Elvis Presley’s Army career: He donated his Army pay to charity & bought new TV sets for the post

Ian Harvey
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Elvis in Germany

Although he was a leading pop star, Elvis Presley served his country like any other young and healthy man of that time.

The famous singer proved that apart from being talented and able to master the microphone, he was also a brave person who knew how to defend his country.  Although he was an international idol, not everyone liked Elvis. However, his decision to serve in the military won over more hearts. Parents, religious leaders, and teachers alike saw this action patriotic and heroic.

After registration for the U.S. Selective Service System, men who were committed to serving in the military needed to be available to serve for two years of active duty and after that, four years more in the reserves. This kind of system continued until after the Vietnam War when the U.S. went to a voluntary military service.

There was no doubt that Elvis would serve his country, even if the system was voluntary at the time, he was registered with the U.S. Selective Service System. He did his part properly and served the military from March 1958 to March 1960.

Presley in Germany.

However, there were some problems before his induction. Elvis had to delay his entrance into the Army due to the contract for the movie he was working on ‘King Creole’ with Paramount. He needed to finish the filming by January 13 and would then be able to enter the military four days later.

Explaining that a large amount of money was invested in the movie and many jobs depended on him being able to complete the filming, he managed to get an extension date from The Memphis Draft Board. However, that didn’t ease things up for him.

Elvis Presley interviewed as he leaves the army

Presley knew that being out of the entertaining world for two years meant that he had to give his best performance to stay remembered as a serious actor. The only way to do that was to impress the audience more than ever before. Some described his performance in the movie as ‘the performance that would forever define his potential.’

Low-resolution reproduction of the poster for the film King Creole (1958), directed by Michael Curtiz, featuring the star Elvis Presley.

His service in the military definitely affected his life in many ways. The day that he assigned for serving the military (March 24) was dubbed ‘Black Monday’ by his fans. He was given a physical check over and then assigned the Army number 53310761, before being sworn in and made the leader of his group.

Afterward, he was stationed with the other soldiers from Memphis to Fort Chaffee, Arkansas, Texas, where he served his time as any other soldier. He received the famous G.I. haircut and coined the phrase ‘Hair today, gone tomorrow,’ in a comment for the news media.

Presley being sworn into the U.S. Army at Fort Chaffee, Arkansas, March 24, 1958.

Two years later, he was promoted to sergeant on January 20, 1960. Elvis waved goodbye to the Army on March 2 and saluted his fans in the U.S. after two years of absence.

On March 5, he was officially discharged from active duty and donated his Army pay to charity. He also purchased TV sets for the post and bought new uniforms for his colleagues at the Army base.

Thanks to his decision to build an Army career, he will be remembered not only as a great performer with many talents but also as a respected soldier of the U.S. Army.

Graceland, Memphis, Tennessee. Elvis Presley’s Army jacket. Thomas R Machnitzki CC BY 3.0

When he was asked about his decision to serve as a regular soldier instead of being part of the service club, he replied: ‘I was in a funny situation. Actually, that’s the only way it could be.

Read another story from us: Elvis Presley asks President Nixon to make him an FBI Special Agent

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.’