Shortly after eight o’clock in the morning on December 7, 1941, an armor-piercing bomb struck the USS Arizona in Pearl Harbor and caused the nearly-instantaneous loss of more than a thousand brave men on board. Others were injured and lived on, but the battleship sank to the bottom of the harbor. Today, the beautiful Arizona Memorial rests above the sunken vessel as a monument to those who sacrificed that day, but for many years the construction of the memorial was on hold due to lack of funding and awareness.
By the early 1960s, only half of the total goal of $500,000 had been raised, so journalists from Hawaii reached out to newspapers across the country for support. Elvis Presley was inspired, and decided to put on a show in remembrance of the men aboard the Arizona and veterans as a whole. At a press conference, he announced that his concert was going to be held on Sunday, March 26, 1961.
The months leading up to the concert were full of excitement. After the press conference, journalists of the Honolulu Star-Bulletin and the Honolulu Advertiser started hyping the concert announcement. Fans all across America were excited for their vacation to Oahu. Not only was Elvis going to be rocking out, the island boasts breathtaking natural beauty and days’ worth of exciting activities for everyone to enjoy. People were marking their calendars.
Seeing the King of Rock live in Hawaii was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. There were 4000 available seats for the show, which also featured other live performers. 100 VIP ringside seat tickets were sold for $100 apiece, while other tickets ranged from $3-$10. Using values adjusted for inflation, a VIP ticket cost nearly $800, while the cheapest tickets were a little over $20. All of the profits were to be used for the construction of the USS Arizona Memorial. Elvis’ manager “Colonel” Parker stated, “Every penny of that taken in must go to the fund…otherwise, we are not interested in doing the show.”
Five days before the show, Elvis earned his fourth #1 spot in one year on Billboard’s Hot 100 for his song “Surrender.” The day of the concert was moved up a day to Saturday, and the VIP section was tripled to accommodate 200 more people.
Elvis: the King Has Arrived
Over 3000 people greeted Elvis upon his arrival at Honolulu International Airport. around noon on the day of the show. Their greetings were well-received by Presley, as he walked back and forth along the line of his fans in appreciation. After a moment of fanfare—and covered in lipstick—Elvis got in the car to the hotel where he would be performing.
After settling in and taking a quick nap, Elvis answered questions for more than a hundred reporters from the local high schools and newspapers. Meanwhile, the crowd for the performance caused traffic jams, with streets brimming with cars and people backed up for blocks. The gates finally opened at 7:15 p.m.
When the King finally got on stage, his fans went crazy. His first number was “Heartbreak Hotel,” and after performing many of his signature moves, he closed with “Hound Dog” a little over an hour later.
The concert alone raised $52,000, which was 10% of the total goal for the memorial. While it wasn’t enough to completely fund the construction, the performance spread awareness about the fundraiser. An additional $10,000 was personally donated by Elvis and Colonel Parker. Today, people visiting the Arizona Memorial can see the plaque that thanks Elvis and his fans for their contributions to the monument, which was dedicated and built over the next year.
The Arizona Memorial today is a symbol of the men aboard the USS Arizona who now stand eternal watch. Attracting over a million visitors annually, it is one of the top destinations for anyone visiting Hawaii. After taking a US Navy shuttle boat to the sunken battleship, visitors disembark at the dock near the monument and can peer over the edge into the depths below.
The Arizona Memorial makes for an exciting morning of activities, with other nearby historic sites in convenient reach. It’s also a good idea to check out the various museums to enjoy the full experience, as they each have something unique to offer.