On March 25, 1961, Elvis Presley performed a special concert in Honolulu, Hawaii to raise funds for the USS Arizona Memorial, a tribute to the US service men and women who lost their lives during the Pearl Harbor attack on December 7, 1941.
The new 2021 documentary film by the World War II Foundation called Elvis and The USS Arizona tells the story of how Presley literally helped build the memorial that stands today.
Back in March 1961, fundraising for the yet-to-be constructed memorial had stalled. Presley’s concert, held at the Pearl Harbor Navy Yard Bloch Arena, raised $54,000 for the memorial fund. Elvis performed for more than 4,000 fans with ticket prices ranging from $3 to $100.
Without Presley’s concert, the USS Arizona memorial may have never been finished. As George Chaplin wrote in the Honolulu Advertiser in 1991: “His [Presley’s] Hawaii concert did more than raise money. It created national publicity and revived public sentiment for the memorial. That September, Congress was prodded into voting $150,000; then the Hawaii Legislature added $50,000 to a previous contribution.”
As a result of the publicity from Presley’s concert, donations from public and private sources poured in from around the country, enough to raise the $500,000 that was needed to complete the memorial. The next year, on Memorial Day in 1962, the USS Arizona memorial was dedicated.
Elvis performed 15 songs that night including “Hound Dog”, “Heartbreak Hotel” and “Don’t Be Cruel”. This would be Elvis’ last live performance for eight years until 1969 when he started performing in Las Vegas.
During his visit, Elvis stayed at the Hawaiian Village Hotel on Waikiki beach (now the Hilton Hawaiian Village). Two days later, Elvis would start filming Blue Hawaii.
On December 7, 2021, a 12 x 18 plaque with a bronze bust of Elvis at the top was placed at the hotel in recognition of Presley’s fundraising efforts for the memorial at Pearl Harbor. According to Tim Gray, President of the World War II Foundation, the Elvis plaque was chosen to be displayed at the Hilton Hawaiian Village because “that is where Elvis always stayed when in Oahu. He held his press conference there prior to the concert and the hotel has preserved his suite there today. It’s called the “King Suite” and is a shrine to Elvis staying there often and his role in the Memorial effort. We know it will be seen by tens of thousands of people each year who visit the hotel and maybe that will inspire them to want to know more about Elvis’ role in the project.”
Watch the trailer for the film, Elvis and The USS Arizona:
The film was airing on American Public TV in late 2021. Check this link for local listings
Update: As of December 15, 2021, you can now stream the movie for free online: CLICK HERE
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