Bill E. Burk pays tribute to Sergeant Ira Jones
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
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.
(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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
ARE MANY precious moments within the pages of Soldier Boy
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
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!!)
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.
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.
E. Burk Publisher, Elvis World Magazine
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