On March 24th 1958, after several deferments, Elvis Aaron Presley, the King of Rock and Roll, was finally inducted into the United States Army. In effect, he started the day as the King, but ended it as a lowly army private.
After turning 18 on January 8, 1953, he fulfilled his patriotic duty and legal obligation and registered his name with the Selective Service System, thereby making himself eligible for the draft. The Korean War was still underway at the time, but as a student in good standing at L.C. Humes High School in Memphis, Elvis received a student deferment that kept him from facing conscription during that conflict’s final months. Elvis would receive another deferment four years later when his draft number finally came up, but this time to complete the filming of his third Hollywood movie, King Creole. With that obligation fulfilled, the army would wait no longer.
Elvis’s manager, “Colonel” Tom Parker, had a photographer on hand to document every moment of the big day, beginning at Graceland before six that morning. The photos show Elvis in dark slacks, an opened-collar shirt and a tasteful plaid sports coat, preparing to depart the house with his similarly well-dressed mom and dad for the short ride to the induction centre in down town Memphis. The 23-year-old Elvis looked fantastic, of course, and his face betrayed no hint of nervousness or regret. The flat expression on Gladys Presley’s face, however, and the dark circles under her eyes, hint at the emotional impact of preparing to send her only child off on a two-year stint away from home; far longer than she and Elvis had ever before been separated. This would be the last time that Elvis would see his mother in good health, as she was diagnosed with hepatitis and hospitalised later that spring during Elvis’s first weekend leave. Elvis would be granted leave once again in August to attend to his mother on her death bed. Gladys Presley passed away on August 16, 1958, and four weeks later, Elvis shipped out to Germany.
There would be other huge changes in Elvis’s life during his two years in the Army. He would meet a 14-year-old Priscilla Beaulieu while in Germany, and he would watch while a new crop of teen idols took over the limelight on the U.S. pop scene. In the spring of 1960, Elvis would return to his rightful throne, but his Army years mark a clear line of separation between the Old Elvis and the New. Behind Elvis Presley lay records like “That’s All Right (Mama)” and “Jailhouse Rock.” Ahead of lay songs like “Aloha Oe” and “Pocketful of Rainbows,” and films like Harum Scarum and Clambake.
Elvis returned to the United States on March 2, 1960, and was honourably discharged with the rank of sergeant on March 5. The train that carried him from New Jersey to Tennessee was mobbed all the way, and Presley was called upon to appear at scheduled stops to please his fans.