Sergeant Elvis A. Presley

Back in March 2008, Graceland opened a new exhibit called Private Presley.  At that time, I wondered why it wasn’t called Sergeant Presley, which would have given Elvis credit for the highest rank he achieved in the Army.  Likewise, the summer 2008 Elvis Catalog offered a companion selection of Private Presley merchandise.  Why not Sergeant Presley?  Okay, it’s really no big deal, but it did seem curious.

             

We can assume Elvis was very proud of his promotions during his two years in the Army.  He was promoted to Sergeant in February 1960, so let’s commemorate the 50th anniversary of this event with a look at his rise through the Army ranks.

Like everybody else, Elvis started his Army service as a Private in March 1958.  There is no insignia on the sleeves for this rank, as seen on the photos below:

          

 

On November 27, 1958, Elvis was promoted to Private First Class.  This rank gets one stripe on the uniform sleeve.

        
          

Six months later, on June 1, 1959, Elvis was promoted to Specialist Fourth Class.  This is sort of the same as Corporal, except that the latter is primarily for those soldiers who have passed a leadership development course and are assigned to low-level supervisory duties.  A Corporal would have two stripes on his sleeve, but the insignia for a SpecFour is this:

Here are some pictures of Elvis wearing his Specialist Fourth Class insignia:

              

Look closely at the next photo.  It was taken while Elvis was a Private, but check out the woman’s rank.  She was a SpecFive, three ranks higher than Elvis, so he had his arm around a superior officer.  You can get in trouble for that, right?  Well, maybe not, if you’re Elvis.  She sure doesn’t look like she minded. 

Elvis got his last promotion to Sergeant on February 11, 1960, just three weeks before he received his discharge from the Army.  Some vet friends of mine have noted that Elvis’ rise to Sergeant was extremely fast.  They kidded that he should have stayed in the Army for a couple more years and probably could have come out as a General.  A Sergeant has three stripes on his sleeve, as we see in these photographs:

         

This should be the end of the story about Elvis’ Army ranks and insignia, but wait, there’s more.  On Elvis’ trip home after his discharge, he travelled from Washington, DC to Memphis by train.  Col. Parker arranged for him to ride in a private railcar that was at the end of the train and had an observation platform.  So, like a Presidential candidate, Elvis appeared on the platform at every stop and waved to the assembled adoring fans.  He wore a specially tailored blue parade dress uniform, complete with white gloves.

         

Notice anything odd about Elvis’ rank insignia?  Now he’s got four stripes, which would be the rank of Staff Sergeant, a rank he did not achieve.  Do you think the tailor goofed, or do you think Colonel Parker might have had something to do with this phantom promotion?  He had already pulled off a phony rank for himself, so why not Elvis, too?  Anyway, it’s another one of the interesting things that makes it so much fun to write about Elvis.

©  2010    Philip R Arnold, Original Elvis Blogmeister    All Rights Reserved    www.ElvisBlog.net

Elvis, Elvis Presley, and Graceland are registered trademarks of Elvis Presley Enterprises, Inc.

40 responses to “Sergeant Elvis A. Presley

  1. I was drafted in Dec 1966 and was promoted to SP5 in the summer of 1967. I was eligible for promotion from SP4 only because the position that I held directly reported to a LTC and under the table of organization at that time the slot called for a SP5 with the MOS (military occupational specialty) that I held.

  2. From what I was told Elvis was a Scout jeep driver (reconnaissance) and was promoted to Sergeant E-5 when he commanded a Scout Section/Team and the green command tab on the shoulders is awarded to Section Leaders, Squad Leaders, Tank Commanders, Team Leaders and is called the Leaders Identification according to AR 670-1 Uniform regulations.
    He was also in the ROTC at school so this may have added to his military credits for promotion.. There are many photos of him operating as a Sergeant with the Scout jeep unit, wearing 3 stripes. In 1958 when Elvis joined the Army there were no 3 chevrons “buck sergeants” all Sergeants had the 3 stripe and the rocker (later used for Staff Sergeants) it was not until September 1959 that the 3 stripe Sergeant rank was reinstated and the Sergeant with 3 stripes and a rocker became staff sergeant. It might well be that an Army tailor found a Sergeant’s blue uniform, with the correct stripes not realising they had changed in 1959, alternatively regarding the Blue uniform I read somewhere that it was borrowed, I have seen a photo of Elvis later with 3 stripes on a blue uniform.

    • Hi John: Thanks for your very detailed comment. I can’t believe how many comments there have been about Elvis’ rank and insignia.

      Phil Arnold

  3. Elvis never achieved the rank of E-5 or E-6. He was a Spc4 and in January 20, 1960* he was given the acting rank of SGT E-5. This was only a few of weeks before he left Germany to out process. E-4 pay with E-5 stripes. We called them acting jacks in my day.

    * Front page of Pittsburgh Press 1/20/1960

    • Hi James: Thanks for the update. I’m still a little confused about all this E-5 and Spec4 stuff. What happened to Corporal, Sergeant, and Staff Sergeant?

      Phil Arnold, Original ElvisBlogmeister

  4. @Bob Huntington. Elvis had no special treatment and he certainly could have. Priscilla’s father was never his commanding officer . Elvis was in the army………the father was in the air force some hour away. No need to blame Elvis….blame Capt/Mrs Beaulieu who condone their daughter and instigated it themselves. She was 14 but looked and dressed not a day under 20 when she went with Currie Grant to Elvis’ house. The parents knew how old she was….Elvis didn’t until after wards and she says he never took advantage of her when he knew. Just because its Elvis doesn’t mean he is there to be blamed for other peoples decisions. He gave up more than any other GI. He was rich and worldwide famous and allowed himself to be drafted as an ordinary GI. His unit was out in the field for 6 months of the year…..sleeping in snow, wind and rain like anybody else. Thanks.

    • Hi Poppy: I am always amazed how an eight-year-old article keeps getting comments. Thank you for yours.

      Phil Arnold, Original ElvisBlogmeister

  5. I was stationed in Germany in the USArmy and after 14 months I made the rank of SP4 and when I saw pictures of Elvis with sgt stripes and staff sgt stripes I was appalled ! He was only a truck driver. Talk about a bunch of crap….

  6. E5 rank in 2 years is certainly not unheard of. Vietnam vet and I reached E5 in 13 months. Lot of variables involved

  7. Capt. Kent Brashear

    I rarely see a military themed movie where uniforms are correct. I’m not much of an expert outside of the air force, but still, I see many in the other services represented.

    A big one is the placement of the single star for a brigadier general. Most movie wardrobe departments place this single star near the shoulder seam on the dress uniform. It goes centered on the shoulder epaulets with one leg of the star pointing straight down. This gives the proper tilt to the star. More stars follow the same.

    • Hi Kent: Thanks for your three replies. Sorry for the delay in responding. If you read my new post yesterday, you know I have been having terrible computer problems.

      Phil Arnold, Original ElvisBlogmeister

  8. Eric N Jacobo, US Army Retired

    To go from Specialist rank to hard stripes you have to have your MILITARY OCCUPATIONAL SPECIALTY (MOS) converted through an OJT program or school trained, for example an Infantry or as they call it “Combat soldier” to an Air Traffic Controller and many more that requires a Specialist Rank, that’s the only way as I recall it back when I was a career soldier.

    • Hi Eric: It amazes me how folks find this old ElvisBlog post in the archives and comment on it. Thanks for your explanation.

      Phil Arnold, Original ElvisBlogmeister

      • Capt. Kent Brashear

        The army and navy were always much faster with promotions than the air force, but Elvis’ rise is absolutely ridiculous. Elvis made sergeant (E-5) in under two years of active service, a time when air force staff sergeant (E-5) was taking 8 to 12 years to achieve. When I was enlisted there was an air force regulation prohibiting promotion to E-5 during the first four-year enlistment.

        I saw many good airmen get discharged after four years as E-3s and E-4s. I made it up to E-4 in under the minimum time (below the zone) yet still, it took me over two years to make E-3.

        I ran into an older veteran in Walmart a couple of weeks ago and we began talking as VETS do. I asked him how Elvis made those three stripes so fast. The old boy had the answer. Elvis was picked to be a driver for a general and this job called for a sergeant (E-5) or higher. The above article even mentions that Elvis was a jeep driver. Other articles say he was a truck driver.

        Have you ever noticed Elvis’ first GI haircut. He still had plenty of hair to comb. He didn’t get buzzed. Well, that’s my two cents.

        ____________________Ole Cap’n Kent

    • Terry L. St.Amour

      In 1971-2 I served in the US Army (MACV) Vietnam. In 1971 I was promoted to Sp4. Subsequently in 1972, I was promoted to E5 Sergeant. My MOS was O5C20 (RADIO OPERATOR). It was common with my MOS to be promoted to hard stripe during the Vietnam war.

  9. Elvis was NOT an actual SGT (this was a rank given him for PR purposes when he was discharged at Fort Dix, NJ). He was actually a Specialist 5 (SP5). This can be verified if you look at a photo showing him with Dean Martin and Shirley MacLaine on an the
    internet enitled “VERY RARE PHOTOS”. My Uncle (Deceased) was Elvis’s 1st SGT in Germany and verified this info.

  10. Elvis knew, and like any serviceman knew it isn’t right.. in my opinion he should have had the balls to stick to his guns.. I’m sure he would have said something about it, but I’m also sure Parker barked and Elvis did what he was told to do. I got my 2 hash marks in the Corps and made it to sergeant, but if I would have worn staff sergeant strips and someone that knew me, saw me?? I would have caught hell..

  11. I was a Spec. 5. How do you go from the specialist rank to hard stripes?

  12. Last thought, When you are driving a m48 with 30 rounds of antipersonnel rounds, and 30 rounds of anti-tank rounds, and boxes and boxes of 50, 30 and 45 caliber ammo for our grease guns and Colt 45s, the last thing on your mind is Elvis.

  13. Sorry about the Air Force mistake. As I pointed out in my article, I was transferred to another unit as a tank driver and heard that Elvis’ to be father-in-law was in charge of the old base I left. Thanks for the correction. Joyce.

  14. I’m reading these comments and it just goes to show you how easily people fall for false rumors.

    Bob Huntington, who was this daughter and what commanding officer? I hope you’re not speaking of Priscilla, because her father was in the Air Force, not the Army. Elvis was in the Army.

    Jbalger, Elvis was not the only one who achieved E4 in three years. Rex Mansfield who wrote a book called “Sergeant Presley Our Untold Story of Elvis’ Missing Years” achieved E4 status before Elvis did and they were drafted into the Army at the same time.

    Fred Beauford, Priscilla’s father was in the Air Force, not the Army and he certainly was not the highest ranking person on the Air Force base where he was serving.

    • Capt. Kent Brashear

      Joyce Vaughn. You say that Elvis was not the only one who achieved E4 in three years. The article says he achieved sergeant, E5 in under two years. Big difference.

      ___________________Old Cap’n Kent

  15. As young and dumb as me, and the rest of my fellow grunts were, we all knew Elvis got those strips because of PR reasons for the army. This was the time of the draft. Males everywhere, black, Hispanic or white, rich or poor, between the ages of 18 to 35, could end in a uniform, heading overseas to kill other young man, just like them. Back then, us grunts didn’t even have a notion as to what PR was; but in our young hearts we knew what was happening. After all, none of us got to meet the 14-year-old female child of the highest ranking person on the base, which led to Elvis’ only marriage, and only child.
    As one of the few that had joined the Army, and was not drafted, like Elvis, at the very top of his career as a singer; and although I was a skinny teenager from the Bronx, I caught much grief from the draftees; as if it was my fault for them living in a cold, steel M48, in the middle of another freezing, sleepless night, somewhere in Germany. At moments like this, the rest of us liked the hell out of Elvis. He did the same things that we did, and we all knew that he didn’t have to put up with this bullshit like the rest of us.
    He was a grunt, like us, despite all of his fame.

    • Fred: Thanks for sharing.

      Phil Arnold, Original ElvisBlogmeister

      • Phil, why keep standing up for him? If anyone else had done what he did with his rank insignia, they would have been court- marshalled!
        From a former Marine

        • Hi Cmesic: I didn’t realize I was standing up for him on this insignia thing. I know some of the people making comments have done so.

          Phil Arnold, Original ElvisBlogmeister

    • I clicked on Fred’s story and found it interesting. You ought to read it, but you do have to scroll down a bit to get to the Elvis part.

      Phil Arnold, Original ElvisBlogmeister

  16. ROBERT D. SCHAUS

    HOW CAN ELVIS WEAR E-6 STRIPES WHICH HE NEVER EARNED? THAT’S VERY MISLEADING FOR A PERSON WHO KNEW BETTER

    ARETIRED V ET.

    • Hi Robert: This was Col. Parker’s doing. It wasn’t right, but he correctly figured he could get away with it.

      Phil Arnold, Original ElvisBlogmeister

  17. I was at Ft. Hood for my 2nd eight weeks of training, just a few years after Elvis. I had the “Hell on Wheels” patch on my uniforms and it WAC not my permanent station. I also had a patch at Ft. Leonardwood during my first eight.
    The yellow stripe on his hat is a “army blue” uniform. This would be correct even for an enlisted soldier. Army Blue’s were not an issued uniform. It had to be purchased.
    I too, was wondering how he went through the ranks so fast since many only achieved E4 in three years. However, I believe he was discharged prior to wearing the Army Blue uniform so I don’t know that that would be a problem.
    Why he wasn’t a Specialist, I have no idea.

  18. Wearing a non authorized rank insignia is a court martial offence. But I guess Presley got special treatment. Were it not for who he was and the fact he was playing games with his commanding officer’s daughter, I doubt he would have achieved E-5 so quickly!

  19. There are many discreancies in Elvis” uniforms.Enlisted men did not have a gold band on the hat as many photos show him. Also he is seen with the green flap on the shoulder in some. This was only for command personel , platoon sargents , first sargents , platoon leaders ( who were usually 2nd Lt.s 0 company commanders. , etc. Definitly not for Pfc. or Spec 4 s. And being a Spec four did not reguire leadership training .
    When we see a picture of a soldier in uniform who is representing himself as that actual soldier.
    , the uniform insignias and identifiers must be complete. If elvis were doing publicity shoots either for the army, or a movie or for his career one of those insignias must be missing. If one looks closely one will see him many times without a name tag over his right breast. Then he can wear whatever he wants. in some of the photos of him in fatigues on the job he is correctly uniformed.And he would not have had a unit patch on his left shoulder at fort hood one only gets them at his permanent duty station. A soldier if he has the money can have tailored uniforms but his uniform must comply with those of his rank. It is not true that elvis could wear anything he wanted as a uniformed soldier. However , again if his uniform were incomplete as they are in the movies theroretically he is not in uniform.Take a look at MASH. Do you see any Name Tags . If so there will be other things missing. John Hartman former ambulance driver in 3rd armd div. I actually was in Elvis Barracks many times. It wasnt all warm and fuzzy.I was there about 4 years after him.

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