Thursday, February 28, 2008

Former Soldier recalls service time with Elvis

(photo by Petra Roberts)
Friedberg’s Mayor Michael Keller, left, and former Elvis Presley barracks-mate David Bailey examine photos of the King during Bailey’s visit to Friedberg and Ray Barracks in Germany.
A walk through of Friedberg and Ray Barracks in Germany by a recent visitor brought back memories of time spent with fellow Soldier Sgt. Elvis Presley.

The tourist, former Pfc. David Bailey, first came to Germany in March 1958 as a young draftee. He arrived in Bremerhaven on a troop ship and served in Friedberg for 17 months before returning stateside to be honorably discharged.

Bailey, now a retired judge from Missouri (accompanied by his wife Betty) said he decided only a few weeks ago to revisit Germany to see Ray Barracks once more before the installation’s official return to host nation officials.

‘‘Elvis and I were in the same building — our bunks side by side,” said Bailey during his visit to Hanau and Friedberg. ‘‘Back then, there were no partitions. The building was one big sleeping room with 28 bunk beds in it, big enough to hold our platoon.”

Bailey and Presley served with a scout platoon from Company A, 1st Medium Tank Battalion, 3rd Armored Division — also known as the Spearhead Division. ‘‘We met during basic training in Texas, and I was happy to see him again. When I left Germany on Jan. 8, 1960 [Elvis’ birthday], he was the last person I saw.”

Bailey began his trip down memory lane at the Ray Barracks front gate — the same gate he often drove through either in his unit jeep or his own 1951 Opel. From there he went directly to his former troop billets in Building 3707.

‘‘We all called him ‘Prez,’” said Bailey, recalling his former friend and the time he spent with Elvis on scout missions, maneuver exercises and other memorable events.

‘‘Around Christmastime, Elvis received a truckload of boxes [with sweets] from fans all over Germany everyday, but would not eat them. The boxes were stacked along the walls, up to the ceiling. We had a ball eating sweets everyday, reading the fan’s letters,” Bailey said, adding that the pop singer did enjoy fruitcake. ‘‘My mother had sent me [one] for Christmas, and everyday Elvis cut a slice until it was gone.”

The old part of Ray Barracks also brought back memories for Bailey, as he asked about some buildings located across from the main gate. ‘‘They were not there then ... this was an open field.”

As part of his visit, Bailey learned how Army life has changed since he served in Germany more than four decades ago. Bailey and his wife visited Hanau’s 64th Replacement Company on Pioneer Kaserne, at the invitation of Dr. Robert Schloesser, garrison manager, and his wife Joyce, a volunteer at the welcome center.

Joyce Schloesser took the Baileys even further back in time with a visit to the B¸dingen castle, where the princess herself, who runs the family business, gave them an exclusive tour. ‘‘I have never been to Germany and truly enjoy visiting such a historical, beautiful castle,” said Betty Bailey.

Members of Bad Nauheim’s Elvis Presley Fan Club were also very interested in sharing memories with the former Friedberg Soldier and learning historical tidbits about the pop idol.

‘‘Elvis drove a white BMW, but often got into my old 1951 Opel, disguising himself by wearing my field jacket and pulling his hat deep over his face so that he could leave post and get by all the fans waiting outside the gate,” Bailey recalled.