Veterans’ Day is an important day for us at Backbeat. It gives us the chance to reflect. From the American Revolution to Iraq and Afghanistan, American men and women have made innumerable sacrifices to protect our freedoms and communities. The debt we own these people is profound. 
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Left Photo Courtesy of USACE Afghanistan Engineer District South, Right Photo Courtesy of USAG Humphrey
Memphis has its own list of noteworthy veterans. Lt. George W. Lee, early civil rights activist and historian, was awarded the Croix de Guerre for his bravery and leadership in France during World War I. Johnny Cash was a radio specialist for the Air Force in Germany. “I was the ace,” Cash said, “I was who they called when the hardest jobs came up. I copied the first news of Stalin’s death.” And then there’s Margret Polk, whose boyfriend, Col. Robert Morgan, named the most famous American plane of World War II, the Memphis Belle, after her.

However, the most surprising military career of the 20th century goes to the most famous Memphian: Elvis Presley. “The army teaches boys to think like men,” Elvis said. And when comparing his time in the Army to his rambunctious early years, it seems that the King of Rock’n’Roll meant it. Trained for war, he was a part of the famous Third Armored Division. He spent his time on the West German border of communist Europe during a tense period of the Cold War.

But what makes Elvis’ army life remarkable was his humility. He wanted no special treatment. He even turned down offers from the Navy and Air Force looking to capitalize on his celebrity. He wanted to stick to the straightforward life of the infantryman.

“People were expecting me to mess up,” Elvis said, “to goof up in one way or another. They thought I couldn't take it and so forth, and I was determined to go to any limits to prove otherwise, not only to the people who were wondering, but to myself.”

None other than former Secretary of State Colin Powell happened to be stationed adjacent to Elvis’ unit along the West German border in 1960. Powell met Presley several times during that period.  “He was just another soldier,” Powell said in a BBC interview. “When it came time to go to the field Elvis Presley was a scout, not a celebrity,” he said. “But he was a good soldier and I think his fellow soldiers respected him for his dedication even though he was as famous as he was.”

Of course Elvis is one of thousands of Memphians to serve their country. And as a way of saying thank you, Backbeat Tours is offering active duty service men and women free tours throughout November.  Retired personnel and reserves can come along as well with a 25% discount on November tours. (The online discount codes are ACTIVE and RETIRED; military ID is required). So, come downtown and let Backbeat say thank you.

Michael Flanagan 




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