In 1958 the Pacific War Memorial Commission was given the task of raising $500,000 to build a monument to the USS Arizona. It was also decided that it must be built without public funding. Initially the Territory of Hawaii contributed the first $50,000 along with additional fund raising efforts by many organizations and private individuals.
In December of that year the popular television show “This Is Your Life” kicked off the private fundraising campaign by featuring the Medal of Honor winner Samuel Fuqua. He was the senior surviving officer of the USS Arizona and the show’s publicity raised over $95,000 towards building the structure.
For the next two years fund raising was not going very good and public interest in the project was beginning to fade. Then in November of 1960 the Colonel, Tom Parker, had read an article in the Los Angeles Examiner about plans to erase a Memorial for the 1,102 officers killed on the USS Arizona during the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor in 1941.
The colonel offered to stage an Elvis concert to benefit the memorial fund and Elvis enthusiastically agreed.
The show was slated for Sunday, March 25 – 1961 at 8.30 P.M. at the Bloch Arena in Pearl Harbor. There were 4000 tickets sold in the price range from $ 3 – $ 10. An additional 100 tickets of $ 100 were reserved for a special ringside section at Pearl Harbor’s Bloch Arena. 50 of these tickets were bought by Elvis and The Colonel for patients from Tripler Hospital.
The show raised nearly $65,000 for the USS Arizona Memorial building fund. This show created one of the biggest private donations to the memorial. On March 30, the Hawaii House of Representatives passed Special Resolution 105 thanking Elvis and the Colonel.
The resulting publicity gave new life to the fund-raising effort,which had by then,lost all of it’s momemtum. Soon thereafter the Fleet Reserve Association partnered with Revell Modal Company to sell plastic models of the battleship USS Arizona. Inside each kit with the models instructions was information explaining how to donate. This fund raising effort led to over $40,000 being raised for the memorial.
Finally, on September 6th, 1961, freshman Hawaii Senator Daniel Inouye secured federal funding for the final $150,000 to complete the construction. In the end, public money was required to meet the goal of the PWMC. The legislation stated that the Memorial was “to be maintained in honor and commemoration of the members of the Armed Forces of the United States who gave their lives to their country during the attack on Pearl Harbor, Hawaii on December 7, 1941.”
The USS Arizona Memorial was dedicated on May 30, 1962. Today the more than 1 million annual visitors can view a plaque (below) that recognizes Elvis Presley as one of the contributors to the memorial. Various Presley merchandise and artifacts from the 1961 benefit show are kept in the memorial archives and can be viewed by appointment.
In 1962 the memorial was finished and was dedicated on Memorial Day. Four years later, while in Hawaii filming Paradise, Hawaiian Style, Elvis visited the completed memorial and placed a wreath there. Photographers and reporters rushed in to record the event, but Elvis sent them away. He did not want his visit to the memorial to become a publicity stunt.
To Elvis it was always a source of quiet satisfaction and pride to know that he had a significant role in making the memorial possible.