Elvis Presley lived in this house on Oakhill Drive when he was stationed at Fort Hood in 1958.(Herald/JOHN A. BOWERSMITH)
Fifty years ago this week, Elvis Presley and his parents came to Fort Hood, where the junior Presley trained with Alpha Company, 37th Armor Battalion, 2nd Armored Division, as a light truck driver in a tank crew.
On March 28, 1958, local attorney Chester Crawford and his wife rented a home on Oakhill Drive in Killeen to the Presleys, who lived there for 25 weeks, during which the music superstar underwent basic and advanced individual training to become a soldier.
Pvt. Presley was inducted into the Army at Fort Chaffee, Ark., four days before he arrived at Fort Hood. On Sept. 19, 1958, he and 1,360 other 3rd Armored Division replacements left Fort Hood for Friedburg, Germany.
Though the man that would be known as the King of Rock and Roll wasn't here long, his legacy lingers in memories and the occasional promotion.
Gerald Skidmore was managing editor of the Killeen Daily Herald in 1958 and was at the news conference when Elvis arrived at Fort Hood. Skidmore remembers Elvis' arrival as chaotic. He was one of three reporters covering Elvis' departure the following September.
The news conference on March 28, 1958, was the only authorized press event with Elvis. Reporters were told they were not permitted to interfere with Elvis' training. Reporters from radio stations filled the back of a truck on which Elvis stood, "trying to get one word into their recorders," Skidmore said in an interview this week.
Reporters were later invited to interview Elvis at a mess hall while he ate a fish and fries dinner, Skidmore said. Elvis' departure was very different. It was quiet at the railhead, where Elvis boarded a train for California before heading to Germany, Skidmore said.
Elvis didn't talk to the media, and he appeared emotional, still affected by the recent death of his mother, Gladys, Skidmore said.
Despite the Army's request to allow Elvis to train just like any other soldier, the residence at 605 Oakhill Drive in Killeen, located off U.S. Highway 190, was a gathering place for many Elvis fans while he lived there.
Newspaper stories from that time suggest that fans regularly flocked to the home, and on some nights, if he was not too tired, Elvis would come out the front door and sign some autographs.
Many cars and fans crowded the street, lawn and porch of the home, sometimes as many as 100 per night, newspaper stories stated. "People were waiting for him every day," Skidmore said.
Elvis would get out of the car before getting to the house, climb a hill and sneak in through the back door. Presley's neighbours at the time often gave him permission to cross through their backyards in order to avoid the crowds, Skidmore said.
"He was nice and visited with everyone. He was a perfect gentleman and never unkind," Skidmore said.
Lois Ferrell, then Lois Griffin, now a second-grade aide working at Clark Elementary School in Killeen, remembers her encounter with Elvis.
Ferrell's mother was working as a telephone operator at a Fort Hood store when Lois came to pick her up one day. Elvis, who called his mother every day at 8 a.m. and 2 p.m. on Sundays, came out of the building, spotted Ferrell and her friend, Margaret Wildman, in the parked vehicle and struck up a conversation with the girls.
"I remember it was cold, we had the windows rolled up on the car. He sat in the car with us for 20 minutes and talked. He told us to come back that Sunday, and he would take us to a movie," Ferrell said.
That Sunday, Elvis drove the girls to a movie in a leased Cadillac convertible. Ferrell sat beside Elvis, and Wildman sat in the window seat.
"A couple of his Army buddies were at the movie, but they didn't come with us," said Ferrell, who couldn't remember the name of the movie.
"He (Elvis) was nice and generous. He bought all the Girl Scout cookies on sale and passed them out to everyone in line at the theater," Ferrell said.
"I remember he said that he wished he could go off post (he was restricted to post at the time, before moving off post) and visit with us in our homes. I had a piano in my house and offered to host a jam session, but he said that it would attract too much of a crowd and make everyone miserable," Ferrell said.
"Overall, it was a wonderful experience for a 17-year-old," Ferrell said.
Close encounters in Killeen
Tommy Joe Mills, of Modern TV and Appliance, located at 315 E. Avenue C, recalls his brief interaction with Elvis.
In the spring of 1958, Elvis and Sgt. Maj. Bill Norwood came into the store to buy a television set. Elvis was buying the TV for the soldiers in his company.
Mills sold him a 21-inch, black-and-white General Electric television set; Elvis wrote a check and signed it, "E.A. Presley." Mills' daughter, Gwen Stewart, then 8 years old, told her father to keep the check. Mills didn't keep it because he needed the money.
"I wish I had kept it," he says now. "It would be worth quite a bit."
Eric Carlile, a next-door neighbour, was 6 years old in 1958. He remembers Elvis climbing up the hill behind his home and sneaking in. He also remembers that on Sundays, women, wearing their Sunday best, formed a line stretching from Elvis' home down the street. They would wait to meet him, get a kiss and have their photo taken with him, Carlile said.
Return to sender
In August 1958, just before Elvis' departure from Fort Hood, his fans petitioned the Killeen City Council to change the name of Oakhill Drive to Presley Drive, bringing nationwide publicity to the area.
In 2006, the 2,400-square-foot house on Oakhill Drive made history again when its owner, Myka Allen-Johnson, put it up for sale on eBay because she could not afford to convert it into a historical landmark. The house is currently for sale for $170,000.
Now, 50 years after his stay in Killeen, local businesses are running Elvis specials.
Hooters in Killeen is offering an "Elvis sauce," which is available upon request. The hot sauce is not on the menu because, "Elvis has left the building," said general manager Wayne Young.
In honour of Elvis' stay in the city, Shilo Inn & Suites is offering a Heartbreak Hotel package for guests, said Sherry Hoffpauir, director of sales.
The package includes a reservation in the "King" junior suite; a snack of jelly doughnuts, a personal favourite of Elvis; an Elvis Presley greatest hits CD; and an "Elvis Slept Here, You Can Too" T-shirt.
By Iuliana Petre - Killeen Daily Herald
Posted: 1st. April 2008