A peek into famous soldiers' service
Newly unsealed American military files provide a different side of lives of prominent personalities
In a fireproof fortress at the centre of the continent, a million boxes hold a billion pages of new truths about old soldiers. It is the new U.S. National Archives Personnel Records building, dedicated last week and built to hold, for all eternity, the histories of American military veterans both famous and forgotten, telling us how they served - or fell in glory - on the battlefield, from the skies or deep in the pitiless sea.
Jimi Hendrix, Elvis Presley, Marvin Gaye, Jackie Robinson, John Coltrane, John Dillinger, Clark Gable, Jack Kerouac, Joe Louis, Roberto Clemente, Arthur Fiedler, Steve McQueen, John F. Kennedy, Richard Nixon, Humphrey Bogart, Doctor Seuss - warriors all, detached from their regiments now as so-called Persons of Exceptional Prominence.
Files are unsealed for public viewing when a famous soldier or sailor or airman has been dead a decade or more.
We'll have to wait awhile before we can peek into the service records of George Strait, MC Hammer, Kris Kristofferson, Mystikal, Mister T and Ice-T, all of whom are still alive.
Most of the folders contain at least 50 pages, detailing every inoculation, every laundry bill, every medal for bravery, every night in the brig.
scroll through the portfolio of Pte. Elvis Aaron Presley, Company A, 1st Tank Battalion, 32nd Armoured Regiment, 3rd Armoured Division, 4th U.S. army.
DOES REGISTRANT MEET MINIMUM INTELLIGENCE STANDARDS? YES.
HAVE YOU EVER HAD OR HAVE YOU NOW? Mumps, YES; Whooping Cough, YES; Frequent Trouble Sleeping, YES; Frequent or Terrifying Nightmares, YES.
There are letters from sycophants and U.S. senators seeking personal appearances in the Presley file, all with the same result:
"This letter is in reply to your inquiry concerning the possibility that Pte. Elvis Presley might be deferred from overseas shipment to attend the Texas Prison Rodeo ... I regret it is not possible to comply with your request. "
"School teacher wishes info on Presley as she believes he was involved with spy ring during his tour of duty in Europe." And there are angry notes from families displeased by the rumour that Presley is to be discharged early on the grounds of "Good Behavior" (He wasn't).
"Our Son is station [sic] in Frankfort (sic) Germany, same as this guy name Presley, and my Son also has a job waiting for him, of course not as important as "Elvis."
"I am sure us poor people can do without his singing and Rock 'n' roll until he serves his country like my Son has to."