USS Arizona Benefit Concert

US #4873 from the American Landmarks series.  Click image to order.

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.

US #2559i from the 1941: World at War sheet.  Click image to order.

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.

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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.

Item #M10607 – Mint sheet honoring Blue Hawaii.  Click image to order.

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.

US #2721 is the best-selling stamp in US history. Click image to order.

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.

US #5009 from the Music Icons Series. Click image to order.

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.

Click here to discover more about the memorial and here to listen to Elvis’ concert.

Click here to see what else happened on This Day in History.

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  1. Well that’s embarrassing, I was around in 1961, have seen the Arizona Memorial in Honolulu at least three times, and watched Elvis’ concert live (and have seen it over the years several times), but did not know that Elvis did the concert to raise money for the memorial. Good information to know. Great performer and talent, and…he was also a good human being. Thank you for the story.

    1. I moved to Hawaii in ’63 with my family when my Dad was stationed to Hickham so I would have missed this concert. However, I thought the ’73 concert was the one for raising the money. I totally forgot about this one. I got that all wrong. I missed the ’73 concert too. Work/ school. I always liked Elvis’ movies, including Blue Hawaii. He really was a generous person. He’s still missed by millions, even after all these years.

  2. Not a Presley fan, not my kind of music, however I impressed with his character and benevolence. He did a really nice deed for those who lost their lives, to never be forgotten! I’m impressed with that part of his character, but not his singing.

  3. Presley’s music never really attracted me. What I do find very moving, is his Christian Faith. I heard ones that after his performances, he and those closest to him, would head to his hotel room and spend the rest of the night, till early morning playing Gospel Songs. He on the piano, or guitar singing. The others accompanied him on their respective instruments. If anyone knows more of this, please respond by sharing. Thank You

  4. I knew about Elvis doing this for many decades now. I am glad that Mystic is letting more people know about what a really great American Elvis was. He was not like these miserable talents in America today that get so much attention. He also served in the military and did not refuse to serve like Ali did. A true American he was.

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