March 24, 1958 — Elvis Presley is inducted into the United States Army, fulfilling his obligation to the draft requirements of the U.S. He received a physical, and back in those days soldiers were also given a serial number upon entry to the service; his was 53310761. He would ship off to Fort Chaffee for initial enrollment, and then would head to Fort Hood for basic training. He was 23 years old.
Most veteran celebrities find their fame after their military service, but Elvis Presley was not one such case. He was already world-famous when he joined the military; he was in the middle of pioneering rock and roll with his Rockabilly style music.
Presley’s manager, Tom Parker, was a shining example for future managers that seek to control almost every facet of their talent’s life. In this case, Parker had managed to get Presley out of his service since Presley became eligible at 18 years old. However, the time eventually came and there was nothing they could do about it. Still, Parker worked with leadership in the military to offer Presley multiple options that would essentially get him an easy ride through his required two years, so he could quickly get out and return to the entertainment industry. Presley declined these offers, and instead sought to serve as an ordinary soldier.
Parker himself was an interesting contrast to Presley’s career. He had joined the military as well, in his youth, lying about his origins as an illegal immigrant from the Netherlands. There, he served two years in the Army, re-enlisted, but then unexpectedly went AWOL. After he was caught and put into solitary confinement, he would be diagnosed with psychosis, granting him a discharge and gaining him his freedom. He went on to find wild success in the music industry over Elvis Presley. Despite his rocky history with the military, Parker was secretly glad that Presley joined the Army and hoped it would instill a level of discipline and obedience toward the chain of command (and therefore, Parker himself).
Elvis would eventually be assigned to the Company A, 1st Medium Tank Battalion, 32nd Armor Regiment, 3rd Armored Division, stationed in Friedberg, West Germany. There he found friends he would have not made otherwise — ones that he would even offer work upon exiting the military.
In West Germany he was again offered lighter, easier assignments, but refused. Many of his brothers in arms attested to his desire to be seen as a regular soldier, rather than a special exception. Still, he would often write home about the difficulties of Army life — particularly his homesickness and how he dearly missed his mother who had passed away when he was in basic training.
Despite the name he had made for himself as a party animal, a symbol for rock and roll and the decadence that comes with it — he served his time without drama and without any serious reprimands. To this end, he said, “I was in a funny position. Actually, that’s the only way it could be. People were expecting me to mess up, to goof up in one way or another. They thought I couldn’t take it and so forth, and I was determined to go to any limits to prove otherwise, not only to the people who were wondering, but to myself.” He was even awarded the Army Good Conduct Medal.
However, it is worth mentioning that it was in West Germany that he became addicted to barbiturates and stimulants, which would one day lead to his divorce and eventually, his death. He just didn’t get caught.
Achieving the rank of Sergeant, Presley was honorably discharged from his service on 5 March, 1960.
Featured image courtesy of the Associated Press.