G.I. JOE PRESLEY
WITH THE ANNIVERSARY OF ELVIS' DEATH, A RECENT TIMES LEADER RETIREE RECALLS HIS TIME IN THE ARMY WITH "THE KING."
No pretense. No attitude. No kingly persuasion.
And Charlie Gibson, 62, of Binghamton, N.Y., should know. For nearly two years, Gibson - who recently retired after 13 years with the Times Leader and 41 years in the newspaper business - served with Presley.
The memories, Gibson says, are all good ones.
"He was just one of the guys,'' says Gibson. "He never, never, never put his talent, his entertainment prowess or his celebrity status in front of him.''
Presley - already music's top star by 1958, the year he was drafted - did his military basic training in Fort Hood, Texas. Gibson had also trained there, and both were soon transferred to Friedburg, West Germany, where Gibson served in the 27th Field Artillery and Presley served in the 32nd Armor, 3rd Armored Division. The two were in the same battalion and stationed on the same base. It was there in a bar in Bad Nauheim, says Gibson, that a mutual friend, Gary Von Minden, introduced him to The King.
"There were two gentleman that were his bodyguards that were quite large,'' recalls Gibson with a laugh. "Gary said to Elvis, 'I want you to meet a friend of mine.' He shook my hand, and I said 'Nice to meet you. I've been a fan of yours for a long time' ..."We sat down and had a Beck's beer.''
Gibson says that from then on, whenever he'd see Presley around the base, the two would exchange pleasantries. He even got invited to some of the King's parties, which Presley hosted at the off-base Army Youth Center. "It was just party time," says Gibson. "Just beer and pool. He was a helluva pool shooter and just a lot of fun.''
Still, Gibson points out that Presley was also focused on the duties at hand. He says he was very patriotic, and a very good soldier. Music, although clearly his greatest love, was put on hold during his time in the service. He wore his uniform with pride and honor.
"You could shave in his shoes,'' says Gibson. "He was dressed like a million bucks. His clothes fit him like a glove. Very rarely did he do any singing. ... He'd sit on his bunk, play a guitar, but he wouldn't do much as far as music was concerned.''
Presley, says Gibson, was always open to signing autographs, meeting fans and having his picture taken with anyone who asked. When - while still in Germany - he filmed the movie "G.I. Blues,'' men from the 32nd were used as extras. When the German people gave him a warm welcome and presented him with a Mercedes convertible, he was quick to offer friends joy rides. And when he met the love of his life and future wife, Priscilla, the men in his barracks would sometimes see them strolling the streets together - bodyguards in tow, of course.
Presley, says Gibson, also had a quick wit and relished the good-natured ribbing that servicemen often enjoy.
"I remember one day, we were standing right at reveille, and he came walking in from off base,'' says Gibson. "Two of his buttons were unbuttoned in the back. I said 'Hey, Presley, button those pockets!'
"I don't want to say what he said back to me,'' he adds with a laugh.
There were no laughs, however, on Aug. 16, 1977. It was while vacationing with his family at the Jersey shore that Gibson heard the shocking news that Presley had died at his Memphis home at age 42. Ironically, Gibson had just seen Presley in concert a few weeks earlier at Binghamton's Broome County Arena. It was to be one of The King's final shows.
"I was destroyed,'' says Gibson. "I knew the guy as a guy, not as an entertainer. He was just a straight shooter. I always felt that it was the people that he dealt with that killed him - the doctors who kept giving him whatever they gave him. I was disappointed when I saw him at the arena, because he was blown up like a balloon. I knew him when you couldn't pinch him. He was as solid as a rock. It was sad to see him in that condition."
Gibson prefers to remember the Presley he knew from 1958-1960. The man he served with. The man he befriended.
"He was just a super guy,'' says Gibson. "I just can't emphasize that enough. He often said to us that it was the best time in his life - because everybody treated him like one of the guys."