Guest Author - Amber Grey
With the Korean War heating up, the US Government induced the Selective Service System. Instead of using his celebrity status to opt out, Elvis signed up with the rest of the selected young men on January 19, 1953. However, he was not called to service for four more years when on January 14, 1954 “The King” got his Army pre-induction physical at Kennedy War Veterans Hospital. When asked what it felt like, Elvis explained, "There's not much difference between this and making a movie. . .You have to get up at 5 AM and be on set at 6. The only different thing is that you don't have a limousine."
After he was enlisted, all branches of the US Army and US Navy bid for Elvis to be a part of their branch but Elvis declared that he did not want any special treatment. Instead, he served as a regular G.I. On March 24, 1958, Elvis’s famed mane was cut and buzzed as publicity photographers snapped away, “Hair Today, gone tomorrow,” he joked. Then tragedy struck. While completing his training, Elvis’s beloved mother, Gladys, contracted hepatitis and was sent to the hospital. A few days later, Gladys passed away and Elvis was granted compassionate leave in order to grieve with his father and attend to the funeral. Although he was overcome with grief, Elvis did his duty. Assigned to the Third Armored “Spearhead” Division, Elvis shipped out with his unit to Friedberg, Germany on September 22, 1958.
While serving, Elvis was as disciplined and as active any other GI in his unit. And he was generous with his pay, donating it to buy musical records and uniforms for his unit. During his duty, Elvis found his love for Karate in which he eventually became a Black Belt later in his life. And amongst the women he was photographed with, he also met his future bride, Priscilla Presley.
The one good thing Colonel Parker managed to do for Elvis was to keep his career and popularity going while he was in the army. Amongst the surviving publicity photographs that were taken throughout his army years, Parker kept radios all across America playing Elvis songs, and as a result, Elvis had top ten 40 hits including “Hard-Headed Woman” and “A Big Hunk o’ Love” during his Army years. And Parker’s arm stretched far across the globe in order to include a promotional stunt with a German magazine where four girls won “An Afternoon With Elvis.” When he was on “leave,” Elvis was unable to escape the fans and publicity photographers that followed him everywhere he went; much of the photographs still survive today.
Elvis served the two years of active service that was expected of every G.I. and he was honorably discharged from the army with the rank of sergeant. He arrived back in the United States on March 2, 1960 and his fans mobbed the train across the country – from New Jersey to its arrival in snowy Tennessee.
However, Elvis did not have the chance to rest. The whole country was enamored with the return of “The King.” Elvis appeared for the first time on television since coming home on “The Frank Sinatra Timex Special,” which is also known as the “Welcome Home Elvis” episode to perform. And Parker did not waste any time in capitalizing on getting Elvis back on the silver screen, only this time, he was back in his army fatigues. “The next thing I knew, I was out of the service and making movies again. My first picture was called “G.I. Blues” (1961). I thought I was still in the army,” Presley recalled. In "G.I. Blues," Presley's character "Tulsa" serves in the 32nd Armored division the same division Presley served in real life. When asked about what he thought about serving in the Army, Elvis replied, “The army teaches boys to think like men.”