Elvis Presley fans have a hard time understanding why the visitor center at Pearl Harbor does not recognize Elvis for his contributions to help getting the USS Arizona Memorial built. In the local Hawaiian newspapers, headlines have stated that Presley “rescued the Arizona memorial” and that “Elvis ‘built’ the Arizona Memorial.” Yet Pacific Historic Parks and the National Park Service, which oversee the memorial, refuse to display a permanent tribute to the King and his efforts that had a snowball effect on building the memorial.
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 in 1941.
Yet, nearly 20 years after the Japanese attack at Pearl Harbor, fundraising for the yet-to-be constructed memorial had stalled. Imagine if it took 20 years to build the 9/11 memorial? Presley’s concert, held at the Pearl Harbor Navy Yard Bloch Arena, raised over $64,000 for the memorial fund. Elvis performed for more than 4,000 fans with ticket prices ranging from $3 to $100.
But it’s not just a single concert that Presley should be recognized for. As a result of publicity from Elvis’ concert, donations from public and private sources poured in from around the country, enough to raise the full $500,000 that was needed to complete the memorial.
Without Presley’s concert, the USS Arizona memorial may have never been completed. 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 in 1962, the USS Arizona memorial was dedicated.
As recent as May 2016, the only mention of Presley at the Pearl Harbor Visitor Center was in the gift shop in a small sign next to some books, which read: “An Elvis Presley benefit concert held in 1961 raised more than $64,000 to help build the USS Arizona Memorial.”
When asked about a plaque in recognition of Presley, the Visitor Center staff had multiple explanations. Officials say Presley is recognized at Bloch Arena, where the actual concert was held. However, civilians aren’t allowed to visit Bloch Arena since it is on a military base.
Another response is that Presley never wanted recognition for his efforts. However, in previous years, there was a plaque and also a mention of Elvis in a temporary exhibit at the memorial. For unknown reasons, these were taken down by the Park Service.
As a result, Presley’s fans have started a petition to reinstate Elvis Presley’s name on the USS Arizona Memorial. While it’s true that there were other people who also helped raise funds for the memorial, why not recognize a fellow U.S. veteran for his efforts?
Pacific Historic Parks states clearly on its brochures that “history is important — it needs to be protected, researched, preserved and passed on to future generations.” So why is this important part of the USS Arizona Memorial’s history being left out of the story?
When Elvis died in August 1977, the 14th Naval District in Pearl Harbor, Hawaii sent a telegram to Presley’s father, Vernon: “Elvis Presley was greatly admired by the Navy men and women, past and present, of the 50th State,” the telegram read. “Your great loss is deeply shared by all of us who remember Elvis Presley as an outstanding American who loved his country and felt a kindred spirit with American men and women in uniform.”
For more fascinating Elvis Presley stories, check out the author’s book, ELVIS: Behind The Legend: Startling Truths About The King of Rock and Roll’s Life, Loves, Films and Music