fort Chaffee, Arkansas for processing and got his first G.I. haircut.

Of course, "Colonel" Parker had arranged for the press to film everything that happened during Elvis's induction into the Army. During the haircut Elvis coined the phrase "Hair today, gone tomorrow."

Elvis was offered a chance to go in to the Special Services Branch of the Army. He could have spent his two years performing for the troops and this would have kept him out of regular Army training and Army life. He could have even skipped basic training. Again "Colonel" Parker said no. Elvis as a regular ground pounding Army troop was worth more publicity than Elvis the special soldier who got "taken care of" by the powers to be of the Army.

By the way "Colonel" Parker was never a real colonel in the military. He was born in the Netherlands. It is alleged he was in the US illegally and that this was the main reason he never went to Germany while Elvis was posted there.

Elvis went to basic training and armor school (tanks), then shipped out to Germany for the remaining eighteen months of his service hitch. When Elvis entered the Army his pay went from $400,000 to $78 a month. Elvis was discharged from the Army on March 5, 1960, with his final check from the service for $109.54.

In 1960 he starred in the movie "G.I. Blues." The film was about a young Army soldier stationed in Germany. Elvis made a number of movies over the years with a military theme. He never forgot he was a veteran and if you go to Graceland you will see his military memorabilia on display. Happy Birthday old veteran--no G.I. blues here.

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Copyright 2007, 2016 by Major Van Harl USAF Ret. All rights reserved.