As a fan of both Elvis and Hawaii, I was disheartened when I visited the USS Arizona memorial in 2016 only to see virtually nothing mentioning Elvis Presley’s role in helping build the memorial. With his 1961 benefit concert in Hawaii and the massive publicity it generated, Presley was one of the major impetuses in raising the funds needed to complete the memorial.
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.”
The next year on Memorial Day 1962, over 20 years after the “date which will live in infamy” of December 7, 1941 when the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor, the USS Arizona memorial was dedicated.
This year, Presley will finally get the historical recognition he deserves with a new documentary by the World War II Foundation called Elvis and The USS Arizona. In addition, filmmaker Tim Gray, the president of the foundation, is organizing the creation of a memorial plaque to be displayed in Honolulu to bring awareness to Presley’s role. Funds for the plaque will rely on public donations.
The Elvis News Examiner was granted an exclusive interview with Gray to discuss the project: