How “The King” Ensured the Construction of the Arizona Memorial
March 6, 2017
Upkeep for any sort of National Monument or government-sanctioned memorial is typically not an inexpensive proposition. From paying employees to keeping up the maintenance on the many attractions and exhibits, a place like the World War II Valor in the Pacific National Monument requires plenty of capital to keep running. Even more costly than the daily preservation of a memorial is the funding needed to initially erect one.
By the end of the Japanese attack on December 7th, 1941, the USS Arizona had sunk to the bottom of Pearl Harbor. Rather than try to raise and dismantle the ship for scrap and parts, it was decided that the Arizona would remain in her watery grave to serve as a reminder of the devastation of the attack.
During the early 1950s, it was decided that the then-lackluster memorial would be expanded, but funds were appropriated to military actions in Korea. Finally, in 1957, President Eisenhower allowed the Pacific War Memorial Commission to raise the funds on the Navy’s behalf. With a $500,000 goal set, the search for funds began.
A Slow Start
Over the course of the two years after the fundraising began, the PWMC only gathered $155,000 of the needed $500,000. A chunk of that amount—upwards of $95,000— had come from one episode of This Is Your Life, which was dedicated to Rear Admiral Samuel Fuqua. The Medal of Honor recipient implored the nation for donations, and while almost a fifth of the needed goal was a great start, it wasn’t enough.
Without an influx of cash, it seemed that the fundraiser would die off on its own, leaving the USS Arizona Memorial as little more than a concept.
An Unexpected Party
Word of the PWMC’s desire to erect the memorial eventually reached the ears of Tom Parker, best known for being the manager of the King of Rock and Roll, Elvis Presley. In need of a positive image for his client, Parker brainstormed a benefit concert for the Arizona Memorial, hoping it would raise awareness of the PWMC’s needs and put Presley in back the spotlight after his stint in the army. Thrilled by an offer from a respected figure and entertainer, the PWMC accepted Parker’s idea. On March 25th, 1961, Elvis Presley hosted a star-studded show including his own performances of his fan’s favorites.
Through ticket sales and donations throughout the benefit performance, the PWMC raised an additional $60,000, but that wasn’t the end of the influx of money. Still short of the goal by about $290,000, the Arizona Memorial was still some ways from becoming a reality, but due to the attention garnered by Presley’s performance, donations started coming in droves. Five months after the benefit concert, the fundraiser hit its $500,000 goal and, by the end of the year, the memorial began construction.
The USS Arizona Memorial, which was officially dedicated on May 30th, 1962, stands today as one of the most poignant parts of the World War II Valor in the Pacific National Monument, providing a look down at the wreckage of the Arizona and the “black tears” still leaking out.