Monday, August 30, 2021

August 30 - Review - The Army Years Uncovered

Trina Young published her third book on Elvis Presley. After delving into the legend behind Presley and the “love and rivalry” between the Beatles and Elvis, she now investigated the two years that Elvis served his country and how that changed his life. 

While some may think that stepping out of the spotlights at the height of his popularity, serving almost two years as a G.I. 53310761 in Germany following orders from Uncle Sam was mostly uneventful. Reality is on the contrary. Out of the spotlight and behind the scenes, several impactful “events” took place that would indeed redefine, reshape and revamp his life and career, both negatively and positively. 

And let’s not forget, Elvis’ did not swap his guitar for an army rifle to film ‘G.I. Blues’. “It was more like war than you might think,” Presley’s fellow soldier, Rex Mansfield said. “It was not peacetime. It was ‘be ready’ time… We’d been warned (war with Russia) could happen at any time.” 

Upon his release in March 1960, Elvis told reporters that he wanted to write a book about it someday, but he never did. 

In the book 'Elvis: The Army Years Uncovered - Behind the Scenes of the Two Years that Changed The King of Rock and Roll's Life' Trina Young goes behind the superficial public relations story of Presley’s army years. As the author notes: “The 17 months out of the U.S. public spotlight offered Elvis a time to live like a normal person again, to a degree. In fact, since becoming a household name in 1956, this would be the only time in the remainder of Presley’s career until his death in 1977 that Colonel Parker would not be there to exert management control over his client.” 

And after being mobbed again during the filming of ‘King Creole’, having to “escape from his fans” by climbing up to the roof and then cross over to the roof of another building to save himself, you can imagine Elvis himself would enjoy some time away and a little distance to those fans. 


The book comes as a paperback and e-book and is primarily a text-book with 25 short chapters on almost 200 pages. It includes eight pages with black and white illustrations presenting various pictures of documents, people, and some memorabilia relevant to the story. 

You can see the author is an experienced writer as she has an entertaining and colorful writing style. The book also shows that Young is s professional journalist who did her homework as the book includes 20 pages of notes and used sources. 

The use of the many quotes from people who were there when it happened make the text come alive and add to the credibility. 


The book opens setting the scene for Elvis’ Army years detailing the positive and negative reactions on Elvis’ draft, running all the way up to President Eisenhower who had an opinion on his new soldier. 

Funny to read are the letters from fans to people from the president of the U.S. to the public information officers at Fort Chaffee (one of them being the father of Elvis’ last girlfriend Ginger Alden): 

Dear President Eisenhower,

My girlfriends and I are writing all the way from Montana. We think it’s bad enough to send Elvis Presley in the Army, but if you cut his sideburns off, we will just die! You don’t know how we feel about him. 

I really don’t see why you have to send him in the Army at all, but we beg you please, please, don't give him a G.I. haircut, OK, please, please don’t! If you do, we will just about die!

(signed) Elvis Presley Lovers,

Linda Kelly, Sherry Bane, Mickie Mattson” 

Young also showed that the reactions from some die-hard fans were as hard and unpleased as some posts by today’s music fans on Facebook or Twitter. Fans will be fans. 

One of the first “events” that happened during his Army years was of course the death of his mother, August 14,1958, which left Elvis and Vernon devastated. Looking at how close the Presley family was, it is easy to understand that their life would never be the same. 

The book does not answer the question if Elvis’ draft contributed to the death of Gladys, causing stress and further deteriorating her already fragile physique. Answering the question how Elvis’ life would have evolved if he had had his soulmate at his side would be speculation anyway, and the author stays away from that. 

Perhaps being shipped off to Germany a month later It was a beneficial distraction for Presley is this regard. 

While getting ready to leave for Europe, we learn about the girls he left behind and the girls lining up to say goodbye as he embarked on his ten day trip on the U.S. Randall. On board, and later in Germany, he became friends with Charlie Hodge and others. Some of these friends stayed close to him until August 1977. 

The book illustrates how Elvis found his way in his new temporary home abroad. And where some may expect a “sensationalistic” coverage of Elvis dealing with girls, substances and more, using some of the original coverage of Elvis life abroad, Young keeps it fact based. 

She covered all aspects of Elvis’ army years. Next to his military training and career, she covers his personal life, dating Elizabeth Stefanik, Margit Buergin, actress Vera Tschechowa and others, his daily routines on and off base, the hotels he rented with his entourage (and got kicked out) and settling down with his family at Goethestrasse 14 in Bad Nauheim, The Colonel keeping him in the spotlight releasing pre-recorded movies and records.

During this time, Elvis also became more interested in spiritual matters as he grieved for his mother. Elvis was reading books like ‘The Prophet’ by Kahlil Gibran given to him in 1956 by former girlfriend, June Juanico. He would keep reading this book - and giving away many copies - for the rest of his life. 

The same goes for his new hobby karate which he started in Germany taking lessons from Jurgen Seydel, known as the “father of German karate”. Quoting Patsy Presley “A part of Elvis’ personality was looking for some discipline and order … He didn’t always achieve it, but he was always seeking it.” 

Next to this introduction into spiritual matters, Elvis was also introduced to amphetamines and other substances to keep them energized helping Elvis and his fellow soldiers to stay up all night for their exhausting training manoeuvres. 

The book places the uses of these substances in the proper context. Not condemning or justifying it. At the time, they didn’t know how addictive these pills could become, although Elvis already had some basic knowledge about several prescription drugs according to Anita Wood and he studied several books on the matter as his mother took various kinds of medicine. 

In Germany he met and dated several girls and the press picked up on those adventures quickly. Headlines included “Spreading Good Will In Germany, Elvis Dates Girl With Dictionary”. 

Elvis was not the only Presley to date girls. His father secretly dated Dee Stanley, who was still married at the time. And behind his back, his friend Rex Mansfield and Elvis’ "girlfriend" Elizabeth Stefanik had their own romance. But Presley had no reason to blame them as at moments it seemed that as one girlfriend left the front door, the next one was coming in through the back. Young doesn’t portray Elvis as a saint. 

As Anita Wood, Elvis’ “official” girlfriend was planning to come over to Germany, The Colonel put a stop to it. “Elvis said the Colonel did not think it was a good idea because the press would say they were engaged or married which would hurt Presley’s public image with his young female fans.” Elvis’ complied, and perhaps this should have been a sign of things to come for Anita. 

It was interesting to learn that Don Cravens - who shot the iconic portraits for the ‘His hand In Mine’ album and the beautiful color portrait of Elvis in uniform with his parents in June 1958, just months before his mother died - also shot the famous pictures of Elvis in Bad Nauheim. Although I couldn’t find confirmation on the photographer other than the one interview Young used for this book. The most complete information on this photoshoot can be found on the Echoes of the Past website, and that site doesn’t mention Don Craven. 

One of these pictures ended up on the cover of the single ‘A Big Hunk O’ Love’ while another of Elvis posing on a bridge, was the inspiration for a statue (the unveiled in August 2021 is included). This illustrates that the book is very up-to-date. 

Unfortunately the book doesn’t feature any of these photos, and just a very few illustrations to cover everything else that happened these two years. Writing a chapter on ‘A legendary Photo’, that photograph should be included. And with so much other material available, one or two pictures per chapters would really be a big plus and credit for these stories. 

Young also noted that after Elvis seeing Elvis play some “jazz standards” at a piano at the Lido Club in Paris, comedian George Bernard asked Elvis why he performed Rock and Roll professionally since he could sing so well as a crooner. “Elvis replied: “I have a lot of fans who like me rocking. I like rocking, too. So we have a good time. When they want me singing softer ballads - I’m ready. Till then, I go on rocking.” Here was tangible proof of how Elvis’ true musical passions were not necessarily linked with his commercial success. 

The more free time Presley had in the army, the more his musical expressions shifted to the styles he truly enjoyed singing. The home-recorded tapes from Germany and his ‘Elvis Is Back’ album, released after his return home, illustrated the first signs of his musical shift from ‘Rock and Roll’ to “Middle of the Road’. 

Having dated many girls abroad, like Margit Buergin, Heli von Westrem and actress Vera Tschechowa, actually a romance that never was, and trying to keep things going with his “official” girlfriend Anita Wood back home, his main love interest in Germany was of course Priscilla Presley. All of Elvis “relations with these ladies - or should we say “young girls” - are covered respectfully and factual in this book. Although naming the chapter in meeting Priscilla “Meeting An Angel” goes a bit far in my book. 

Elvis and Priscilla kept their romance a secret for five months, but ultimately it was Presley himself who spilled the beans of their affair in an interview with British journalist Peter Hopkirk, shortly before he was set to leave Germany. 

As Hopkirk realized he had just broken a huge story, Presley grinned and said: “I shall be in trouble tomorrow for talking to you.” Sure enough, Hopkirk would state in his article: “Sergeant Elvis Presley let me into a little secret tonight.” 

After 711 days on active duty - enlisting during the height of his career - and rising to the rank of sergeant in two years, G.I. Presley was discharged and returned to normal life and his hometown Memphis. This is where the book ends. 


Looking back these two years we see how the Army turned the boy into a man and gained more insight in the “events” that happened and impacted Elvis for the rest of his life. Elvis was proud of his two year stint in the Army too. A little piece of evidence is that, as a memento of his achievement, it was discovered that for 17 years Elvis kept a newspaper clipping about his army service in his wallet from March 1960 until the day he died in 1977. 

The author set out to answer questions on the German girls Elvis dated, secret concerts that Elvis gave in Germany, close calls and dangerous situations Elvis faced, special treatment he received, friends he made, new hobbies he discovered and of course the girls he left behind in the U.S. leaving for Germany and girls he left behind in Germany returning to the States. 

Reading the book, I can only conclude that all questions were covered, but not all were answered. And that’s not a complaint, as part of answering these questions would be speculation. What if he had done … or hadn’t met …? Young stays away from that. 

You can conclude that losing his mother, living abroad with his father and grandmother - with a real threat of war hanging over their heads - being introduced to “substances” and meeting the mother of his only child were the most impactful events. But what the real impact was … only Elvis really knew. 

Overall, Trina Young wrote a knowledgeable and easy to read book. She compiled information from many sources, adding new elements and perspectives on these two years. Young stayed away from the “what-ifs” but handed the reader the material to make up his own mind. The only minor would be that a few more illustration would have given this book some more appeal and credibility and help the stories come alive even more. 

I found the book entertaining and learned a few new facts I wasn’t aware of before. Something to keep in mind next time I visit Bad Nauheim.