Bill E. Burk pays tribute to Sergeant Ira Jones

13 July 2004

It started out at a wonderful, memorable weekend for Ira Jones, Elvis' first sergeant in Germany. On Saturday, his sister, Erline, had arranged a surprised birthday party for the gentle giant of a man in his nursing home in Clarksville, Arkansas.

Eighty-one (81) candles young ! Ol' Sarge had been down in the dumps just a little since moving from his "ranch" into the nursing home. Fact is, when he sent out change of address notices, he told very few this new address was a nursing home.

He didn't want to worry his many friends. Yesterday (Sunday), Ira Jones died of a heart attack before the ambulance could reach him. Visitation at Roller-Cox Funeral Home in Clarksville will be 6-8 p.m. Wednesday; burial services at 10 a.m. Thursday. Any fans wanting to send cards to his family, send to: Erline Davis 212 S. Laredo Ave. Russellville, AR 72801 USA

OL' SARGE WAS pretty much an unknown in the Elvis world until one day in the early '90s he wandered over to Memphis and visited Graceland to see the estate where this young man (Elvis) lived who had driven his Army jeep, "HQ 31," for nine months while serving in the Scout Platoon, 1st Medium Tank Battalion, 32nd Armor, of the 3rd Armored Division, part of the U. S. Seventh Army. Being there, alone together in that jeep, for nine months, these two formed a bond much like brothers, despite their age difference.

Many a confidence was shared between them during those lonely hours on patrol with the Scout platoon. The two had met in the port city of Bremerhaven, Germany, in the fall of 1958 when Elvis and hundreds of other replacement troops, including Charlie Hodge, arrived aboard the USS General Randall, a ship, that, four years earlier, had brought a young airman named Bill E. Burk back from Japan following the Korean War. Jones had been assigned from Friedburg up to Bremerhaven to board the troop train and see to it Private Presley, Elvis A., US53310761, made it through the gathered fans and media and safely down to his new base.

Enroute up to Bremerhaven, Ol' Sarge, a veteran of WW2, suddenly realized, "I had no idea what he looked like!" Jones quickly found that Elvis was "just like any other soldier." Told that on the train ride South he would sit and keep his window closed, Elvis merely replied, "Yes, sir," and did just that. When the cooks on the train served a hot meal, Elvis thanked them.

ANYWAY, BACK TO GRACELAND. After his tour of the house, Jones off-loaded from the tour bus and walked into that first shop where superfan Joyce Smith was working. Both are known for talking, so a conversation was quickly started during which Jones pulled out some photos of him and Elvis in Germany, told Joyce he had been Elvis' boss, and he had written a book on Elvis, adding, "but I keep getting turned down by publishers." Joyce asked: "Have you tried Bill Burk?" Jones: "Who's he?" Joyce immediately got on the phone and called me. She arranged for us to exchange addresses and phone numbers and within days Sarge had mailed me his voluminous manuscript.

For days after, as I took my father to doctor's visits (and those long waits in the outer office), I read, mesmerized, Jones' accounts of his months with Elvis, both on and off duty. Here and there I underlined in red portions I wanted more information about. I began calling him about these portions and he added to them as best he could. We talked long distance for hours. Ol' Sarge, as thousands who have met him know, was a Yarn Spinner Supreme.

He probably could have written three books this size on his times with Elvis! Slowly, the book, which I chose the title "Soldier Boy Elvis" for, began to emerge. I changed things here and there mainly to clarify what Sarge was trying to say.

He balked at only one change -- in the Foreword -- and only accepted that when I told him, "if Parker sues about this section of the book, I will take full blame." I enlisted world famous Betty Harper to design the cover and -- ho, hum! -- Betty once again delivered a superb color drawing of Elvis in his formal Army green uniform, to be set against an Army khaki-colored cover.

The cover's title was printed in Stencil, just like that used on barracks bags. Originally, I wanted to include Elvis' dog tags hanging from the upper right hand corner of the cover, but, in looking at that option, felt the dog tags would draw attention away from Elvis' handsome face needlessly. The next idea was that, as a promotion, we would include a replica set of Elvis' dog tags with the first 1000 books. I went to my Air National Guard unit asking if they could do this for me if I would make a donation to the Commander's Fund. They hastily declinced. "Fraud, waste & abuse" was the catch-phrase in the ANG at that time! Oh, well, you have to run it up a flag pole to see if anyone will salute. The ANG didn't. I then went to an Army Surplus store and asked how much to make a set of dog tags. "Five dollars." "Well, how much if I ordered 1000 of them?" "Simple. Five thousand dollars." OUT went that idea.

SOLDIER BOY ELVIS made its debut in 1992. We had Ol' Sarge come to speak at our Elvis World breakfast that August, then at Shoney's. It was his first introduction to the Elvis fans in any large audience. He told a few stories that were included in the book, then sat patiently and autographed the books as fans hastily bought them and began reading. First printing of the book sold out before year's end.

A generous second printing was ordered. It, too, sold out rather quickly. And, overnight, Ira Jones climbed aboard everybody's "A" list, being invited to speak to fan clubs all across the USA, even in Germany. He was a regular at Patsy Andersen's Elvis club presidents luncheons in August and January. He loved just mingling with the fans and as he walked amongst them in the Graceland area, they would stop to say "hello" and listen to some more of his tales. He was a regular every fall at meetings of the Oklahoma Fans For Elvis conventions, always joined there by one of his squad sergeants, SSGT Keith Gibson, an Oklahoman. When Ira didn't appear in Memphis last August, scores of fans openly asked why. Few knew his health had deteriorated to the point he could no longer travel.

THERE ARE MANY precious moments within the pages of Soldier Boy Elvis, including:

+ Elvis breaking down, crying, in HQ 31 one day on patrol, and the conversation he had with Jones while tears flowed unashamedly down his face. The world's #1 superstar in a very human moment.

+ Elvis, in another sad, reflective moment, telling Ira how much he missed his mother; how much he missed his beloved Graceland.

+ Two of the most unusual "concerts" Elvis ever played anywhere: A. In the NCO Club while Ira was there taking care of business; and ... B. On a lonely, isolated road in the Grafenwohr war training area near the Czechoslovakian border, with Russian troops just a few miles to the east. Remember, this was the height of the Cold War.

+ Elvis' late arrival at a press conference following his first tour in Grafenwohr . . . and the WHY of his tardiness. + Elvis giving a farewell party for Jones, the likes of which the Army had never seen before ... or since. (Little did Elvis ever realize, as he drove Ira to and from Grafenwohr, that as they passed thru the town of Hochstadt, Elvis was within yards of passing by distant relatives of his family. Elvis' lineage has been traced back to the 1500s in the Hochstadt area where the family was known, then as now, as Preslar, and worked, then as now, in the grape growing business. And very nearby Hochstadt is a smaller town called Burkstadt . . . so, you see, me 'n Elvis go back a long, long ways!!)

It was a fun book to edit and publish. It was, and will remain, the only book I will publish other than my own. My association with Ira Jones ranks as one of the more memorable ones of my Life. I am sure 100s of Elvis fans can say the same thing. If you have not before read Soldier Boy Elvis, it is a book you need to find and read. Sadly, it has been out of print since about 1994.

Now, Mr. Buglar, get ready to blow "Taps" for as fine a soldier as any who put on a uniform. Ira Jones -- a wonderful person in every respect -- has gone to reunite with Elvis in that peaceful part of the Universe where wars are not allowed; where everyone walks hand-in-hand in peace; just as we should do down here on troubled Planet Earth.

007 ******************Bill E. Burk Publisher, Elvis World Magazine

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