Elvis Presley got his draft notice only two years after his debut, when his popularity was skyrocketing. The military, aware of the star's public appeal, offered to place him with the Special Services Branch so he would be able to appear on TV and do interviews, but Presley rejected the offer.
As a result, he went through the same boot camp training as other recruits and was stationed at a base in West Germany, which during the 1950s was at the frontlines of the Cold War. Fans cheered when they saw pictures of their idol getting his hair cropped short and walking into quarters carrying an army-issue duffel bag. A U.S. Army report at the time said that other young Americans who looked up to Presley would emulate his military service. His decision to refuse special treatment was the best PR the U.S. Army could ask for.
The Korean military has a special PR unit where members serve as hosts of radio programs or events that are designed to boost morale among soldiers, and most entertainers are seconded to light duties there for the duration of their mandatory military service. But some, such as actors Won Bin, Chun Jung-myung and singers Kim Tae-woo and Kang Ta, have opted to serve on the frontlines as part of reconnaissance units or as military trainers.
And heartthrob Hyun Bin has just completed boot camp. But at the end of this month he will apparently be based at a Marines public relations unit after all. Hyun made headlines when he applied to join the tough Marine Corps at the height of his acting career. He said it was his long-held dream to become a marine, and the military said he would be deployed to a unit through a lottery just like other soldiers.
Serving in a military PR unit is probably no walk in the park, and the position could be a good fit for an entertainer like Hyun. But before deploying him there, the military should have taken a closer look at what it was that the Korean public liked about his decision to join the notoriously tough outfit.
There would be no better way to publicize the civic duty of mandatory military service than showing a top actor persevere and endure training and service just like any other young Korean men. But because the military decided to give Hyun special treatment after all, the impact of his decision to join the Marines may well be lost.
By Chosun Ilbo columnist Kim Tae-ick