When Elvis Presley turned 18 on January 8, 1953, he fulfilled his patriotic duty and legal obligation to register 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 for a very different reason: to complete the filming of his third Hollywood movie, King Creole. With that obligation fulfilled, Uncle Sam would wait no longer. On March 24, 1958, Elvis Presley was finally inducted, starting his day as the King of Rock and Roll, but ending it as a lowly buck private in the United States Army.
Elvis’s manager, “Colonel” Tom Parker, made sure to have a photographer on hand to document every moment of the big day, which began 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 center in downtown 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 hospitalized 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 14, 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.
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