While Elvis Presley Served

In the 60-plus years of rock ‘n’ roll, no one has had a career quite like Elvis Presley’s.

The King of Rock ‘n’ Roll topped the charts, sold out movie theaters and drew record-breaking audiences. As his career began to skyrocket, he put everything on hold to serve his country in the United States Army.

Like the veterans we remember and honor today, Veterans Day, Elvis focused on serving his country during his Army days. He let his record label, RCA, and his manager, Col. Tom Parker take care of business back home. It was up to them to keep Elvis on the charts and in the public’s attention span. But his fans, back in America and all over the world, were never far from his heart.

Elvis Presley was on active duty from 1958-1960, and he spent another four years in the reserves.

Elvis Presley was on active duty from 1958-1960, and he spent another four years in the reserves.

In December 1957, the Memphis Draft Board announced that Elvis would soon receive his draft notice. Elvis told reporters that his service was “a duty I’ve got to fill and I’m going to do it.” Ahead of his March 1958 induction into the Army, another reporter asked Elvis if he believed his popularity would fade while he served. “That’s the $64 question,” Elvis said. “I wish I knew.”

Elvis’ last recording session for two years was in Nashville in June 1958, and he and his band cut five tunes between 7 a.m. and 5 p.m. The future hits included “A Big Hunk o’ Love” and “I Need Your Love Tonight.”

Parker and RCA made a deal to slowly release the collection of singles over the next two years, so fans could still get fresh Elvis music while Elvis focused on being a soldier. RCA wanted Elvis to continue recording while in Germany, but Elvis wanted to be like any other soldier while he was there.

Elvis received thousands of fan letters, even while serving in Germany.

Elvis received thousands of fan letters, even while serving in Germany.

One of Elvis’ best-reviewed films, “King Creole,” and two volumes of soundtrack EPs were released in summer 1958, as Elvis completed Basic Unit Training. A Christmas EP, “Christmas with Elvis,” shipped to stores in September.

At a press conference just before he left for Germany, Elvis again thought of his fans. “I hope I’m not out of their minds,” he said. “And I’ll be looking forward to the time when I can come back and entertain again like I did.”

That fall, Parker released “Elvis Sails,” a special EP featuring Elvis’ embarkation press conference. The album art’s reverse side featured a 1959 calendar – a smart way to keep Elvis in fans’ day-to-day lives in the upcoming year. The five-and-a-half minute edit of the press conference, along with two other interviews, sold 60,000 copies.

This EP featured Elvis press conferences and interviews.

This EP featured Elvis press conferences and interviews.

 

A creative way to keep Elvis on fans' minds year-round was this calendar on the reverse side of the "Elvis Sails" EP.

A creative way to keep Elvis on fans’ minds year-round was this calendar on the reverse side of the “Elvis Sails” EP.

“One Night” is Elvis’ first big hit while he’s in the Army. It sold 1.5 million copies and was Elvis’ biggest single since “Jailhouse Rock” the previous year.

In February 1959, RCA released “For LP Fans Only,” a compilation of Elvis music that had never been released on LP before. It’s a hit and sells 200,000 copies. The next month, “A Fool Such As I”/”I Need Your Love Tonight,” are hits, too. It’s the second time in history that both sides of an Elvis 45 reach the top five, and selling a million copies (the first time was “Hound Dog”/”Don’t Be Cruel”). “A Touch of Gold Vol. 1,” an EP of three “gold hits,” plus “Good Rockin’ Tonight,” his second Sun single, also sold well during this time.

Parker sent photographer Don Cravens to Germany in spring 1959 to capture pictures of Elvis the soldier, and he hoped the Army would appreciate the shots that would promote both Elvis and the Army.

Elvis in Germany - one of the many photos taken by Don Craven.

Elvis in Germany – one of the many photos taken by Don Cravens.

The last single released before Elvis returned to the U.S. was “A Big Hunk O’ Love,” with the B-side “My Wish Came True.” It also sells a million copies and is certified platinum. The next month, RCA released “A Date With Elvis,” which included movie songs and Sun singles. It featured photos Cravens took of Elvis in Germany, as well as a free calendar marking the date of Elvis’ homecoming in March 1960.

As the record sales and thousands of letters showed, Elvis’ fans never forgot him while he served in the military. As soon as he was home at Graceland on March 7, RCA sent him a new television set for hitting 50 million in sales.

Elvis received this gift from RCA upon returning home to Graceland from his Army duty. This set is currently on display at Graceland.

Elvis received this gift from RCA upon returning home to Graceland from his Army duty. This set is currently on display at Graceland.

Elvis’ homecoming was an easy transition: he returned to his day job of being the one and only King of Rock ‘n’ Roll, while finishing out four more years in the Army Reserves. His career was entering its prime, and he’d earned the respect of his fellow service men and women.

Tennessee senator Estes Kefauver read a tribute to Elvis into the Congressional Record on March 4 that included the passage: “To his great credit, this young American just became another G.I. Joe… I, for one, would like to say to him yours was a job well done, Soldier.”

Artifacts from Elvis’ life in the Army are on display at his home, Graceland.


18 Comments

  1. “Just like any other solder”…yet…Unlike anyone else…period.

  2. Merci pour tous les articles avec photos.

  3. BethAnne Weatherford

    Elvis always made his fans proud! Thank you for your service, Elvis!

  4. Elvis was a decent kind sole.Always respected others.

  5. Thank you very much, that is wonderful.

  6. elvis said I want to be treated the same as all the other boys elvis and the army were a good match up

  7. Katy Page

    …and they put him in a uniform that just made him look even better! As they say there is something about a guy in a uniform!

  8. This August I visited First Time Bad Nauheim and the places where he lived in Germany, the Hotel is still original with all the rooms, the lift, furniture, dishes and curtains. You may see the couch where he layed on the Wertheimer Foto! Also his sleeping room, bath room and office… It is very exciting to be inside! And there was a gorgeous Europeen Elvis Festival! Greetings from Germany to all Elvis Fans worldwide!

  9. Patricia Early

    Another Veteran who served in the Armed Services of his Country!

  10. Every thing Elvis was great. I can listen to his records over and over again. His music has stood the test of time

  11. Milica Djukich

    You are so right Ebby!And he always thought of others more than himself, whether in the army or at home!He never forgot where he came from nor his friends! He gave so much to everyone no matter who they were!When they needed help he was there t help in any he could!, one of the stamps quartet said his wife called and their house burned down and he told Elvis he had to go, but Elvis said I will with you and he did, and everything they had lost he gave and paid for it! Who would do that today! My how things have changed!GOD YOU Ebby and have a HAPPY THANKSGIVING and all of you here!

  12. Joe Oglesby

    Elvis served the nation like many other draftees. He did not complain and completed his commitment in an honorable fashion.
    Outstanding individual.

  13. Elvis your the greatest, you will never be forgotten. God Bless. We miss you.

  14. Than you.

  15. There is only 1 King Elvis Presley

  16. Elvis was good at everything he set his mind too. He never let his fans down & always exceeded our expectations!

  17. Elvis, thank you for your service for this GREAT COUNTRY!As a retired Navy doctor,I APPRECIATE your willingness to serve without special considerations! This alone would make you the Greatest PERFORMER to ever live! Thank you for always honoring our MEN AND WOMEN IN THE ARMED SERVICES!

  18. Elvis truly was the best

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