Elvis Presley army career: Why did Elvis join the army?

Cliff Richard discusses nearly meeting Elvis Presley in Germany

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Elvis Presley’s first RCA album came out in 1956 and was a big success, especially the single Heartbreak Hotel. That same year Elvis starred in his first film, and for two years his face was everywhere in the USA. But in 1958 he made a surprising decision to join the US Army, shocking his fans.

Why did Elvis join the army?

Elvis was officially drafted into the US Army in 1957, but joined up and began training in 1958.

While there could be many reasons for Elvis’ joining up, there is one which seems to be the most likely: the influence of Elvis’ manager, Colonel Tom Parker.

According to Alanna Nash’s book The Colonel, Tom was instrumental in convincing Elvis to join up.

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The singer was offered various jobs in different branches of the military, including the Air Force and the Navy, which would have seen him performing for troops and avoiding much of the training of other soldiers.

The Navy even suggested an Elvis Presley Company, which would include a battalion made up of Elvis’ friends, and private lodgings where he could sleep while performing in Las Vegas.

However, Colonel Tom convinced him these were not the avenues for his act, partly because they would include performing for free, which was not part of the Colonel’s way.

Another reason, according to Peter Brown’s Down at the End of Lonely Street: Life and Death of Elvis Presley, Colonel Tom worried about how Elvis’ reputation would be affected if he took an ‘easy’ route in the Army, rather than serving like everyone else.

According to the Washington Post, this idea ultimately sat well with Elvis, who was reported as saying: “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 inducted in March 1958, two weeks after wrapping his movie King Creole, for which he sang part of the soundtrack.

He trained at Fort Hood, Texas, but was able to take breaks to record music, meaning he had a back catalogue ready for his return.

However, disaster struck in his early days in the army: his mother, Gladys, died after being diagnosed with hepatitis.

Elvis was given emergency leave to visit her, arriving in Memphis on August 12, but she died on August 14, 1958, of heart failure at age 46.

Her death devastated both Elvis and his father, as chronicled in Peter Guralnick’s book Careless Love: The Unmaking of Elvis Presley.

Speaking of Elvis’s pain at his mother’s passing, his friend Judy Spreckels said: “I have never seen anyone as sad as Elvis was.

“He cried continuously. We were in the front hall at Graceland, and he stood there hugging me for a half-hour.

“He was crying and crying and crying. It was the saddest thing I’d ever seen.”

Elvis rejoined the army, despite this sorrow, and soon his luck changed when he was taken to Germany with his troop.

It was here he met the 14-year-old Priscilla Beaulieu, who ended up becoming his wife after a long courtship.

According to a 1985 interview with People magazine, Priscilla was introduced to Elvis by another officer, but the 14-year-old was very shy about meeting her icon.

Describing the moment she met Elvis, Priscilla said: “As Currie led me over to him, Elvis stood up and smiled. ‘Well,’ he said, ‘what have we here?

“’What are you, about a junior or senior in high school?”

“I blushed and said nothing, not willing to reveal that I was only in the ninth grade. ‘Well?’ he persisted.

“‘Ninth.’ Elvis looked confused. ‘Ninth what?’ ’Grade,’ I whispered.

“’Ninth grade,’ he said and started laughing. ‘Why, you’re just a baby.’”

Despite their age gap, they kept in touch, and after Elvis left the army in 1960, he had Priscilla join him at Graceland.

The rest, as they say, is history. But without joining the army, he might have never met her.

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