In the early hours of Dec. 7, 1941, Pearl Harbor was attacked by the Imperial Japanese Navy Air Service, killing 2,403 service members and launching President Roosevelt’s decision to enter World War II.
Although the event was catastrophic, only two ships were beyond repair — USS Oklahoma and Arizona. The Oklahoma was eventually refloated to the surface, but the battle damage was too overwhelming to repair and return to service.
However, the USS Arizona took four devastating direct hits from 800kg bombs dropped from high altitude Japanese planes. One of the bombs ripped into the Arizona’s starboard deck and detonated. The explosion collapsed the ship’s forecastle decks, causing the conning tower to fall thirty feet into the hull.
Talks of constructing a permanent memorial started as early as 1943, but it wasn’t until several years later that the effort would take shape. After the creation of Pacific War Memorial Commission, plans of how to commemorate the ship’s memory began rolling in.
Admiral Arthur Radford ordered a flag to be installed on the wreck site and have a colors ceremony conducted every day.
In 1950, requests for additional funds were denied by the government, as their top priority was to focus on the war efforts in Korea.
In 1958, President Dwight D. Eisenhower inked Public Law 85-344 allowing the PWMC to raise $500,000 for the memorial construction. But after two years of fundraising, only $155,000 in total proceeds had been collected — they needed a lot of help.
Little did they know, they were about to get it.
Tom Parker read about the PWMC’s struggling endeavor and came up with a genius plan. Parker just happened to be Elvis Presley’s manager and was looking for ways to get his client back on top after being drafted by the Army in 1957 — Elvis was discharged from service in 1960.
Reportedly, Parker approached Elvis to perform at a benefit to help boost the memorial campaign — and his music and acting careers.
Elvis, who was not only patriotic but loved the idea of performing for a cause, agreed to help with the campaign. The PWMC agreed to Parker’s plan, and a performance date was set — March 25, 1961.
Although the performance brought in $60,000 in revenue, the campaign was still well short of its goal. But from the publicity of Elvis’ show, donations from outside sources rolled in, and the PWMC finally raise the $500,000 they needed.
On May 30, 1962, the USS Arizona Memorial officially opened thanks to Elvis and the PWMC.