They had a blue, blue, blue, blue Christmas, did those millions of Elvis Presley fans when they learned that this week (Dec. 20) in 1957 the King of Rock and Roll received notice he was being drafted into the U.S. Army. All shook up, and cryin’ all the time, many thousands of Elvis’s fans wrote letters to the army telling them, Don’t be cruel—please spare Elvis from having to serve.
The army was unmoved, as was Elvis, who considered it his civic duty to serve. He did ask the draft board in his Memphis home town for a deferment—which the board granted—so he could finish filming his current movie, “King Creole,” but by March of 1958 he was bused from Memphis to Fort Chaffee, Arkansas, where Private Presley was sworn in, given a G.I. haircut—“Hair today, gone tomorrow,” he quipped—and assigned to the 2nd Armored Division.
After six months of basic training Presley was then shipped to Friedberg, Germany, where he served in the 3rd Armored Division. While there he earned the rank of sergeant and by all accounts became a model soldier who never asked for special privileges and carried out his orders just like any other G.I. True, while in Germany he found a new place to dwell—off base—an option open to other qualified soldiers, although his wealth allowed him to lease enough housing space to bring his father and grandmother over to Germany to live with him (his beloved mother had died in August of 1958). But Presley also used his wealth on behalf of his fellow soldiers, buying television sets for the base and extra sets of fatigues for each member of his unit. In Germany he also met his future bride, Priscilla Beaulieu, whom he married after a seven-year courtship.
Presley did worry that his army stint would hurt his career, but his management team, in particular his famous manager, Colonel Tom Parker, had stockpiled pre-recorded Presley songs, including the hits “Hard Headed Woman” and “A Big Hunk o’ Love,” which his label, RCA, released on a schedule guaranteed to keep Presley in the public’s mind.
Not that the public had forgotten him. After Sergeant Presley was honorably discharged in March of 1960, the train that returned him to Memphis was mobbed by fans the entire journey home, and he was soon back in the recording studio turning out chart toppers.
But as his millions of fans also know, his career and life eventually declined. His marriage ended, overeating softened his body and constant drug use addled his mind. On August 16, 1977, after a lethal overdose from 10 different drugs, Elvis Aron Presley returned to Sender.