60th Anniversary of Elvis’ Army Induction

In 1958, the King of Rock ‘n’ Roll got a new job title: Private Presley.

Just as Elvis’ fame was at its height, he stepped away from the stage, screen and studio to serve in the United States Army. This month, we’re celebrating the 60th anniversary of Elvis’ induction into the Army. We have some special things planned – more on that in a bit – but let’s get started on Elvis’ path to the military.

Elvis’ first step toward the Army took place on January 4, 1957, as Elvis went to Kennedy Veterans Hospital in Memphis for a pre-induction physical to determine his draft status.

The press covered the young King of Rock 'n' Roll's journey into the Army.

The press covered the young King of Rock ‘n’ Roll’s journey into the Army.

 

An early Christmas present from Uncle Sam - Elvis checks out his draft notice while at home at Graceland.

An early Christmas present from Uncle Sam – Elvis checks out his draft notice while at home at Graceland.

On December 16, 1957, the Memphis Draft Board announced that Elvis would soon receive his draft notice. On the 19th, Elvis heard that his induction notice was waiting for him, so on December 20, he picked up his notice in person. He told reporters later that day that serving in the Army was “a duty I’ve got to fill and I’m going to do it.”

On Christmas Eve, Elvis contacted the Memphis Draft Board to formally request a deferment for the filming of his new movie, which would be “King Creole,” “so these folks will not lose so much money, with all they have done so far,” Elvis said. His deferment was granted on December 26.

Elvis completed a few recording sessions in Hollywood ahead of his induction ceremony.

Elvis completed a few recording sessions in Hollywood ahead of his induction ceremony.

Elvis’ last recording sessions before his Army induction took place in early February in Hollywood. After he completed those recording sessions and the movie wrapped, Elvis returned to Memphis on March 14. Upon his arrival, a reporter asked him how his parents were taking the news that he was about to go into the Army. He admitted his mother, Gladys, was nervous for him – as any mother would be. He was also asked if he thought his fame would fade during his absence. “That’s the sixty-four-dollar question,” Elvis replied. “I wish I knew.”

Elvis made sure he had plenty of fun in his hometown before shipping off to the military. In the days leading up to his induction, he shopped for records at Pop Tunes in Memphis (not far from his old home at Lauderdale Courts) and purchased “Looking Back” by Nat King Cole, “Maybe” by the Chantels, “Return to Me” by Dean Martin, “Too Soon to Know” by Pat Boone, “I Can’t Stop Loving You” by Don Gibson and “Sweet Little Darling” by Jo Stafford. He got a haircut at Jim’s Barber Shop in downtown Memphis, and spent many nights roller-skating with friends at the Rainbow Rollerdrome.

The night before his induction ceremony, Elvis went to the drive-in with his friends to see “Sing, Boy, Sing,” a movie that was originally written with Elvis in mind. The crew went rollerskating after the movie, and Elvis was so full of nervous energy that he didn’t sleep at all that night.

Elvis was accompanied by his parents at the induction ceremony.

Elvis was accompanied by his parents at the induction ceremony.

On March 24, at 6:35 a.m., Elvis reported to the draft board with his parents, girlfriend Anita Wood and his entourage of friends, which included cousin Patsy Presley and friend Judy Spreckels. Elvis, dressed in black trousers, a blue shirt, a gray jacket and black boots, boarded a bus with 12 other recruits to go to Kennedy Veterans Hospital. Elvis was then given a serial number, 53 310 761, and a physical. Elvis was put in charge of the group, who then took an Army bus to Fort Chaffee, Arkansas. Elvis’ parents waited outside to say their goodbyes, while Elvis’ manager, Col. Tom Parker, handed out “King Creole” balloons to the fans that were also beginning to gather outside. It was on that bus trip that Elvis met Rex Mansfield, who would become one his best Army buddies.

Elvis Presley is sworn in on the day of his induction into the army March 24, 1958. Maj. Elbert P. Turner adminstered the oath. After reporting for duty about 6:30 a.m. at the Draft Board office in the M&M Building, 198 South Main, he and other inductees would spend much of the day at Kennedy Veterans Hospital for processing and physicals before boarding a bus for Fort Chaffee, Arkansas. By the 28th, Elvis arrived at Fort Hood, Texas where he would undergo six months of training before shipping off to Germany. (Barney Sellers / The Commercial Appeal)

Elvis Presley is sworn in on the day of his induction into the army March 24, 1958. Maj. Elbert P. Turner administered the oath. After reporting for duty about 6:30 a.m. at the Draft Board office in the M&M Building, 198 South Main, he and other inductees would spend much of the day at Kennedy Veterans Hospital for processing and physicals before boarding a bus for Fort Chaffee, Arkansas. By the 28th, Elvis arrived at Fort Hood, Texas where he would undergo six months of training before shipping off to Germany.

 

Elvis received his physical shortly after the induction ceremony.

Elvis received his physical shortly after the induction ceremony.

The inductees went through processing at For Chaffee the next day. Elvis’ GI haircut became a press event, with reporters and photographers in attendance. “Hair today, gone tomorrow,” Elvis quipped. By the end of the day, Elvis was assigned to the Second Armored Division, General Patton’s “Hell on Wheels” outfit, stationed at Fort Hood, Killeen, Texas.

Elvis and his fellow inductees first traveled to Arkansas, and then to Texas.

Elvis and his fellow inductees first traveled to Arkansas, and then to Texas.

 

"Hair today, gone tomorrow," Elvis quipped.

“Hair today, gone tomorrow,” Elvis said.

For the few days he was at Fort Chaffee, Private Presley received 5,000 fan letters; they soon began arriving at Fort Hood. On April 16, Elvis spoke with Col. Parker by phone and told him he was enjoying the challenges the Army had thrown his way, including the “rough and tumble” obstacle course.

Elvis served two years of active duty – including some time overseas in Germany – and served another four years in the Army Reserves. We’ll share more stories about Elvis’ Army career soon on the Graceland Blog.

Elvis loved coming home to visit Graceland on his time off during the Army. He would even greet fans at the famous Graceland gates and explain his Army insignia.

Elvis loved coming home to visit Graceland on his time off during the Army. He would even greet fans at the famous Graceland gates and explain his Army insignia.

On Saturday, March 24, 2018, Graceland will celebrate the 60th anniversary of Elvis’ induction into the Army by offering free tickets to our new complex, Elvis Presley’s Memphis, for active duty military, veterans and first responders, including firefighters and U.S. law enforcement. The Guest House at Graceland is also offering a special “Salute to Heroes” discount for those who qualify. Also, on March 24, we’ll open the expanded Private Presley exhibit at Elvis Presley’s Memphis at Graceland. The exhibit focuses on Elvis’ Army career and will include many new artifacts, including the dress Gladys wore to Elvis’ induction.

 

Learn more about Graceland’s military appreciation day at graceland.com/military.


4 Comments

  1. Inés Vidal

    Why do you forget Elvis’ friendgirl Anita Wood? She was there with his parents and she was the woman who cry as Gladys and her support. Is it possible that Priscilla wants borrow her name in Elvis history?

  2. stephen stathis

    John Lennon was wrong: the Army did not kill Elvis, it helped him mature and he came out stronger than ever making some of his best music from 1960-1963. He got away from the insanity and he also grew as a person something he couldn’t do as a nineteen year old making it big and then being a millionaire at twenty one. Elvis developmentally needed more growth not more money or cars.

  3. stephen stathis

    Too bad his mother couldn’t handle Elvis’s life, his Army induction and his fame, like say Harriet Nelson did for Ricky Nelson. Elvis seemed like a lonely guy who never had anyone who understood him once he became famous and left Tupelo, left the poor side of Memphis, and “bested” his family, his father, and friends. How can one not love a guy like that?Who went for it and paid the price.

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