On January 19, 1953, like all young American men of the time were required to do at age 18, Elvis Presley registered for the U.S. Selective Service System. Under the draft system, young men of good health were expected to be available to serve in the military for two years of active duty and then four years in the reserves. (This system continued until after the Vietnam War when the U.S. went to a voluntary military system.) Elvis received his Selective Service No. 40-86-35-16. He then went on to finish his senior year at L.C. Humes High School and, soon after graduation, he began what would soon become his illustrious career as an entertainer. By 1956, he was as superstar of recordings, films and concerts.
On January 4, 1957 Elvis reported to Kennedy Veterans Hospital in Memphis for an army pre-induction physical. On January 8, 1957, his twenty second birthday, the Memphis Draft Board held a press conference and announced Elvis would be classified 1A and would probably be drafted sometime that year. At the time the U.S. was not involved in any conflicts or wars. With the news of Elvis's forthcoming induction, the Navy and the Air Force offered bids for his services - the Navy offering to create a specially trained "Elvis Presley company" and the Air Force thinking it would be good for him to tour their recruiting centers. Elvis turned down their offers, not wanting any special treatment. He was going to serve like a regular G.I.
On December 20, 1957 Elvis received his draft notice. In a letter dated December 24th he formally asked for a deferment to finish filming the movie he had already in the works. On December 26, 1957, the Memphis Draft Board granted Elvis a deferment until March 20, 1958 so he could film "King Creole".
On Monday, March 24, 1958 at 6:35 AM, Elvis, accompanied by his parents and a group of family and friends, reported to the Memphis Draft Board. From there, he and twelve other recruits were bused to Kennedy Veterans Memorial Hospital. There, Elvis was assigned army serial number 53 310 761. After being processed and sworn in, Elvis said his good-byes and Private Presley was bused with the others from Memphis to Fort Chaffee, Arkansas for further processing. There, he received his famous G.I. haircut and coined the phrase "Hair today, gone tomorrow," in a comment to the news media. He was assigned to the Second Armored Division's "Hell On Wheels" unit (formerly led by General George Patton) and was stationed at Fort Hood, Texas. Within days, Elvis's manager received 5,000 pieces of mail sent to Elvis at Fort Chaffee and mail continued to pour in for the famous soldier.
On furlough after his basic training, Elvis came home to Memphis and enjoyed some time with family and friends. He managed to squeeze in a quick Nashville recording session, his last session until the spring of 1960 after his discharge from active duty.
On June 14, 1958 he returned to Fort Hood for ten weeks of advanced tank training. His mother and father moved temporarily to Killeen, Texas near the base. Elvis applied for and received permission to live off base with them - off-base living being an option any G.I. had the option of applying for.
It was during the next month that Elvis's mother Gladys became seriously ill and had to return to Memphis for treatment. Later, Elvis went home to Memphis on emergency leave to visit his gravely ill mother. She died on August 14, 1958 at the age of 46.
When he returned to Texas, Elvis was assigned to the Third Armored "Spearhead" Division, whose motto was "Victory or Death". His unit was stationed in Friedberg, Germany. His troop train left Fort Hood for the Brooklyn Army Terminal where, on September 22, 1958, Elvis boarded the U.S.S. Randall and sailed for Germany. Upon arrival he was assigned to the Ray Kaserne barracks. He served in Company C, a scout platoon. After a news conference he was declared "off limits" to the press (at least for a while).
In Germany, Elvis served as any other soldier. However, as in Texas, he chose to take the option of living off base. His wealth afforded him the ability to lease housing and to bring his father and grandmother to Germany to stay with him. Friends from back home also spent time there.
Elvis went on maneuvers and performed all the regular duties as required. (Some say he did more than what was required to ensure that no one get the idea that he was getting any special treatment or had a "star" ego.) One maneuver took his unit to Grafenwohr, near the Czech Republic border, for field training and weapons proficiency tests. While serving in Germany, he earned medals for marksmanship and in February 1960 he received his sergeant's stripes.
Elvis completed his 18-month stint in Germany and arrived back in the U.S. in March of 1960. At Fort Dix, New Jersey he was honorably discharged from active duty on March 5, 1960. He received his mustering-out check of $109.54 and Elvis Presley, Sergeant E-5 returned to home the life and career he had left behind. His fans' wait for new music, new movies and new performance appearances was finally over.
Just prior to his return, in an interview in Germany for Armed Forces Radio and Television, Elvis was asked about being in the field rather than entertaining in a service club. His response was, "... I was in a funny position. Actually, that's the only way it could be. People were expecting me to mess up (laughs), 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."