While music and film are undeniably the core of the King of Rock and Roll’s legacy, cultural icon Elvis Presley also left his mark on the U.S. Army.
Photo via Library of Congress/ Public Domain
Most recently, Elvis’s military career is shown in the 2022 biographical film, “Elvis,” directed by Baz Luhrmann and starring Austin Butler as Presley and Tom Hanks as his manager, Colonel Tom Parker. While the film isn’t centered on his military career, the story details the impact his service had on his entertainment and personal life.
Elvis was drafted on 24 March 1958 to polarizing opinions from the American public. Already five years into his legendary career, the King had made a name for himself in the industry with works like “Jailhouse Rock” and “Love Me Tender,” but his controversial stage presence divided the country. While his fans were concerned and saddened by Presley’s draft announcement, his opponents reveled in the news and the reprieve of Elvis’s influence on pop culture.
In the Army, Elvis was offered opportunities to entertain his fellow troops, however, he declined and served as a regular soldier. Presley was honorably discharged on 5 March 1960 after being stationed in Friedberg, West Germany. His last promotion in the Army was to Sergeant in January of the same year.
COLORIZED PHOTO OF ELVIS PRESLEY IN MILITARY UNIFORM / Public Domain
Upon his arrival home, Elvis was welcomed to open arms from the American public, gaining respect for his service and a new fan base that had once been his largest critic.
Presley’s military career influenced his entertainment career with the release of his film and accompanying soundtrack “G.I. Blues.” Both were hits for his career and sparked a comeback for Elvis who doubled downed on his stardom.
Elvis’s military career also was influential to his personal life, as he would meet his future wife, Priscilla Presley, in Germany. Priscilla was an Army brat whose stepfather was stationed at Wiesbaden Air Force Base, near Elvis in Friedberg.
While he wasn’t permitted to officially perform for the troops, there are several stories that detail Elvis performing informally at a piano while singing for his friends and fellow soldiers. Another story details a special show, the only engagement Presley performed during active duty, in Grafenwoehr, Germany. There, he performed at a hotel for the 30-person staff under the condition that the performance would not be recorded or photographed.
ELVIS PRESLEY REACHING OUT TO CROWD DURING / PHOTO VIA LIBRARY OF CONGRESS Public Domain
Presley continued to support the military after his discharge. In 1961, Elvis performed a concert at the Bloch Arena in Joint Base Pearl Harbor-Hickam, Hawaii. The concert was a benefit to help fund the USS Arizona Memorial which commemorated the attack on Pearl Harbor in 1941 and World War II. Because of his efforts, Elvis is largely credited for helping fund the project by bringing public awareness to the project.
The King of Rock and Roll never performed with AFE, however, there are many AFE performers who are veterans. To learn more about our mission and past performances visit our site. To see if your favorite AFE alumni is headed out on tour, visit our Upcoming Tours page.