MUSIC

Why Elvis Presley's Army career was remarkably unremarkable

There's no doubt that if there were any American to have truly "lived the dream," it was Elvis Presley. He was born into poverty and rose to stardom. His songs were omnipresent, his films were everywhere, and, on his 21st birthday, he became eligible for the draft.


On Mar. 24th, 1958, the day his fans would call "Black Monday," Elvis Presley was sworn into the U.S. Army. He had all the power and money in the world and he became a regular ol' Private, just like everyone else. He even gave up his beloved hair.

The Pentagon was well aware of his star power and offered him a role in the Special Service. Basically, he would have been free to continue his music career, receive special treatments, and, essentially, just wear a uniform as a formality. The Navy offered to create an "Elvis Presley company" and the Air Force wanted him to just tour recruiting centers.

But that's not how The King rolled. Even though thousands of fans wrote to the Army asking for his release, he thought it would have been "unfair" if he got out in any way other than completing his two-year commitment. He became a cavalry scout and left for Friedberg, West Germany.

You know, just a regular Cav Scout... with 50 million fans. (Photo by Mark Holloway)

That's the most beautiful thing about The King of Rock and Roll's service. He trained just as hard as everyone else. He qualified as an expert with his rifle. He took up karate classes to pass the time, which later became a life long hobby. He even donated his Army pay to charities while using his rock-star money on the men in his unit.

Presley made it very clear he was there to be a soldier first. Towards the end of his career, they offered him a role in the film, G.I. Blues. It was essentially a musical comedy, starring Elvis, that told the story of his joining the Army. Paramount came all the way out to Friedberg with hopes that they'd get some "on location" shots of Presley, but he wouldn't be discharged for another few months. So, his stunt double took his place for all the scenes that were shot in Germany.

Hail to the king, baby! (Courtesy Photo)

Sgt. Presley made a lifelong friend in fellow soldier, Charlie Hodge. Hodge had been a small-time musician before his service (nowhere near the levels of fame of Elvis enjoyed in his prime). When Elvis left the service in 1960, Hodges came with him. Hodges was one of the few friends Presley could count on and became a key member of the Memphis Mafia and the TCB until Elvis' passing in 1977.