The G.I. Blues of Elvis Presley : General Colin Powell on Elvis Presley the soldier and patriot
October 26, 2008 - 10:39:00 AM
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Colin Powell, who met Elvis twice on active service, says he saw him primarily as Elvis the soldier, not Elvis the celebrity. He told presenter Paul Gambaccini: 'He served his country for two years, I saw him in the field, I ran across him in the woods while he was doing what every other GI does and he was thought of well enough by his commanders that he was promoted from private to sergeant before he left.
'The focus of your programme of course is Elvis the celebrity and soldier, but I see him as Elvis the soldier who, by the way, happened to be a celebrity'.
And Colin Powell said that Elvis did the right thing when his draft papers came through and proved he was a true patriot.
'He was drafted like any other young man about his age. He stepped forward when his number came up and was willing to give up a career without any objection. Frankly it was in his best interests to do that because it showed he was a patriot and willing to serve as a soldier and he went back after serving in the army to a career that became even bigger'.
The G.I. Blues of Elvis Presley
The G.I. Blues of Elvis Presley - (28:06)
The program also featured friends and military colleagues who recalled Elvis' generosity; his first encounter with his future wife, Priscilla; his dedication to military service; and how he earned his promotion to sergeant.
The recollections include Elvis taking three friends on two weeks' leave at a cost of $15,000 when they would 'sleep all day and play all night'; Elvis knocking a man unconscious in a fist fight; and how a Parisian club's topless dancers nearly missed their late evening slot because they were partying with Elvis and his friends.
Rex Mansfield was one of four friends to join Elvis on two weeks' leave traveling to Paris via Munich.
Rex said: 'I had a fight with a guy in Munich because he thought I was trying to steal his girlfriend, he was a great big German guy, much bigger than me.
'He hit me first now and he jerked her out the booth and shoved her down and she fell down to her knees ... touched him on the shoulder and said you shouldn't be doing that, the next thing I felt was his fist hitting me in the face and Elvis actually knocked the guy out, he slid down the wall, he deserved to get whipped and he did'.
Another friend recalls how a Private Garcia learned that his whole family had been wiped out in Mexico City. Later fellow soldiers discovered that Elvis had secretly given Private Garcia $1,500 cash, a fortune at the time, to cover all the funeral expenses. But when in the field, according to Colin Powell, Elvis was just like any other GI and his dedication earned him the respect of his fellow troops.
Colin Powell said: 'He was just another soldier, he wasn't Elvis Presley, well that's not right, he was Elvis Presley but at the same time they assigned him in accordance with the needs of the service and unlike others who have gone in the military from celebrity life and essentially used their talents to entertain troops, he was a scout and he didn't ask for anything special ... he didn't ask for any special favours.
'When it came time to go to the field Elvis Presley was a scout, not a celebrity and, of course, he was still the King of Rock 'n' Roll but he was a good soldier and I think his fellow soldiers respected him for his dedication even though he was as famous as he was'. Despite enjoying the luxury of living 'off post' (away from the military base camp), when it came to the job, Elvis was just a regular GI prepared to muck in and do his job.
'When it came time to go to the field, Elvis Presley was a scout and he was in the Third Armoured Division, which was part of the Fifth United States Corps, which I interestingly, subsequently commanded 28 years later and it occupied the shallowest part of NATO battle front ... Elvis' unit and my unit were in that division and we had the toughest job and it was a time of heightened tension and we were in a cold war'.
Colin Powell said: 'When I met him, he was out in the field just as dirty and tired as the rest of us from doing his job and he was recognised for his professional performance.
The only thing that surprised Colin Powell when he met Elvis was his height.
'We were in this wooded area north of Frankfurt and I was driving along in my Jeep and somebody noted that, there he was. When I got out of my Jeep and walked over to him he saluted and was very proper and what struck me was that he looked just like another GI. 'He was shorter than I expected other than the fact that he was really Elvis Presley, he acted, and I saw him, as just another soldier, in the woods, doing a job'.
And Colin Powell said that there was a real threat of danger during the time Elvis was drafted into military service. 'At that time in the late Fifties when there a was a cold war, when there was an iron curtain and there was a Soviet army stacked up on the other side, those were serious times. Back in those days we had people who stepped forward as volunteers and we also had conscription and when his name came up, this country boy took off his blue suede shoes and whatever else he was wearing and put on army green'.
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