The Most Popular Soldier in America: Elvis’ Army Induction
Once upon a time, military service was not volunteer-based. Uncle Sam wasn’t picky when it came to gathering enlisted men; they had to have a pulse and be able to walk. There’s more to a draft process than this, but this made it almost impossible for a man to dodge the bullet, even if he was a so-called “King”. As expected, on December 20, 1958 Elvis Presley’s number was up, and the King of Rock and Roll was drafted.
It couldn’t have come at a worse time; his popularity was soaring to cosmic levels, his mother was becoming increasingly more ill and he was slated to begin a new movie project. The boy with the golden voice (and hips…) had made his mark on American pop culture at a time when the air was rife with change. Change was once again sweeping him off to an army base in Nowhere, TX and then to God-knows-where.
After contacting the recruiting office, his manager, Col. Tom Parker was able to get his trip deferred to March, when shooting of King Creole would be complete. So, on March 24, 1958, Elvis made his way over to the local Memphis draft board. There he began the enlistment process, hopping a bus to Fort Chaffee, Arkansas to finish. From the beginning, newspapers and tv cameras were everywhere, probably due to the efforts of Col. Parker. It was all dollars; what could be the worst scenario for Elvis’ career also had potential to be a gold mine. Turning Elvis into the upstanding American man, doing his patriotic duty without asking for special treatment, would endear him to fans both new and old. It would keep him in the spotlight, while he was kept under military wraps. The Col. knew that Elvis had plenty of unreleased material to keep him on the charts for the next two years, and the opportunity to build media hype upon departure would keep the fans clawing for more until he returned. It worked.
Immediately, fan letters began pouring in to the recruiting office, begging them to let Elvis go. The president himself received a handful of letters from bereaved fans, begging for the Army to avoid cutting his hair. All this fell to the wayside, as Elvis was in full compliance with the duties he faced. All branches of the military asked him to enlist before he was drafted, as early as 1957. The Air Force even offered to create an Elvis Presley Company, for the purpose of keeping Presley from regular military duty. He refused all such offers, wanting only to be treated as any other soldier, pulling KP, doing drills and whatever else it entailed. He didn’t want to be looked at differently, and because of his actions, he was soon accepted by his fellow soldiers.
He was shipped off to Fort Hood, TX on March 28,1958 where he completed basic training, living off base with his family. That summer, his mother’s health deteriorated enough for her to be brought back to Memphis, where she passed away on August 14, 1958. Elvis returned to Memphis for the funeral, and by September, Elvis was shipped off to Germany, where he would complete his tour of duty. His life changed while there, due to a young girl named Priscilla Beaulieu, whom he would later marry.
Elvis returned to America in March 1960 and was immediately back to work, appearing on a special with Frank Sinatra, going back to the studio and jumping head-first into what would prove to be a mediocre film career.
Even Elvis Aron Presley couldn’t escape the bare essentials of American citizenship. Although he didn’t want to go, he served with dignity and charisma, working hard alongside his compatriots, earning his stripes like everyone else. His popularity remained in tact, and it wasn’t until the Beatles hit our shores that Elvis became just another passing craze. Despite staying afloat, his absence made room for other sensations to come into the spotlight, such as Buddy Holly, Richie Valens and The Big Bopper, all of whom would be gone by the time he returned. The 60s would prove to be an uphill battle for the man who once sat atop the royal throne.
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- May 14, 2010 / 11:44 am