USS Arizona Benefit Concert
USS Arizona Benefit Concert
On March 25, 1961, Elvis Presley led a benefit concert to raise funds for the USS Arizona Memorial that helped to reinvigorate fundraising for the project.
Twenty years earlier, the Arizona was sunk during the devastating attack on Pearl Harbor that had sprung America into World War II. The Arizona lost 1,177 of its crew – about half the lives lost that day.
Salvage efforts began almost immediately. What was recovered was reused on other ships to support the war effort. However, the hull and two gun turrets sat submerged in 40 feet of water. Following the war, a committee began lobbying to create a monument above the Arizona’s remains. After President Dwight D. Eisenhower established the site as a national memorial in 1958, public and private donations were used to finance it.
The $500,000 needed for construction had to be raised privately, not through government funding. $250,000 was raised in the first few years, but donations slowed over time. Colonel Parker, Elvis Presley’s manager, read an article in a Los Angeles newspaper about the lack of funding and knew Elvis would want to help out.
Presley was scheduled to film the movie Blue Hawaii, so he arranged to do a benefit concert while he was there. On March 25, 1961, Elvis performed at Block Arena in Pearl Harbor, Hawaii before a crowd of 4,000 fans. Tickets for the concert cost between $3- $10, with 100 seats close to the stage that cost $100. On trend with his giving nature, Elvis and Colonel Parker bought half the special seats for patients of Tripler Hospital in Hawaii. Presley performed 15 songs and ended with a slide across the stage on his knees.
Elvis’ concert single-handedly raised over $64,000 for the USS Arizona Memorial project. Elvis’ concert also helped regenerate public interest and support for the project. Donations began to pour in and the memorial was completed and dedicated a little over a year later, on May 30, 1962.
In August 1965, Elvis returned to Hawaii to film Paradise Hawaiian Style. Accompanied by Colonel Tom Parker and his father, Vernon, Elvis visited the memorial he helped build. While there, Elvis and Parker laid a memorial wreath in the shape of a bell. It was made of 1,177 carnations, in honor of the people who lost their lives aboard the Arizona. The banner across the bell read “Gone but not forgotten, from Elvis and the Colonel.” When local news crews heard of Elvis’ visit, they rushed to the scene, but he turned them away, as he didn’t want his visit to be a publicity stunt.
Today the USS Arizona Memorial is one of several sites that make up the Pearl Harbor National Memorial. It was declared a National Historic Landmark in 1989 and attracts about two million visitors every year.
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