Elvis in the Army by William J Taylor Jr

Elvis in the Army was written by William J Taylor Jr in 1995 about Bill’s relationship with Elvis while they served together in the army. They were in the 32nd Tank Battalion in Germany for seven months between 1958 and 1959. Bill was a lieutenant commissions officer while Elvis was an enlisted private, and then later made sergeant. Bill was career army serving more than 21 years and retired as a colonel. At the time of writing this book, he lived in Bethesda, Maryland. (I also live in Maryland.) I got this book at Elvis Week last August, and it was signed by the author on Elvis’ 64th Birthday. I read it in one day (only 170 pages larger print) on the 60th Anniversary of Elvis’ army induction March 24, 1958.

Besides serving together, Bill and Elvis also had a personal relationship. Bill went to Elvis’ home twice and met Minnie once. Elvis went to Bill’s house once and met his wife and children twice. Together they went shooting once, fixed cars once, went for a drive once, went to the bar twice and played football once. They also had a few personal conversations where Elvis divulged some of his fears, hopes and regrets. Bill’s middle name was Jesse, spelled the same way as Elvis’ twin. Elvis no doubt found took that as fate, or a sign. Bill left Germany before Elvis did, and they never saw each other again.

armypic

According to Taylor during one of their talks, Elvis opened up to him about some regrets he had about his mother. Elvis said, “Lord knows I wish I could go back and change some things … You know, if I hadn’t been on the road so much, I could’ve taken care of my family better. Spent too much time thinkin’ bout myself.” Bill was stunned because he saw how much Elvis cared for Vernon and Minnie, then realized Elvis was talking about his mother.

From one of their other conversations, Bill gave a significant insight into Elvis’ way of thinking about his life. Elvis told him, “I do the best I can. Somehow it’s never good enough for somebody. Sometime I feel like just quittin’. Screw ’em all. But, can’t do that. Too many people dependin’ on me. Too many people think I’m goin’ places. Too damn many people!” From that Bill observed, “It’s revealing that he didn’t talk about what he wanted: he talked about the others who depended on him and what they wanted and expected of him.” Taylor continues writing, “Elvis sounded as if others were driving him towards goals and objectives without his deciding whether these goals and objectives were the right ones for him, and whether he would know how to get there.”

Taylor writes about how the girls always knew how to find Elvis. He writes, “So help me, the local girls had an intelligence network that was almost infallible. They were like hummingbirds attracted to a flower. They could almost always find Elvis, and their presence almost always disrupted scout platoon road march operations.” Taylor continues writing, “I saw a horde of girls jumping up and down, waving notepads in their hands, and pressing in on the jeep … How did they know it was Elvis … they found him. They always did.”

There was nothing in this book about Elvis’ distaste for his time in the army as others have written. Taylor never saw any of that. But he does write about how it was only after reading Priscilla’s book that Taylor found out Elvis faked an illness to get out of an exercise. He writes, “I did not know until I read Priscilla Presley’s book that Elvis had actually heated up a medic’s thermometer to fake a fever, hoping to miss another winter field exercise! He never mentioned that to me.”

I thought Elvis never performed while he was in the army, but maybe they meant scheduled performances for money. According to Taylor, Elvis performed some songs for the guys at one of his sergeant’s going away party. It was a spur of the moment thing, and Elvis got up at the bar, played piano and guitar and sang for everyone – and the place went wild. Bill writes, “Elvis played and sang several of his great ones including ‘Heartbreak Hotel.’ Then he produced a guitar to sing ‘All Shook Up,’ among other pieces. I thought the Gasthaus would explode. Everyone, especially the girls, went crazy. The waitresses, the hausfrau, the maintenance men, and the dishwashers all came out to watch. No one got up to dance, they just listened to the songs, then cheered as if their hometown football team had pulled the biggest upset in the world. They were ecstatic!”

Bill Taylor ended his book, “In those seven months we were thrown together in Germany, a relationship developed between Elvis and me that meant a great deal to both of us. As Elvis said, ‘We knew each other.’ Elvis Presley was a young soldier of character, a draftee with professionalism, a selfless team player, a man of self-reflection tempered by wit, and – oh yeah – he was also the King of Rock ‘n’ Roll. I’ll never forget him.”

I am not quite sure why, but I teared up after reading that. I think because Bill Taylor’s book was so sweet and honest. He wasn’t trying to rewrite Elvis’ life story, Taylor just told about his own relationship with Elvis. And even if there was negative things, Bill didn’t share those. He just told about the good in Elvis. I enjoy reading about Elvis’ personal life rather than his jobs in the army. I enjoyed the stories about fixing the car, driving on the autobahn, going shooting, going to the bar and their personal talks. These were all stories I had never heard before.

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