Fifty years ago, Elvis Presley helped raise money and directed much-needed attention to the stalled efforts to build the USS Arizona Memorial. The King is now being remembered for his contributions as the historic sites enters a new era.
Pacific Historic Parks, in partnership with Elvis Presley Enterprises Inc., will start selling T-shirts today for $24.95 to commemorate the iconic singer’s historic benefit concert at Pearl Harbor’s Bloch Arena on March 25, 1961. Proceeds will support the educational programs at the USS Arizona Memorial and the new $56 million Visitor Center.
The black shirt features an image of the original concert billboard with Presley standing in his gold lamé suit and a hang-tag replica of the concert ticket.
“For us, recognizing this benefit concert is a way of making the public aware of the cultural history of the memorial,” said Daniel Martinez, a historian for the National Park Service.
Congress in the late 1950s authorized building the memorial to honor crew members entombed when the USS Arizona sank during an aerial attack by the Japanese that plunged the United States into World War II.
Ralph Edwards, host of the hit TV series “This Is Your Life,” kicked off the public fundraising efforts on his Dec. 3, 1958, show when he featured crew member and Medal of Honor recipient Samuel Fuqua. More than $95,000 was raised.
But contributions dwindled over the next few years, with less than half of the target $500,000 raised.
Presley, who was scheduled to be in the islands to film “Blue Hawaii,” agreed to help. It was his last live performance for more than eight years.
“Both of these celebrities, one that kicked it off and one that came to its aid two years later, are important,” Martinez said. “I think this is the beginning of the influence of celebrities in national campaigns of fundraising in our country.”