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The Villages
Friday, July 12, 2024

Elvis Presley proudly served his country in U.S. Army

Elvis Presley went into the Army as a king and came out a sergeant.

He wasn’t a “hero” and didn’t see combat.  There is, however, something intrinsically noble about what Elvis –and the millions of other men and women who have served in the Armed Forces –accomplished.

It’s a sense of sacrifice that goes beyond labels or occupations. Rock stars and everyday people change when they put on a uniform. They become defenders of America’s freedom and democracy.

Elvis Presley on duty in Germany
Elvis Presley on duty in Germany.

Elvis was just one of those defenders and it  happened a long time ago. But on Memorial Day, it’s important to remember the greatest singing star in American history – like so many others—did his duty.

Villager Larry Fusco saw combat in Vietnam and respects Elvis Presley for his military service
Villager Larry Fusco saw combat in Vietnam and respects Elvis Presley for his military service.

“It’s a duty I’ve got to fill and I’m going to do it,” he told reporters after he was drafted.
While Elvis’ military career can’t compare with those who sacrificed their lives and bodies for this country – his service does have meaning.

“I respect and I’m proud of Elvis for serving his country,” said Villager Larry Fusco. He is a Navy special forces veteran who served four years in the early 1970s, and saw action in the Vietnam War.

“You have to respect any man or woman who serves their country,” Fusco added. 

The nearly two years Elvis spent on active duty had a profound impact on his life. Two seismic events occurred during that time.
His mother, Gladys, died at age 46 on August 14, 1958, as Elvis was stationed at Fort Hood in Texas. While he was stationed in Germany, Elvis, 24, met Priscilla Beaulieu, 14, in September 1959. They were married in 1967.

Elvis was at the top of his game in 1958. He revolutionized American music and pop culture. Presley made an explosive impact with his appearances on “The Ed Sullivan Show,” in 1956.
During the next couple years,  records like “Hound Dog,” “Heartbreak Hotel,” “Don’t Be Cruel,” and “All Shook Up,” topped the charts.

Presley’s movie career was also booming. He scored screen hits with “Love Me Tender,” “Loving You” and “Jailhouse Rock.”

When 1958 rolled around, Elvis was working on the film, “King Creole.” Everything changed when the Memphis Draft Board came calling. Presley had been notified on Jan. 8, 1957 – his 22nd  birthday – his number had been picked.
Elvis got a deferment to finish work on “King Creole.” Then, on March 24, 1958, he joined the Army as a GI at Fort Chaffee, Arkansas. The first thing the Army did was chop off his greased-up pompadour.
Elvis took the cut in stride. “Hair today, gone tomorrow,” he joked.

Elvis was eventually assigned to the Third Armored ‘Spearhead’ Division in Texas and his unit would be stationed in Friedberg, Germany.
Elvis wanted no special treatment in the service, and refused to perform for publicity purposes. But during a two-week leave while he was in Texas, he was able to record five songs.

Those songs included the hits, “A Big Hunk O’ Love” and “I Need Your Love Tonight.” Songs from “King Creole” were released in 1958, as was a “Christmas with Elvis” album. RCA Records and Col. Tom Parker, Elvis’ manager, decided to slowly release other previously recorded songs over the next two years.

Elvis expressed concern about his young fans during a press conference before he went to Germany.
“I hope I’m not out of their minds,” he said, according to the Graceland Web site. “And I’ll be looking forward to the time when I can come back and entertain again, like I did.”

In the service, Elvis seemed to get along with everyone and was determined to be part of the team.
Elvis was just one of the guys, Nathaniel Wiggison, a Memphis native who served with Presley, told WMC-TV.  He was drafted with Elvis and went to Germany with him. Elvis set an example, he said:
 “When things got tough, you could be out at night, it’s cold and raining and you’re on guard duty, and he was out there, too.  If he could do it, that made me feel like, OK, I can do this!
“I want everyone to know how good a person Elvis was. He was the kind of person I loved being around.”
Though he was in the Army overseas, Elvis’  hits kept on coming. “One Night,” hit the top of the charts while he was in the service. “A Fool Such As I,” and “I Need Your Love Tonight,” was a double-sided hit. “A Big Hunk O’ Love,” was his last hit while in the Army.

In February, 1960, Elvis was promoted to sergeant. He completed his 18-month stint of active duty on March 5, 1960. The Army sent him packing with a check of $109.54

Elvis took it all in stride.
“I was in a funny position –actually that’s the only way it could be,” he told Armed Forces Radio and Television. “People were expecting me to mess up; to goof up in one way or another.
“They thought I couldn’t take it and so forth. I was determined to go to any limits to prove otherwise, not only to the people who were wondering, but to myself.”

In 1960, after leaving the Army, Elvis released the aptly titled movie “G.I. Blues” about a soldier in Germany.

He even included some fellow soldiers in a number from the movie. It was a fitting Army remembrance for a one-time sergeant who is the King of Rock and Roll.

Tony Violanti writes about music and entertainment for Villages-News.com. He was inducted into The Buffalo Music Hall of Fame as a music journalist.

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