Thursday, May 17, 2001

Veterans representing the Arizona Memorial Museum
Foundation presented a check for $2 million to Kathy
Billings and Maile Alau for the USS Arizona Memorial
Fund yesterday at the Arizona Memorial Visitor Center.

Arizona Memorial
begins drive for
WWII museum

Filmmakers and a
Pearl Harbor survivor
kick off donations

By Burl Burlingame

The definition of "museum," where artifacts and memories are preserved for future generations, never really fit the USS Arizona Memorial Visitor Center. It was a place to get prepped for the boat ride to the memorial.

That is what it was designed for. When it became the primary center for interpreting World War II history in the islands, that was by default. There is nothing else like it in Hawaii, and the only Pacific War museum in the United States is in the heart of Texas.

Last night, the Visitor Center officially began a $10 million memorial fund drive to rethink and redesign the site into a modern museum that can preserve and interpret artifacts. At a news conference dominated by the aircraft carrier USS Stennis and the looming premiere of the Disney film "Pearl Harbor," USS Arizona Superintendent Kathy Billings noted that when the center was designed, it was assumed that 750,000 visitors would pass through it every year.

Today, the number is more like 1.5 million, she said. More than 30 million visitors have experienced the memorial since it opened more than two decades ago. The sheer crush of visitors has overstrained the center's capabilities.

"The current memorial facility is not up to the task," said Maile Alau, executive director of the fund drive. "There's no room to tell the heroic stories of Dec. 7, 1941. This is a portal to the past that visitors can experience, where they can cross the barriers of time."

The synergy of the 60th anniversary of the attack, plus the marketing power of Disney's "Pearl Harbor," plus the popular wish of corporations to do right by World War II veterans, has created an atmosphere friendly to fund raising.

"I have to say, no matter what anyone thinks of the film, Disney has been just great to us," said USS Arizona historian Dan Martinez. The company has donated services and publicity to the campaign, and "Pearl Harbor" producer Jerry Bruckheimer and director Michael Bay were on hand, as well as Disney motion picture Chairman Richard Cook.

"This was not just an assignment; it was an opportunity to reflect on the past," said Cook, introducing Bay and Bruckheimer. "This was not just the biggest film in our history; these are the only two (in Hollywood) who could have made it happen."

Bruckheimer said their goal was to make "an entertaining movie, but moreover to capture the essence of the time. ... This was one of America's worst tragedies, and a reminder that we can still rise from the ashes."

"Rising from the ashes is what makes America great," said Bay, continuing a theme. He explained that it was a weeping survivor who convinced him to make the movie. "I stared into his teary eyes and was committed to make this movie, no matter what!"

Norm Pearson, president of the Arizona Memorial Association, presented a Hollywood-prop-size check for $2 million, followed by another for $75,000 from 20th Century Fox, a first installment of charity royalties from a digitally remastered home-theater version of "Tora Tora Tora." Fox executive Todd Rowan noted that it "was ironic and pretty cool that in 1970, 'Tora Tora Tora' won the Oscar for special effects, and 'Pearl Harbor' is the odds-on favorite to win it next year. It's time to give something back."

Hasbro, manufacturer of Pearl Harbor-themed GI Joe toys, donated $40,000. But the loudest applause was for Pearl Harbor survivor Ted Dabagh, who is donating $10,000 out of his own pocket.

The money will be used to create a repository for the artifacts. "That's what it's all about," said Martinez. "We're on the edge of a new frontier for this park."

Contributions can be made by calling toll-free 1-866-60-PEARL or by going online at

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