Like all American men at the time, Elvis Presley marked his 18th birthday by registering his name with the Selective Service System of the US Army. Five years later, he was finally called to serve his country.
Elvis Aaron Presley was at the peak of his career when he entered the military on March 24, 1958. Although he had already signed up for the then-mandatory Selective Service System, his entry into the Army would be deferred twice: first as a student with good standing, and second as an actor finishing the filming of his movie “King Creole.” Anyway, given Elvis’ stature, his manager “Colonel” Tom Parker had the event covered by the media not only from the US but also from other countries. The press dubbed this day as “Black Monday.” Elvis, an only son, was accompanied by his family and friends to the induction center in Memphis, from where he and his fellow recruits were later driven to Fort Chaffee, Arkansas. Elvis was to serve as a regular solider, politely declining offers of joining Special Services which would have only required him to undergo the required military training and then hold musical performances to entertain the troops.
During the first six months Elvis completed his basic and advanced military training at Fort Hood, Texas. In September, he and his division were shipped to Germany, where he had his overseas service from October 1, 1958 until March 2, 1960. His life in the military had been eventful, to say the least. Two major events that happened at this time were the death of his mother Gladys just about five months after his induction, and meeting his future wife, the then 14-year old Priscilla Beaulieu in Germany. He reportedly was often homesick, but it didn’t hinder him from proving that he, too, can be a good soldier.
Of course, Elvis had his worries about losing his popularity while he was in the Army. To solve this problem, his manager and record label RCA made sure that there was enough material to keep Elvis in the public’s consciousness in the two years that he would be away. There even were times when he had to record material in between his Army stint. Interestingly, while fans mourned his draft, parents, religious leaders, and teachers saw it positively because they didn’t exactly approve of Elvis’ music and his “sexually-charged” performances.
Elvis was officially discharged from active duty on March 5, 1960, a couple of weeks after he received his full Sergeant stripes, raring to go back to performing for his fans. His return to civilian life was once again a major media event, with hordes of fans eager to see him. Elvis’ stint in the Army proved naysayers and his fellow soldiers that there is indeed more to him, the King of Rock and Roll.
Related articles: Today in History: Elvis Presley Receives US Army Drafting Notice (1957), Elvis Presley in uniform looking down and playing a record during his U.S. Army service, and Flashbacks on Film: Elvis in the Army.