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In 1958, Elvis Presley entered the United States Army. Elvis had been drafted into the military as his career was reaching new heights, something that fans and his record label mourned. Elvis spoke publicly about wanting to prove himself and, for the most part, did his best to achieve this. Occasionally, though, he lashed out at his manager. 

Elvis occasionally lashed out about being in the military

In 1958, Elvis went through basic training before traveling to Germany, where he would live for the next two years. He was a major star at this point, so his military service came as a surprise to many. 

“There’s no war going on, you’re sitting on top of the world, and all of a sudden you’ve got to go into the army?” Elvis’ friend George Klein said, per the book The Colonel by Alanna Nash. “It doesn’t make sense.” 

A black and white picture of Elvis in his army uniform and sitting at a desk during a press conference. He waves one arm and smiles.
Elvis Presley | CORBIS/Corbis via Getty Images

While shocked and concerned about the future of his career, Elvis publicly spoke about his service with grace. Privately, though, it sometimes got to him. The early wake-ups and difficult work made him grow frustrated with Parker. He got particularly upset when he felt a superior officer wasn’t treating him fairly.

“That’s when Elvis got in a bad mood he would say, ‘Man, what the hell am I doing here? That old sonofa**** the Colonel, he could have got me out of this. He could have fixed it,’” bodyguard Red West recalled in the book Elvis: What Happened? by Steve Dunleavy. “But most of the time he fitted in well.”

Elvis still took his military service seriously

For the most part, though, Elvis just wanted to be a regular soldier. He lived off-base, but he didn’t want any special treatment because of his celebrity.

“He took the job seriously and asked for no special treatment, and the guys really liked him,” West recalled. “There were a couple of alerts that sent Elvis right up to the East German border, where he could actually see the Commies on the other side. One time there was even talk that shooting might start up there, and Elvis was right along there, up to his ass in snow and as gung ho as the rest of them.”

Colonel Tom Parker did not want him in the Special Services

Many expected Elvis to join the Special Services, or the entertainment branch of the military. He would perform free, televised concerts for the troops. Parker refused to let this happen. He didn’t want overexposure for Elvis; he hoped his two years in Germany would be enough to make the public miss him. He also didn’t want Elvis to put on any concert that wouldn’t make him money.

A black and white picture of Elvis wearing his army uniform and cleaning a sign with a rag.
Elvis Presley | Vittoriano Rastelli/Corbis via Getty Images

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“They want my boy to sing,” he reportedly said, “then they are going to have to pay for it like anyone else.”

Parker’s decision ultimately paid off. Elvis’ career didn’t take all that much of a hit while he was in the army. In addition, his choice to be a regular soldier brought him respect from people who previously criticized him.