OOIDA prez remembers Pvt. Presley

August 17, 2016

Sandi Soendker


This week, everyone who ever met him has an Elvis story. The King of Rock and Roll died Aug. 16, 1977, at his Graceland home in Memphis. OOIDA’s president has one, too. And in response to a longtime member who has asked for Jim Johnston’s Elvis story, here it is.

OOIDA President and CEO Jim Johnston enlisted in the U.S. Navy in 1956. He was a boilerman and spent four years stationed on four different ships – two troop ships, an ammunition ship and a survey ship. One of those troop ships was the USS Randall.

Aboard the Randall, Jim went from Brooklyn to Germany and back, moving GIs. One of those GIs on the Randall at the same time as Jim was U.S. Army Pvt. Elvis Presley, who sailed for Germany in September 1958. Elvis was serving as part of the 3rd Armored Division.

Jim says the trans-Atlantic trip took about 10 days. During that time, Elvis might have tried to be a regular soldier, but it wasn’t easy.Elvis Presley

At 23 years old, Pvt. Presley was probably the most famous man alive.

“Everybody was getting their pictures taken with him, getting autographs, but I thought I was too cool for that,” Jim recalls. “I never had a conversation with him, but I passed him on the stairs one day and he said ‘good morning.’ And the best I could do was kinda stammer.”

“Actually I was impressed with Elvis,” says Jim. “On the ship there were dependent cabins for the officers’ wives and other passengers who were going to Germany. Elvis was supposed to work cleaning out the dependent cabins, but they had to transfer him out of there because of all the attention he was getting from female passengers.”

“During breaks or off-duty times, he would always have crowds of troops around getting pictures taken with him and asking dumb questions. He never ever got impatient. Not at all arrogant. He would just try to answer, be one of the guys.” LL