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Thu December 07, 2017 - National Edition
If it weren't for the generosity of none other than Elvis Presley, the Pacific War Memorial Commission would've had an even tougher time building the USS Arizona Memorial than they already had. That's right, the King of Rock and Roll himself actually played a significant hand in the construction of the most-visited monument to the attack on Pearl Harbor.
Formed in 1949, the commission was established with the goal of creating a permanent tribute to the lives lost off the coast of Hawaii on that fateful date of December 7, 1941. It wasn't until 1958 when the project finally jumpstarted the fundraising process after President Dwight D. Eisenhower, himself a vaunted five-star general during World War II, designated the harbor area that contains the sunken remains of the Arizona a National Memorial. With this title, both the federal government and state of Hawaii were able to contribute $200,000 toward the monument.
Still falling short of the Pacific War Memorial Commission's $500,000 budget, in 1961 Presley agreed to perform a benefit concert in Honolulu with all of proceeds to go toward the USS Arizona Memorial Fund. On March 25, more than 4,000 fans crammed into the Bloch Arena to see music's biggest star at the time, paying anywhere from $3 to $100 for tickets. The show, in which a lively Elvis belted out some of his most famous tunes like “Heartbreak Hotel” and “Hound Dog,” raised $64,000. Additional money was eventually secured and the design process was able to begin in earnest.
Austrian-born architect Alfred Preis fled his homeland following the invasion of the Nazis in 1938 and first settled in his new home of Hawaii. After the breakout of the war, he was detained for three months and held at an internment camp along with many other Japanese- and German-Americans before his eventual release. After designing several landmarks in Honolulu over the years, Preis was tabbed by the Navy to design the long overdue USS Arizona Memorial just off the coast of Oahu.
When it debuted in 1962, the 184-ft. structure was lampooned by critics who likened its design to that of a “squashed milk carton” due to the way it sags in the middle. But Preis had a certain aesthetic in mind when developing the memorial, going on to say that the whole thing serves as a metaphor for the United States during the war.
“Wherein the structure sags in the center but stands strong and vigorous at the ends, expresses initial defeat and ultimate victory,” Preis said at the time. “The overall effect is one of serenity. Overtones of sadness have been omitted to permit the individual to contemplate his own personal responses … his innermost feelings.”
With the Arizona sunk in just 40 feet of water, its memorial to the fallen provides guests with up-close views of the wreckage below without actually touching it. The floating museum contains three main rooms: The entry room, Assembly Hall and the Shrine. The Assembly Hall contains 21 total windows, which is meant to represent an ever-present 21-gun salute. Seven large windows tying the room together signify the December date of the attack on Pearl Harbor. The Shrine contains the names of all 2,335 crewmen who lost their lives on that infamous day. But it isn't just the victims of the Arizona that rest below the depths, servicemen who survived and once worked on the battleship are also permitted to have their burials there.