Former Sgt. Bernie Shenal of Port Charlotte, Fla. spent the last month of his three-year tour in the U.S. Army soldiering with Elvis Presley at Fort Hood, Texas in 1958. Shenal was in the 2nd Armored Division and Presley was in the 3rd. Their barracks were side-by-side on the army post.
The guitar-playing teenaged idol was already a star on stage, but in the U.S. Army he was just another private in uniform. What made him different while serving his country?
“Every day three trucks full of fan mail would roll up to his barracks and unload,” Shenal recalled almost 60 years later. “I don’t know what he did with all that mail. He probably threw most of it away.”
By then he had already recorded: “I Want You I Need You I Love You,” “Hound Dog,” “Love Me Tender,” and “All Shook Up” among other hits that went right to the top of the” Top Forty Chart.”
“I never cared that much for Elvis’ music, but when I saw him at Fort Hood he seemed like a nice person,” Shenal said. “ On his time off he would sing and play his guitar for the guys in his barrack. He was in the 3rd Armored Division and his barrack was next to mine.
“One crazy thing with Elvis, there were no napkins or napkin holders at the restaurant in the PX on base when I was there in Texas with him,” Shenal said. “Elvis would come in the PX and everybody would grab a napkin and ask him for his autograph. So the restaurant’s staff took the napkins off the tables.”
After graduating from high school at McClellandtown, Penn., about 50 miles south of Pittsburgh, in 1955 he joined the Army. Following basic training and a few more weeks learning how to be an armored unit soldier at Fort Knox, Ky. he was sent to Germany.
Because he could use a typewriter, Shenal was made a regimental supply sergeant in Combat Command C, 2nd Armored Division stationed in Baumholder, German, near Berlin.
The artillery battalion attached to his armored division had the only 280 millimeter atomic cannon in Germany. They didn’t fire it much and when they did they didn’t use atomic projectiles. They fired dummy rounds in practice.
“The atomic projectiles were so big the truck that carried them could only take six rounds,” he said.
When Shenal was in the 2nd Armored in Germany it was a show outfit. Their M-47 tanks were painted as good as any car on the road.
For an 18-year-old soldier in the U.S. Army in 1956 Germany was the place to be.
“When I went to Germany there were almost no German men around,” he said. “World War II had wiped out most of them.
“It was a paradise for the American G.I. because we had money. Here were all these beautiful Germany women over there. We had a field day.”
When Shenal and his Army buddies weren’t chasing Fräuleins they were traveling around Europe on their time off being tourists. They went as far away from their base as London.
“We’d take the train and off we’d go. When I first got to Germany train travel was free to American G.I.s. Later, when Germany became east and west, they began charging us.”
One place that impressed the teenaged soldier was in Bavaria where he went to school to become a supply sergeant. They stayed in accommodations built by Hitler for some of his elite troops for 25-cents per night.
“It was beautiful in Bavaria and the accommodations were great,” Shenal said.
“I bought my first car while I was in Germany, a 1937 Mercedes for $100,” he recalled. “Because I was a sergeant by then I could have shipped it back to the States for nothing, but I didn’t realize it. Instead I left it in a parking lot and flew home with the rest of my division. Today I bet that car would be worth $100,000.
“I was sent back to the States early to check out the equipment 3rd Armored Division, that was replacing us in Germany, was shipping overseas. On March 18, 1958 Elvis Presley showed up on base at Fort Hood while I was there.“
He spent exactly a month living next to the “King of Rock ’N’ Roll” before being discharged.
Shenal went to work for Ford Motor Co. shortly after he got out. He spent the next 32 years working first as a sheet metal mechanic, but eventually he became an environmental specialist for Ford.
He and his wife, Laura, retired to Port Charlotte in 1992. They have five children all from first marriages: Bill, Carlanias, Richard, Rick, and Shelly.
Name: Bernard M Shenal
D.O.B: 23 Nov 1937
Hometown: McClellandtown, PA
Currently: Port Charlotte, FL
Entered Service: 18 April 1955
Discharged: 17 April 1958
Rank: Supply Sergeant
Commendations: Sharpshooter (Carbine), Expert (Carbine)
This story was first published in the Charlotte Sun newspaper, Port Charlotte, Fla. on Monday, July 3, 2017 and is republished with permission.
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