Sunday, February 3, 2008

Meeting Elvis

I met Elvis Presley early in 1960. I would not have been able to place the date so precisely, but I recall that he was already a buck sergeant, and he was discharged from the Army a couple of months after that promotion (thank you, Google).

I had been a tank crewman, had come down with pneumonia three times in a little over a year, and as a result got kicked indoors. I was now a company clerk in Vilseck, Germany, at the 7th Army Training Center.

One day I took a call from the NCO in charge of our 2nd echelon maintenance - an area that did vehicle repairs that were more than just basic stuff. He said that Elvis Presley and a staff sergeant were there. They'd arrived with a jeep that had a problem and asked for some help. The repairs would take a couple of hours and Elvis had asked if they might take a shower somewhere, as they'd been in the field several weeks.

I talked to the First Sergeant who told me to direct them to building 301, a barracks building, and to meet them there. (Building 301 was one of four such buildings in a quadrangle, each cleaned by a putzfrau five days a week. These were middle-aged German women hired by the soldiers, who kicked in a couple of dollars apiece each month in order to avoid doing the cleaning themselves.)

I grabbed a sheet of typing paper and told the 1st Sergeant that I was going to get Elvis' autograph for my girlfriend. He laughed, but as I reached the Orderly Room door he said, "Better get me a couple for my granddaughters." I grabbed two more sheets and walked over to 301 to hunt down Gisele, the putzfrau for that building.

Donnie: "Gisele, guess who's going to take a shower upstairs."

Gisele: "Better nobody, Donnie. I just finished cleaning."

Donnie: "Elvis Presley."

Gisele: "Ja, ja."

Donnie: "No, really."

Gisele: "Ja, ja, Donnie."

Donnie: "OK." I turned to go to the entrance to await our celebrity's

Gisele: "Donnie?"

Donnie: "Yes?"

Gisele: "Ja?"

Donnie: "Ja."

Lifting up her skirts, she practically flew across the quadrangle to find and tell Annemarie, who was cleaning building 303. At just about that time, Elvis and the staff sergeant arrived, accompanied by a half dozen or so guys from our company.

I led them to the upstairs shower room and they thanked me and entered it. We all hung around, waiting for them to finish. All of a sudden Gisele and Annemarie came running up the stairs, breezed right by us, and crashed into the shower room.

Several of us went in and dragged them out, and they left, giggling. A moment later the staff sergeant, towel around his waist, came out to stand guard at the door. Elvis finished, then he came out in tee shirt and trousers, and stood guard while his companion showered. A nice touch, I thought.

Our little group grew to perhaps eight or ten people. While the two of them shaved, we stood around chatting with them. Well, OK, chatting with Elvis. He was patient and polite, even when our company Recruiting NCO started trying to talk him into reenlisting. The rest of us rolled our eyes, but Elvis just said, "You know, it's not a bad life, Sarge. If I didn't have plans I probably would reenlist. But you gotta understand, I have a lot going for me on the outside."

When they finished shaving and were ready to leave, Elvis autographed whatever anyone handed him. He chatted with each person while he signed his name, and today I marvel at his patience. He must have been faced with this situation a great many times.

They finished up, thanked us all, and left.

He was a nice man, and I'm glad I got to meet him.

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