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Reviewed by Richard Raymond III | Richard Raymond III is a former Marine who also served as historian for the 116th Infantry, Virginia Army National Guard.
In the large field of history, there are popular books, and then there are scholarly books. This one by professor Brian McAllister Linn of Texas A&M is of the latter. According to a
story posted on Texas A&M’s website, Linn said in 2014, “My next book is about how the U.S. Army tried to ‘transform’ itself to meet the challenges of the atomic bomb. It is also
about the American experiment with a large peacetime, short-service citizen-soldier force and conscription. The idea that someone as famous and controversial as Elvis could be
drafted and become a symbol of the U.S. military and the nation’s commitment to the defense of the free world fascinates me.” And that, with a few illuminating comments, fairly well
sums up what remains of this review.
The author of four previous volumes on military history, Linn has probed deeply into the psyche both of the Army’s top leadership and the national consciousness, buttressing his
conclusions not with a formal bibliography, but 81 pages of chapter notes, 19 photos and illustrations, and six necessary pages of government abbreviations and acronyms. Of
interest mainly to an academic readership — although dedicated history buffs may also find it instructive — the book outlines, both in broad brushstrokes and minute detail, the
steps taken to redefine and reorganize the Army into a force capable of existing and prevailing in the Atomic Age. From the end of World War II to the Army’s fateful entry into
Vietnam, it was a trial of monumental proportions.
Linn’s use of Elvis Presley’s exemplary military service is well chosen, for that young man quietly accepted the call to duty, raised his hand and took the oath, wore the uniform and
performed soldierly tasks as well as he had cavorted on the stage before adoring teenyboppers. Two years and three stripes later, he would reprise that service in Hollywood’s “G.
I. Blues.” He was practically the symbol of an age.
Not so simple and straightforward were the extraordinary convolutions of the newly created Department of the Army, as both civilian and military leaders strove, often
unsuccessfully and under agonizing budget constraints, to create an Army fit to survive and win on the atomic battlefield. They also sought to provide a mass of untrained and
often poorly motivated conscripts with enough dedicated and experienced officers and noncoms to meet situations beyond imagination only 10 years before. Yet they succeeded in
this regard: no nuclear exchanges with the prime adversary, the Soviet Union. Even the Korean conflict was strictly conventional.
Thus, after years of unremitting effort, the all-volunteer force that many call “the best Army this or any other nation has ever fielded” has come to face new enemies, new
challenges with, if not sublime confidence, at least sturdy resolution. In considering the long hard period of transformation, one ponders the profound commentary of Elvis Presley’s
first sergeant: “By submitting to the draft and entering the Army as an ordinary private, Elvis accepted the discipline of an institution that had come to play a vital role in
transforming men from assorted backgrounds into soldiers and Americans.” A condensed version of those lines might stand as a pretty good inscription on the Pelvis’ tombstone.
September 25, 2016 - The Roanoke Times / Elvis Express Radio