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Facial Hair Friday: Elvis has NOT left the building

The most popular photograph at the National Archives (ARC 1634221)

Are these the most famous sideburns in music history? They might be the most famous sideburns in the National Archives.

If you are a fan of Elvis, you’ve seen the photograph: Nixon and Elvis shaking hands in the White House. This is the most-requested image in our holdings. The quirky story behind the meeting of the King of Rock and Roll and the President of the United States is featured in this online exhibit.

But it’s not the only record we have of Elvis.

In December of 1957, Elvis was drafted for the U.S. Army. This career change was an upsetting event for fans. The Eisenhower Library has a letter from three girls in Montana who despaired over a possible shaving of  the singer’s sideburns: “You don’t no how we feel about him, I really don’t see why you have to send him in the Army at all, but we beg you please please don’t give him a G.I. hair cut, oh please please don’t!  If you do we will just about die!”

But their letter writing was in vain. On March 24, 1958, Presley signed his acknowledgement of service obligation and entered the Army. (Alas, his sideburns did not.)

Since Elvis served in the military, his file is part of the permanant holdings of the National Personnel Records Center. Elvis was no ordinary soldier—his fame meant that the Public Information Division of the U.S. Army released a statement when he completed basic training.

And there were rumors of an early release for “good behavior” that had to be squashed. Lt Col. Verne L. Bowers had to write to Representative Frank Kowalski to explain that Army did not discriminate against or give privileges to public figures in the service. Elvis was released from active duty in March 1960, just as Bowers had stated.

Right before he left, Elvis was awarded a Certificate of Achievement in recognition of “faithful and efficient performance of duty and for outstanding service to the United States Army.”

Thankfully, his sideburns returned to civilian life—and fame—as well.

Want more Presley-based facial hair? Help us tag the Elvis-related (non-vinyl) records in our holdings!

Letter from Lt Colonel Verne L. Bowers to the Honorable Frank Kowalski (ARC 299788)

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