Memphian shares stories of serving in Army with Elvis

MEMPHIS, TN (WMC) - Elvis Presley was inducted into the United States Army 60 years ago this week.

Twelve other men were sworn in with him that day, including Memphis-native Nathaniel Wiggison.  For the first time, Wiggison is talking with Joyce Peterson about what it was like serving in the military with a king.

March 24, 1958, Elvis Aaron Presley raised his right hand and took the Army's enlistment oath, and standing right behind him, right hand raised, was a then 22-year-old Nathaniel Wiggison.

"It made me feel great to be with him," he said about being drafted into the Army with Elvis.  "Everybody knew who he was."

After the induction, Wiggison, Elvis and the other young men made the quick trip from Downtown Memphis to Kennedy Veterans Hospital on Getwell Road.

They went through their physicals there, standing, squatting, getting weighed, receiving immunizations wearing only their underwear.

A photographer documented every step of the journey, including the moment Elvis' famous pompadour was shaved off.  Even with all the attention, Wiggison said everything felt normal.

"He fit in so easy," he said of Elvis.  "We all stayed together for basic training."

The group was bused to Fort Chaffee in Arkansas for a short time, before being assigned to Fort Hood for several months of tank training.

"Driver, loader, gunner, and tank commander," said Wiggison, "you had to learn all four positions."  And when asked if it felt weird seeing the King of Rock and Roll operate a tank, Wiggison laughed.

"No, that didn't cross my mind," he said.  "We were just doing it because they told us to do it.  We just did it."

Elvis' parents, Vernon and Gladys, visited often, said Wiggison.  Elvis' mother was a great source of comfort to the young draftees.

"His mother always told us to take care of each other," he said.  "She talked to all of us like we were her children.  It was wonderful."

Gladys Presley's death a few months later,  in August 1958, would shake Elvis to the core.

"He said he'd give everything he had to get her back," said Wiggison.  "But he knew he couldn't do that.  He showed me all the telegrams he got from celebrities.  He had three books filled this wide with them. "

The Army privates were then shipped to Germany to serve in the 1st Battalion, 32nd Armor Regiment, 3rd Armored Division. The crowds and photographers ever present.

"Someone was always watching us," said Wiggison.  "The cameras were always on."

Despite his fame, Elvis was always just one of the guys, Wiggison said.  In fact, he inspired the other men to be better, stronger soldiers.

"When things got tough," said Wiggison, "you could be out at night, it's cold and raining and you're on guard duty, and he was out there, too.  If he could do it, that made me feel like, OK, I can do this!"

After serving two years, both men were discharged from the Army in 1960.  Wiggison came home and worked for a flooring company, drove a dump truck and eventually became a building engineer for Memphis City Schools.  He and his wife raised two daughters, who knew how proud their father was to serve alongside Elvis.

One of Wiggison's daughters laminated the famous photos of Elvis being inducted, with her father right there behind him.  Wiggison carries them everywhere, showing them to strangers.

"I want everyone to know," he said, "how good a person Elvis was. He was the kind of person I loved being around."

And he smiles wide when telling the story of the time he was drafted into the military with the most famous person on the planet. The years he spent with Elvis clearly had a lasting impact.

"He stuck with it," Wiggison said about Elvis.  "He did his job as well as I did mine, and I appreciated that.  It was great!"

He visits Graceland in January and August every year to commemorate the anniversaries of Elvis' birth and death. Graceland historians have reached out, showing interest in interviewing him for the official Elvis archives.  Nathaniel Wiggison will turn 83 on April 9.

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