Gotta Find My Baby!

December 19, 2022

Private Presley: Elvis in the Army (1958 - 1960)



On January 19, 1953, Elvis enlisted in the US Army as every 18-year-old is required to do. Under the scrutiny system, young men in good health were expected to be available to serve in the Army for two years of active duty and then four years in the reserves (this system continued until after the Vietnam War, when the US migrated to a voluntary military system).

Elvis Presley applied for United States Selective Service and received license #40-86-35-16. He then finished his senior year at L.C. Humes High School and, shortly after graduation, began what would become his illustrious career as an artist.

In January 1956, Presley turned twenty-one and was now eligible to be drafted. Colonel Tom Parker was well aware of his client's status and how it could affect his career. In the summer of that year, Parker wrote to the Pentagon asking that Presley be considered for Special Services, which would allow him to do just six weeks of basic training and then resume normal life, with the exception that he was required to perform several times a year to troops at various bases around the world.

However, Parker had no intention of allowing his client to sign up for Special Services, which would require him to perform for free and each show would be recorded and filmed for sale to television stations across the world. Only the Armed Forces would profit from these recordings, and Parker was in no way willing to allow anyone, not even "Uncle Sam", to enjoy Presley's talents for free.

Over the next twelve months Parker led Elvis to believe that it was still possible to evade drafting altogether, but behind his words, he had no intention of evading it. In his eyes, after a year of some negative publicity about Presley, this was the perfect opportunity to change older America's view of him.

On January 4, 1957, he reported to Kennedy Veteran's Hospital in Memphis for a pre-selection physical and on his 22nd birthday, the Memphis Draft Board held a press conference announcing that Elvis would be classified as soldier 1A and would likely be deployed sometime that year.

At the time, the US was not involved in conflicts or wars. With the news of Elvis' induction, the Navy and Air Force made offers for his services - the Navy offering to create a specially trained "Elvis Presley Company" and the Air Force thinking it would be good for him to visit their recruiting centers. Elvis turned down this offers, not wanting any special treatment. He would serve as a simple soldier.

On December 20, 1957 Elvis finally received his call-up. As he was already involved with the upcoming filming of "King Creole" and recording the soundtrack, a request for a postponement was filed with the Army by Colonel Parker on behalf of his client and the producers at RCA and Paramount. The answer came on the 26th, giving Elvis a leave of absence until March 20, 1958. Coincidentally or not, the film's soundtrack and the recording of other songs that would be released until 1960 ended in late February and filming ended on March 10th.

At 6:35 am on March 24, 1958 Elvis presented himself with family and friends at the Memphis Draft Board, from where he was taken to be sworn in at Kennedy Veteran's Hospital and given serial number 53-310-761. From there, he was taken to Fort Chaffee, Arkansas, for the process to continue and receive his haircut before being assigned to the 2nd Armored Division's Hell On Wheels unit (previously led by General Patton) and stationed at Fort Hood, Texas, where he would receive six months of training.

Elvis does his swearing, cuts his hair and is moved to Fort Chaffee


PRIVATE PRESLEY REPORTING FOR DUTY

A few days after his departure for the army, Elvis received tons of letters in the Colonel's office. In them, fans desperately asked for the release of new recordings of the singer, which RCA did not have in enough numbers even for an EP.

Elvis was then given 15 days off that would begin on June 1, 1958, returning to Memphis and Graceland that Saturday night. Upon his arrival, still wearing his uniform, he stopped amid a crowd of fans at the entrance to the mansion to greet them and explain the meaning of his insignias. He also took the opportunity to warn them that new recordings were on the way.

Seeing an opportunity to earn in the great demand, the Colonel arranged with RCA a recording session in the early hours of the 10th to the 11th of that month, in which Elvis recorded some tracks that would be immediately released in EPs and later, on September 13, 1959, united on the LP Elvis' Gold Records, Vol. 2.

Elvis at Fort Chaffee; March 28, 1958
During these 15 days at home, Elvis attended to matters around his mother's health. It is estimated that around this time he was already using "speed" to keep his forces in the Army and the news blow may have increased how much he was ingesting. Before that, it is alleged that Elvis already stole Gladys' medicine and that she may have been the initial source of what would become an addiction that would greatly compromise her son's health for years to come.

Returning to the Army on June 14, Elvis faced another ten weeks of training. His parents moved closer to the base and the singer asked for permission to live off the military premises, a right that every soldier had. The following month, Gladys' health deteriorated considerably and Vernon had to return with her to Memphis for more delicate treatments. With his mother sick, Elvis was given an emergency leave to visit her.


GLADYS LOVE PRESLEY

At 11:30 a.m. on August 9, while Elvis was completing his tank training, Vernon called an ambulance to Graceland and Gladys was taken to Memphis Methodist Hospital, where her condition was declared serious. On the 12th, after receiving dozens of phone calls from his mother's doctor and threatening to go AWOL to visit her, Elvis received a new emergency leave from the Army and left with Lamar Fike for Memphis. The next day, Elvis arrives at the hospital and joins Vernon, who had spent the entire night with Gladys; Elvis only left for brief moments and at the end of the night, when he joined Mafia members in the conference room to await word from the doctors.

At approximately 3:15 am on August 14, 1958, 46-year-old Gladys Love Presley dies from complications from two illnesses - acute hepatitis and cirrhosis. Elvis and Vernon were extremely shaken and were comforted by friends and family. Gladys' body was taken to Graceland in the early afternoon and greeted by hundreds of fans who wanted to offer their condolences.

After a small ceremony at the Memphis Funeral Home the procession headed to Forest Hill Cemetery, where The Blackwood Brothers (of which JD Sumner was a part) sang Gladys' favorite Gospel song and a visibly shaken Elvis wept copiously over her grave. Life wasn't the same, but it had to go on. Over the next few days, 100,000 letters and cards, 500 telegrams and 200 wreaths were sent by fans who wanted to show their grief over the loss.

Although deeply depressed, Elvis wanted to attend the funeral of Red West's father on the 16th, who had died the day before. The next morning he insisted on visiting his mother's grave again. To help lighten Elvis' mood, the Colonel arranged with the Memphis Police Department to take the singer on helicopter rides over Graceland and the city.

Regardless of what was done, Elvis remained depressed for the next few days and sought to respond to letters and condolence cards, in addition to managing with Vernon the post-burial details. At the end of his leave, on August 24, 1958, Elvis, still depressed, would return to Fort Hood and leave orders that his mother's room at Graceland remain intact.

ELVIS SAILS TO GERMANY

Back in training in Texas, Elvis learns on September 11 that he has been assigned to the 1st Medium Tank Battalion of the 32nd Detachment of the 3rd Armed Division in Germany. Along with his colleagues, he departs on the military train on the 19th for New York, arriving at Brooklyn station at 9 am on the 22nd and being greeted by a crowd of crazed fans who wanted to see Elvis leave for his journey of almost two years in what was then West Germany.

In the afternoon, the singer gives a quick press conference before boarding the U.S.S. Randall to Bremershafen and after almost 10 days arrives in Friedburg, where hundreds of fans wait to ask for an autograph or take a picture. It was during this trip that he met Charle Hodge, who would become a Mafia member and resident of Graceland from 1960 to 1977. Hodge, who had some fame as a Gospel singer, convinced Elvis to help him put on a show for the troops - although Presley only accepted to play the piano due to Parker's recommendation that he should not play shows of any kind during his service.


As in the US, Elvis would be staying in a private home off base. He and his family moved to the Hilberts Park Hotel in Bad Nauheim, but within three weeks they moved into the more elegant Hotel Grunewald. There, he received letters from Parker about how things were going in the US almost daily. He had struck deals with RCA and 20th Century-Fox to ensure Presley's return to public life was as smooth as possible.

RCA agreed to release an EP of Presley's press conference the day he left for West Germany, titled "Elvis Sails", and 20th Century-Fox agreed to pay $200,000 for a new Presley film, with an option to a second for $250,000 and a 50/50 split on profits. Paramount had also signed deals to produce a number of new films upon his release; what would eventually become "G.I. Blues" was agreed to for $175,000 with a three-picture option included.

Parker also reassured his client about the press coverage abroad, which received articles directly from the Colonel for release. Stories of wild parties in Presley's hotel room were also making the newspapers regularly, and Parker was forced to hold a press conference to dispel these rumours.

For Elvis, however, being away from home in West Germany was not a happy time. He often wrote to friends and family about how much he missed them, how desperately he missed his mother, and how his fears about his career still clouded his mind.

Introduced to amphetamines by a sergeant while doing maneuvers, Elvis became "practically evangelical about its benefits" - not just for the energy, but also for the "strength" and weight loss - and many of his friends joined him. The Army also introduced Presley to karate, which he studied in earnest, later including it in his live performances.

Fellow soldiers attest to Presley's desire to be seen as a capable and common soldier, despite his fame, and his generosity while in service. He donated his salary to charity, bought TV sets for the battalion, and an extra set of uniforms for everyone.

Once installed, Presley was a soldier like any other and very well disciplined. During the next few months, Elvis would undergo severe field training with tanks, bazookas and large weapons.

In early 1959, after complaints from other guests about the behavior of Presley and his friends, the group left the Grunewald Hotel and moved into a five-bedroom house nearby. Fans gathered outside the house to see Elvis as he went to and from work, and a sign was posted on the wall indicating that autographs would only be given between 7:30 pm and 8:00 pm.

Although Presley's agent had banned him from performing in the Army, pressure from RCA to have him record new material prompted Parker to send a microphone and tape recorder to West Germany. Elvis had recorded a handful of songs before he left to cover his time away, but the record company was concerned that the material would run out before his return in March 1960.

In a letter, Parker explained that if the recordings were of Elvis singing a few tracks with a piano backing it would be good enough because his fans just wanted to hear him sing something. Presley used the recorder for fun with friends and family, singing mostly Gospel and hits of the time, but none of these recordings were sent for release by RCA and the content would not be heard until decades later.

In June, with 15 days of leave to enjoy, Presley and his friends traveled for two days to Munich and spent over a week of partying in Paris, where, on several occasions, Elvis would invite all the dancers from a club to his bedroom hotel at 4 am.


DEE STANLEY

By that time, Dee Stanley, the wife of Army Sergeant Bill Stanley, invited Elvis to dinner, telling him that she had seen him live during one of his first performances in the 1950s. As there was no interest in dating someone considerably older, Elvis sent his father. Most biographers claim that Dee was already in the process of divorcing when she met Vernon, but others claim that the couple met him together and wanted to use him to help save their marriage.

When Presley heard about the relationship, he was enraged; in his mind, his father had no right to settle down with another woman so soon after Gladys's death. Dee and Vernon returned to the US in the summer of 1959, where Bill received a "good reward" for his signing the divorce papers, and the pair returned to Germany as a couple and eventually married in 1960. Although Elvis never liked Dee, he became very close to her children - now his half-siblings - and welcomed them into his home; in later years they would be employed as bodyguards and drivers.

Elvis with his regiment (1958), and playing piano in his house in Bad Nauheim (1959)


PRISCILLA BEAULIEU

On September 13, 1959, aviator Currie Grant, who had met Presley a few months earlier, introduced him and his girlfriend, 14-year-old Priscilla Beaulieu, to Elvis at a party where everyone else was adults and mostly men. Witnesses recall that Presley took an immediate liking to Priscilla, and the pair were virtually inseparable for the remainder of his time in Germany. Parker would later shape Elvis' thinking to marry Priscilla in 1967, something he didn't want to do at the time, and such domineering and final decision-making behavior would continue until his final days.

Fortunately, something fruitful came out of the relationship and Elvis gained his greatest treasure, his first and only daughter Lisa Marie. The divorce on October 9, 1973, after Priscilla, still in December 1971, admitted to cheating on him with her karate teacher, Mike Stone, undermined Elvis' psyche forever. Not because Elvis really loved her, which was clearly no longer reciprocated, but because his southern pride had been hurt - that he would never admit. Unable to regain his pride, he ended up having a very hard time.


PRISCILLA X CURRIE GRANT 

Currie Grant, in turn, would return to the scene in 1997 with his autobiography, where he told a secret of his ex-girlfriend. According to Grant, she had made a very adult offer to get to her ultimate goal - her virginity in exchange for a date with Elvis. This would mean that Priscilla was never a "virgin bride", let alone a "child bride", nor was she long virgo intacta in her marriage to the King of Rock.

Priscilla, of course, countered the story in court, suing Currie for $10 million for libel and defamation. She also said that not only had he demanded sex several times during their relationship, he had also tried to rape her and that she had managed to escape in time. The process was terminated with the order that Ms. Beaulieu was to receive compensation of $75,000.

Perhaps out of fear, Priscilla later paid Grant $15,000 to return the 1959 photos in his possession. Many say that if she had nothing to fear, she shouldn't have tried so hard to defend herself or take the "offences" seriously, nor should she have asked Currie for the photos she claimed didn't exist in the lawsuit.

Priscillawith Currie Grant and Elvis in 1959; next, Priscilla in various moments in February / March 1960


ELVIS RETURNS TO THE US

By 1960, Elvis' career fears were becoming real, but RCA producer Steve Sholes and Freddy Bienstock of Hill & Range had thought carefully about his two-year absence. Armed with a substantial amount of unreleased material, they maintained a steady stream of successful releases.

Between his induction and return, Presley had ten Top 40 hits, including "Wear My Ring Around Your Neck", the bestseller "Hard Headed Woman", and "One Night" in 1958, and "(Now and Then There's) A Fool Such as I" and the number one "A Big Hunk o' Love" in 1959. RCA also managed to generate four albums compiling old material during this period, the most successful being Elvis' Golden Records LP, which reached number three on the charts, followed by its second installment, Elvis' Gold Records, Vol. 2.

On January 20, 1960, Presley was promoted to Sergeant. The Army held a press conference on March 1, before Elvis left West Germany, in which he was asked about his decision to serve as a regular soldier and responded to his expectations of returning to the US.

On March 2, with Priscilla in attendance, Presley said goodbye to fans and media outlets in Germany and returned home to Memphis. En route, his plane stopped at Prestwick Airport in Scotland for gas; this would be the only time he would set foot in the UK. On March 3, Elvis' plane arrived at McGuire Air Force Base, near Fort Dix, New Jersey, at 7:42 am. Nancy Sinatra, representatives from RCA and Parker were there to welcome him, as well as a huge crowd of fans.

Elvis during the March 1, 1960 press conference in Friedburg, West Germany


Two days later, on March 5, Presley was officially discharged from active duty and received a payment of $109.54 for his work. During his 18 months in Germany, he was extremely proficient in his drill exercises and won several marksmanship medals on weapons of various calibers. His exemplary conduct earned him a Good Conduct medal.

Life went on smoothly for E-5 Sergeant Elvis Presley, who wore his uniform for the last time for the recordings of "The Frank Sinatra Timex Show - Welcome Home Elvis" and the movie "G.I. Blues". His music career had returned to normal and, more importantly, with him still at the top of the charts. Elvis was officially discharged from the reservist ranks on March 23, 1964.

Elvis in March 1960

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