A Little Less Conversation
Thomas Calabrese — Vernon Presley was born on April 10, 1916 in Fulton, Mississippi, the son of Jesse Presley and Minna Clara Hellerman, a German immigrant. Vernon’s father worked for the Union Pacific railroad and was gone most of the time and his mother spoke German or broken English as he was growing up. At the age of 16, Vernon started dating Gladys Love Smith and on June 17, 1933, they eloped and were married in the County of Pontotoc, where Vernon was not known, both lying about their ages. Vernon gave his age as 22, Gladys 19. While Gladys was of legal age, Vernon was not even 17. About the end of June 1934, Gladys knew she was pregnant. Sometime around her fifth month she was sure she was having twins – she was unusually large, could feel two babies kicking and had a family history of twins on both sides of the family. Gladys was earning $2 a day at the Tupelo Garment Company, while Vernon worked at various odd jobs, including one on the dairy farm of Orville S. Bean. With $180 that he borrowed from Bean, Vernon set about constructing a family home, and he and Gladys moved in that December.
January 8, 1935, not long before dawn, Elvis Aaron Presley was born. Gladys delivered a second son earlier that morning, a stillborn identical twin named Jesse Garon. Elvis would be their only child and after his birth, Gladys was close to death so she was taken with her newborn son to Tupelo Hospital. After Gladys and Elvis returned home, it was noticed by family members and friends that she was so overprotective of her son that it bordered on paranoia. Elvis’ family life was turbulent during his early years, largely due to the poverty and financial circumstances of his parents. He grew up in a close-knit, working class family environment that consisted of his parents, grandparents, aunts, uncles, and cousins, who all lived near one another in Tupelo. There was little money, but Vernon and Gladys did their best to provide for their son, who was the center of their lives. Despite their ongoing struggles, they loved America and instilled a fierce sense of patriotism in Elvis.
In January, 1942, Vernon enlisted in the Army after the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor. The fact that he spoke German fluently made him a valuable asset so he was assigned to the Office of Strategic Services (OSS) in Europe. Vernon worked behind enemy lines with the resistance, gathering intelligence and sabotaging Nazi facilities. It was extremely dangerous, but he had a natural aptitude for the work and developed specialized skills over the years. It was while he was on a mission that he came across an experiment by Nazi scientists at a secret Black Forest outdoor testing site in Southwest Germany. Vernon and his 25 men concealed themselves among the trees and watched the proceedings.
Two large speakers, approximately ten feet in height were placed on each end of an open field. Guards led twenty five prisoners out of a building and tied them individually to wooden posts. The speakers began to hum and even at the distance that Vernon was located, he felt a slight vibration coming up through the ground and into his body. Now knowing exactly what the Germans were up to Vernon had no other choice, but to wait. The speakers were pointed at the prisoners and one by one they began to shake violently until they hung limply against their restraints.
Realizing what was happening, Vernon turned to his men, “Let’s go!”
They charged down the slope, firing as they went and when one of the Germans turned the speaker toward them, the force of the sound waves knocked three men off their feet. Vernon shot the German and the speaker turned upward and the tops of the trees swayed back and forth as if they were caught in a violent wind. The resistance fighters overcame the Germans, released the prisoners and captured two scientists and the prototype weapon speakers.
When the war was over, Vernon stayed in Berlin as Germany was divided into four occupation zones for administrative purposes; United States, United Kingdom, France and the Soviet Union. This became collectively known as Allied-occupied Germany. It was during this time that Vernon Presley went from leader, saboteur and wartime hero to spy and avenging vigilante. By this time Vernon could speak Russian and French and often went into various sectors to protect German women and girls from abuses and assaults from occupying soldiers. During this tumultuous time, Vernon Presley was authorized by the O.S.S. to take whatever measures necessary to stop the uncontrollable rampage. After the war ended many soldiers went rogue, figuring that they earned the right to take whatever they wanted in return for what they had endured. The Soviet forces were especially brutal so Vernon spent most of his time bringing them to justice. When Soviet forces stationed in East Berlin went on a reign of terror against the local residents, forty seven Russian soldiers mysteriously disappeared and the abuses ceased. Many Germans owed their lives to Vernon Presley and by the time that he returned to America, he had developed some deep and lasting friendships with many of the residents.
Elvis was almost 12 years old by the time Vernon returned to Mississippi in 1947. His wife Gladys had ongoing health issues and he did his best to make her as comfortable as possible. His son loved music and would often sing along with the songs on the radio, “You’re pretty good, son, you should keep it up.”
“Thanks Dad, thank you very much,” Elvis responded.
A few months later, Elvis received his first guitar for his birthday, and over the following year he received basic guitar lessons from two of his uncles and the new pastor at the family’s church. Elvis recalled, “I took the guitar, and watched people and learned to play a little bit, but I would never sing in public. I was too shy.”
In November 1948, the Presley family moved to Memphis, Tennessee when Vernon was offered a job with the FBI tracking down violent criminals in the South, while maintaining the cover of the concerned father of a rising rock n’ roll star. Elvis enrolled at L.C. Humes High School and continued to explore his musical potential.
In mid-February 1958, Vernon Presley was contacted by his former commanding officer, General Walter Lind, “Remember that sonic weapons that you took from the Nazis?”
“Yeah, what ever happened to it?” Vernon asked.
“We had it stored in one of our laboratories and three nights ago it was stolen.”
“By whom?” Vernon asked.
“The Russians, we can’t let them develop that technology,” General Lind warned, “It would be just one more weapon added to their growing arsenal. We have to get it back.”
“I wish I could help General, but my son Elvis is just starting his music and movie career and I need to stay right here and look out for him. I was gone too much during the war and the transition…sorry.”
“I understand, best of luck with your son’s career,” General Lind signed off.
On March 24, 1958, Elvis received his draft notice and Vernon immediately contacted General Lind, “I guess you had nothing with Elvis being drafted?”
“Why would you think that?” General Lind wasn’t that convincing, “But if he was assigned to a unit in Germany, you’d probably come with him…wouldn’t you?
“Permission to speak freely, sir” Vernon growled.
“Permission denied,” General Lind answered, “Have you ever told your son what you did in the war?”
“Never saw a reason for that,” Vernon answered.
“If he is half the man that you are and I think he is, then the sooner the better,” Genera Lind advised.
Vernon was ready to tell his son about his service in World War II when his wife became seriously ill and was diagnosed with hepatitis and her condition rapidly worsened. He postponed the revelation, because he knew how close Elvis was to his mother and didn’t want him focused on anything else right now. The young Army recruit was granted emergency leave from training at Fort Hood, Texas and arrived in Memphis on August 12, 1958. Two days later, Gladys Presley died of heart failure at aged 46, and Elvis was devastated.
Vernon figured that there would never be a good time to tell Elvis, so he went to Waco, Texas in September and met with his son while he was on weekend leave. When he was finished, Vernon expected a totally different reaction than the one he got. “I’m proud of you, dad,” Elvis sobbed, “I wish I could do something noble and patriotic like that to honor mom’s memory.”
“Well son,” Vernon placed his hand on Elvis’ shoulder, “There just might be something.”
After training, Presley joined the 3rd Armored Division in Friedberg, Germany on October 1, 1958 and Vernon rented an apartment in town. Vernon and Elvis met with General Lind, “It is nice to meet you, son.”
“Thank you sir, thank you very much.” Elvis replied.
“Your father was a hell of a soldier when we served together,” General Lind said.
“Thanks General, I didn’t do anything that any other American wouldn’t have done if he was in my position,” Vernon said modestly.
“I’m going to put you on special assignment until further notice, Private Presley” General Lind stated, “Briefing tomorrow, zero eight hundred.”
The Soviets had improved on the original technology of the Nazi scientists and were now experimenting with the audio weapon to disintegrate walls, knock down doors and turn over vehicles. One of the men assigned to the recovery mission was Air Force Officer, Paul Beaulieu, who was assigned to fly into the Soviet sector once the Vernon and Elvis located the weapon. It was during one of their many training exercises that Elvis met Priscilla, Major Beaulieu’s fourteen year old stepdaughter. (They would later marry on May 1, 1967 in Las Vegas, Nevada.)
Jürgen Seydel, the father of karate in Germany was brought in to help Elvis prepare for hand to hand combat with the Russians if needed. The training went well, but there was no definite date for the mission and everybody was getting edgy.
“I’m ready to go right now,” Elvis said in frustration, “Why is this taking so long?”
“I’ll talk to the General and check our status,” Vernon said.
Vernon met with General Lind and he wasn’t in a pleasant frame of mind, “You ever hear the term, overtrain? Well that’s what happening here. You screwed with my son’s career, just to get me over here, and for the last six months we’ve been doing nothing but training. I’m not in the army anymore so this hurry up and wait B.S. doesn’t cut it for me.”
“Sorry about this Vern, Washington has been working on a new treaty with the Soviets and they don’t want to mess up the negotiations, so they told me to stand down until it was over.”
“So you’re going to let them keep the weapon?” Vern snapped.
“For the time being, but just between you and me I was hoping that the negotiations would fail and you could go in. I shouldn’t keep you hanging around. Want me to make arrangements to discharge Elvis?”
“I’ve already discussed this with Colonel Tom Parker, Elvis’ manager. We both agree that if he gets discharged early, he’ll lose popular support. He’ll finish his enlistment and then we’re getting the hell out of here!”
“I’ll transfer him back to 3rd Armored Division, his original unit.”
After Elvis went back to regular duty, he continued to train intensively with Jürgen Seydel during his free time. Vernon wasn’t in the military and wasn’t restrained by orders, so he decided to infiltrate the Soviet sector without telling General Lind. He still had some friends from the War and he wanted to see if they knew anything so when he arrived in Dresden, Vernon contacted Klaus Werner. It was right after the war that Vernon and his team killed a group of Russian soldiers that were assaulting the women of a village. Klaus pledged his eternal gratitude to the Americans and was almost in tears when he saw Vernon after so many years, “My dear friend,” and embraced him.
After a cordial dinner and catching up on old times, Vernon inquired, “The Soviets have a weapon that uses sound waves; do you know anything about it?”
Klaus and a group of German men started a resistance movement since the arrival of the Soviets and they kept track of their occupiers’ operations, “I have heard stories, let me ask some of my friends and see what they know. Can you stay for a while?”
“I’ll stay as long you need me to,” Vernon smiled.
Three days later, Vernon and Klaus met with a group of German men and women outside Gorlitz in the mid –morning hours. One of them, a young girl who couldn’t have been older than twelve years old, walked up to Vernon and extended her hand, “My name is Claudia and my mother told me about the Americans who saved her life. I want to thank you.”
Vernon responded, “We were happy to help.”
The group walked for two miles until Claudia pointed to a farmhouse, “The Soviet soldiers bring prisoners to this place, but they never return.”
It was almost noon, “I’d like to take a better look, let’s go down after dark.”
They found a place to wait by a lake and it was almost 5pm when a squad of Russian soldiers came upon them while on patrol, then began interrogating them in a rough and abusive manner. When one of the soldiers grabbed Claudia and tried to kiss her, she stabbed him in the throat. Vernon and the other Germans immediately opened fire and killed the remaining troops.
“We can’t wait now, you need to get back to the American sector,” Klaus said.
“What about these men?” Vernon asked.
“This is a very deep lake; we will help them find the bottom.” Klaus said, “Claudia will lead you to the border.”
“I’ll be back,” Vernon promised.
As Vernon and Claudia walked away, the Germans weighed the bodies down with large stones before throwing them into the lake.
It was Sunday July 1, 1959 when Vernon made it back to the American sector and contacted General Lind.
“I didn’t give you permission to go?” General Lind ranted.
“I gave myself permission.” Vernon snapped back, “Do you really want to argue about that right now or do you want to discuss a plan to get that weapon back?”
General Lind hesitated, “It’s not about what I want…it’s about doing what I’m told.”
“You don’t have to give the order, just don’t stand in my way,” Vernon offered, “Let me handle it.”
“What do you need?” General Lind sighed.
“Just one thing.”
Corporal Presley was give leave and he crossed over to the Soviet sector with his father two nights later and met up with the German resistance fighters. Together, they decided to attack the farmhouse at dawn on July 4th. The thirty man force got in position on the hill above their target while it was still dark. Vernon looked over at Elvis, who was very quiet and focused, “You alright, son?”
“I’m fine; you know what they say, a little less conversation, a lot more action.”
Vernon gave the signal and they moved down. Elvis caught the first guard by surprise and used a karate move to choke him out and one by one the guards were eliminated. There was a building being used for a dormitory and the German resistance fighters set up outside of it. Vernon and Elvis entered the adjacent building and saw the ten foot high weapon before them.
“Is this what we came for?” Elvis surmised, “I could do some heavy duty singing with this kind of speaker.”
Vernon replied, “We need to get the hell out of here.”
“Let’s get our blue suede shoes to steppin’,” Elvis quipped.
At that moment, two armed Soviet guards came walking through the door and Elvis and Vernon shot them before they could react. The sound of gunfire awakened the sleeping soldiers and when they ran out, the Germans cut them to shreds.
“Find us a truck.” Vernon yelled out.
A Soviet soldier appeared in the window; Elvis caught a glimpse of him out of the corner of his eye and instinctively pushed his father out of the way, then did a forward roll and a bullet went over his head. When he came to his feet, Elvis fired and hit the Russian in the forehead with a well- placed shot.
“Thank you, son,” Vernon sighed.
The speaker was loaded onto the back of a flatbed truck and Vernon, Elvis and the Germans prepared to move out. A man called out from his vantage point on the hill, “We got Russians coming our way!”
“How do you want to handle this?” Klaus asked.
“We’re not going to be able outrun them,” Vernon turned to Elvis, “See if you can figure out how to operate this.”
Elvis immediately began checking the controls of the speaker weapon as three truckloads of Soviet soldiers came racing down the road, “It has a microphone.”
“You know what those are for,” Vernon responded.
The Soviets were getting closer as Elvis talked into the microphone, “Hello, Hello.”
Vernon noticed that the speaker vibrated with the sound of his son’s words so he took a chance and suggested, “Sing a song.”
“Any song, Now!” Vernon ordered as the Soviets got closer with each passing moment.
Elvis began singing, “Well, since my baby left me. Well I found a new place to dwell. Well, it’s down at the end of lonely street at Heartbreak Hotel.”
The speaker started vibrating and Vernon pointed it at the approaching trucks, and it bounced them around a little, but the drivers were still able to keep them on the road. Vernon realized that Elvis’ voice was the only thing that could save them now, “Sing Jailhouse Rock!”
Elvis nodded and launched into a rendition of the song like his life depended on it, “The warden threw a party in the county jail. The prison band was there and they began to wail.
The band was jumpin’ and the joint began to swing. You should’ve heard them knocked-out jailbirds sing. Let’s rock everybody, let’s rock. Everybody in the whole cell block
was dancin’ to the Jailhouse Rock. Spider Murphy played the tenor saxophone, Little Joe was blowin’ on the slide trombone. The drummer boy from Illinois went crash, boom, bang. The whole rhythm section was the Purple Gang.
As Elvis sang, Vernon pointed the speaker at the vehicles and it turned the trucks over, then he aimed it at the Soviet soldiers and knocked them ten feet into the air while Elvis kept singing.
“Let’s rock everybody, let’s rock. Everybody in the whole cell block was dancin’ to the Jailhouse Rock
Number forty-seven said to number three you’re the cutest jailbird I ever did see.
I sure would be delighted with your company, come on and do the Jailhouse Rock with me” Let’s rock…”
Elvis looked at the Soviets scattered all over the countryside, “They look all shook up.”
They drove to an open field where Major Beaulieu landed in a Lockheed C-130 Hercules military transport airplane. The weapon was loaded, Vernon and Elvis said goodbye to their German friends and they headed back to the American sector. As they approached Hahn Air base near Kirchberg, Elvis looked out the window of the aircraft and saw a massive fireworks display, “Happy 4th of July.”
“Same to you,” Vernon replied.
They were met at the airfield by General Lind and after Vernon briefed him, he turned to Elvis, “What made you think that singing would work?”
“That was my dad’s idea, sir” Elvis responded proudly, “He figured it out.”
“You always had an inquisitive mind, Vern,” General Lind smiled, “I’m glad that this time that it finally worked out for you.”
“Sir, whenever I tried to sneak out of the house back in Memphis, my dad would catch me,” Elvis interjected as his lip curled, “I finally said, how come I can’t get nuthin’ pass you? He said; can’t help it, son, the Presleys come from a long line of Suspicious Minds.”