We Were There

Forty years ago today, my wife and I had my father drive us to the Memphis airport.  I was in uniform.  My orders were to report to Gerszewski Barracks, Knielingen (a suburb of Karlsruhe), West Germany.  My wife and one-year-old in tow, we were off.  The car had been shipped a month earlier, so we needed the ride to the airport.


My wife, never knowing how to deal with my mother, asked my father for a favor.  My wife has always been a pop music fan, knowing hit songs, who recorded them, and when.  She wanted to see Graceland.  We were getting there early enough to take the side trip.  My mother uttered her usual words of both disgust and resignation, “Oh, dear.”  Yet, my father drove up to Graceland and stopped in front of the closed gate.


My father asked the guard if we could drive up the driveway and turn around.  Seeing the army officer in the car, the guard said, “Normally, I wouldn’t have any problem with that, but Elvis is here today, and he isn’t feeling very well.  You can take pictures of the gate and the house from down here.”


My wife was excited just being there.  My father left the car next to the guard shack, and he took pictures at the gate.  My camera was packed.  I don’t know if the film was ever developed.


Between noon and 1:00pm, my parents said their goodbyes, and we made it to the gate.  We transferred from the commercial side of Charleston, SC airport to the military side about mid-afternoon and then we flew to Frankfurt, West Germany.  I was greeted by my company XO, who handed me the Stars and Stripes newspaper for that morning.  “Elvis is Dead” was the headline.  He had died in the early afternoon, found unresponsive, and officially declared dead at 3:30, on 16 August 1977.


He died very soon after we were there, possibly while we were taking pictures.  We might have been the last to visit before he died.  There have been millions since then.  I wonder if the guard had nightmares for having said, “…he isn’t feeling well.”

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