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Giltner native served with Elvis in 3rd Armored Division

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Jerry Hinirichs and Elvis

Knowing that Jerry Hinrichs was in the Army with Elvis Presley, a friend gave the Giltner man a life-sized cutout of the famous singer.

On the album cover for “G.I. Blues,” Elvis Presley wears his Army uniform with a “Spearhead” patch on his left shoulder.

Jerry Hinrichs has the same patch on his Army shirt, which he still has today. Presley and Hinrichs, who lives in Giltner, served in the 3rd Armored Division at the same time. The nickname of that division was Spearhead.

Hinrichs, 82, and Presley were in basic training at Fort Hood, Texas, at the same time. They also were in Germany, though at different bases, simultaneously.

They were among the soldiers who were transported from New York to Bremerhaven, Germany, on the troop ship USS Randall.

Presley’s autograph was published in the Sept. 29, 1958, edition of the ship’s newspaper, the Randall Rambler. Hinrichs still has a copy of the paper.

Hinrichs was in Company B, Presley in Company A. The Nebraskan was in the signal corps at the Drake-Edwards base in Frankfurt. Presley was a tank driver stationed at another German base.

Hinrichs never really talked to Presley, although he was one of the members of the entertainment committee who asked Presley to sing on board the ship. Presley politely declined, saying his deal with his recording company, RCA Victor, prevented him from singing in public. He did play the piano aboard the ship, though.

“As far as I was concerned, he was just a good Tennessee farm boy,” he said.

Hinrichs did bump into Presley in a hallway on the ship. But that wasn’t unusual. “It ain’t hard to bump into somebody on a ship,” Hinrichs said. 

Hinrichs was in the Army from 1958 to 1960. He spent a year and a half at the Drake-Edwards base.

The motion picture “G.I. Blues” was released in 1960. A soldier in Hinrichs’ barracks played one of Presley’s friends in the film. When the motion picture was released, Hinrichs recognized some of the exteriors featured in the film.

After basic training, Hinrichs was sent to Fort Gordon, Georgia, where soldiers marched every day. Presley was never stationed at Fort Gordon, but his presence in the Army was well known.

As they marched, the soldiers sang cadences. One of them went, “R.A., R.A., don’t feel blue, Elvis has to do it, too.” The “do it” referred to marching.

Presley received special treatment in the Army. Officers made him a squad leader, so he had his own small room, instead of sleeping in the barracks.

Hinrichs grew up a mile east and a half mile south of Giltner.

In 1957, he graduated from Giltner High School, where he participated in football, basketball and track.

Of the four boys in his graduating class, three joined the Army. They knew they were going to get drafted anyway, Hinrichs said, so they just decided to enlist.

Hinrichs is glad he was in the Army. It “made me grow up. I wouldn’t trade that for anything,” he said.

His future wife, Mary Ann, graduated from Giltner High School in 1958. Knowing he had a “girl waiting for me” back home made life easier for Hinrichs in the Army.

He wrote to her every day. “And she wrote me pretty near every day. So I had a box of letters,” he said.

Like many soldiers, Hinrichs tackled an obstacle course, crawling on the ground with an M-1 in his hands, bullets flying overhead. The challenge was called a confidence course.

His superior officer was surprised when Hinrichs asked to do it again. “It was fun,” he said.

During his time in Germany, Hinrichs and a friend from Iowa were able to see much of Europe, taking weekend flights on planes carrying soldiers receiving medical care.

Traveling free of charge, the soldiers went to Italy, London and France.

He remembers looking down at the French Alps through the glass bottom of a plane called a flying boxcar.

With the Cold War going on, Hinrichs remembers tensions rising before a deadline of May 27, 1959.

On Nov. 27, 1958, Soviet Premier Nikita Khrushchev notified the West that if occupying forces were not pulled out of West Berlin within six months, access through East Germany to the city would be shut down. But talks in Geneva eased the threat.

Hinrichs’ job in the Army had its benefits. He never pulled guard or KP duty, because he worked with messages sent via teletype. Hinrichs had what was called “crypto clearance.”

Hinrichs arrived home in February 1960. He and Mary Ann were married that October.

They have four kids. The two boys are named Jeff and Joel, and the girls are Jenny and Joni. They have 11 grandkids and six great-grandchildren, with one on the way.

After the Army, Hinrichs was in the Nebraska Army National Guard Reserves for two years.

After farming 42 years, the couple moved into Giltner four years ago. Their farm was four and a half miles north of their current home.

In Germany, Hinrichs paid $117 for a set of wedding and engagement rings for Mary Ann. He still has the receipt. They have been married 61 years.

The couple once visited Graceland.

But Hinrichs never went back to Germany to visit.

“That was on my bucket list. But the bucket got kicked over,” he said.

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