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.
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