During the Second World War, much was made about celebrities who volunteered for the national service. Baseball players like Bob Feller, who served four years aboard the USS Alabama and Ted Williams, who flew as a Marine fighter pilot in World War II and Korea, joined actor Clark Gable, who flew as a B-17 gunner, and directors John Ford, Frank Capra, William Wyler, John Huston and George Stevens as well-known names who went overseas.
Today, the RedState Department of History looks at a post-war celebrity who was arguably bigger than them all, who reached a milestone during this week in 1960.
I speak of one Elvis Aaron Presley, who 58 years ago this week earned his third chevron upon promotion to Sergeant in the United States Army.
Presley didn’t volunteer. He was inducted in 1958, right as he was becoming an American music icon. Having registered in 1957 with the Selective Service number of 40-86-35-16, Presley was such a superstar even at his tender age that the military engaged in a bidding war of sorts for his services. Both the Navy and Air Force had entertainment plans in mind for Presley, but he said he wanted to serve as a regular GI and as such went into the Army.
He was drafted in 1957 but received a three-month deferral so he could finish working on the movie “King Creole“. At his induction, he received the famous GI haircut, which separated Presley from his flowing locks and famous sideburns and allowed him to coin the phrase “Hair today, gone tomorrow” in a statement to media.
However, after training was completed, Presley was quite literally gone – to Germany, where he served in the Third Armored Division. And through it all, Presley maintained the attitude that he wanted to be a good soldier — if for no other reason than to show people he could be grown-up. 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’.”
Presley took weapons training and earned his Marksmanship badge. By all accounts he was a good soldier, but one whose celebrity did allow him to take certain liberties.
For one, he lived off base. His wealth allowed him to lease a home away from his comrades – and allowed him time to meet and date 15-year old Priscilla Beaulieu, daughter of an Air Force captain stationed in nearby Wiesbaden. Eventually, of course, she became Priscilla Presley.
For another, he continued to be a star in the States. Presley’s managers continued to release records while their soldier was away – earning him $1.3 million in record sales in addition to the $145.24 per month he made in the service of Uncle Sam.
However, the confiscatory tax rates of the day meant that Presley was in the 91 percent tax bracket on those earnings – meaning that in essence, Presley’s personal taxation was enough to pay the salaries of every man in his company for a year.
Yet Presley’s star was still rising. At the time, drafted soldiers were expected to serve two years’ active duty and four more in reserve. He was discharged at Fort Dix on March 5, 1960 and received his discharge from the Army Reserve on March 23, 1964. Presley received an honorable discharge.
His former platoon commander William J. Taylor (Col, USA, ret.) recalled:
“Aside from the fact that our battalion could have gone to war with the Soviets at any time, there are real risks every single day in a combat unit. [Elvis] pulled his weight. He used his head and did his job well. He was one of us. He cared about us. And he got back the respect and friendship he gave everyone else. In several instances, I saw sparks of leadership in Elvis that made me think he could have induced men to follow him into combat, just as his music caused millions of young people to follow him.”
There’s another Presley anniversary today. On this date in 1973, Presley’s Aloha From Hawaii live concert was sent via satellite to 40 countries worldwide to an estimated one billion, in the first concert to be sent worldwide via satellite. However, the United States was not one of those countries. Since the concert took place on the same day as Super Bowl VII, it wasn’t seen in the States until April 4, 1973.
Happy Sunday and enjoy today’s open thread!