Earl learned to box as a young boy and with his older brother Art, became a Golden Gloves champion in high school. Following high school graduation in Des Moines, Iowa, his family moved to Kellogg, Idaho, where his father worked in the silver mines.
Always a gifted and über competitive athlete, Acuff was scouted by a coach while playing baseball with friends. He was offered a full football scholarship to the University of Idaho and enlisted in ROTC.
In 1949 he returned to service and teach Arctic survival skills. This was the beginning of an Army career that spanned 33 years.
In 1952, as commander, 1st Battalion, 17th Infantry, 7th Infantry Division, he fought for and defended hills 255 and 266 – also known as Pork Chop and Old Baldy, earning a Purple Heart, his second Combat Infantryman Badge, a Silver Star with Oak Leaf Cluster, Bronze Star with four Oak Leaf Clusters and V for Valor.
He was a Master Parachutist. In 1965 when the Army asked him to evaluate and recommend changes to the Ranger training program at Fort Benning, Ga., at age 47 he became the oldest man to successfully graduate as a U.S. Army Ranger.
In 1966 he received a master's degree in international policy from George Washington University and worked for the State Department on Central and South American affairs. In 1968, he served as Commander of the 3rd Brigade, 1st Infantry Division Republic of Vietnam and earned his 3rd Combat Infantryman Badge.
In 1969, he served as Deputy Post Commander at the U. S. Army Infantry School in Ft. Benning, Ga. In 1970, he was asked to teach military science at Virginia Tech. In 1974, he was promoted to Brigadier General and became the commandant of the Virginia Tech Corps of Cadets.
He was also inducted into the North Carolina Sports Hall of Fame, and the National and World Champion Racquetball Hall of Fame after earning 35 national and world titles at major national and international tournaments.
Earl was married to Mary Acuff, also a member of the North Idaho Hall of Fame.