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Mayor Mufi Hannemann

 

Memorial Day Ceremony

May 25, 2009

 

The National Memorial Cemetery of the Pacific at Punchbowl

 

Ladies and gentlemen, friends and neighbors, brothers and sisters: Aloha kakahiaka kakou, and welcome to the National Memorial Cemetery of the Pacific for the Mayor's Annual Memorial Day Service.

 

(Special introductions, acknowledgements)

 

We are especially honored to have with us today Assistant Secretary of Public and Intergovernmental Affairs for the  Department of Veterans Affairs, L. "Tammy" Duckworth.  We're very proud that a graduate of McKinley High School and the University of Hawaii holds such an important position in service to our veterans and our nation.

 

Assistant Secretary Duckworth is a decorated combat veteran. She was wounded in battle in Iraq in 2004, when insurgents fired a rocket-propelled grenade at the helicopter she was co-piloting. She received the Purple Heart, the Air Medal, the Army Commendation Medal, the Meritorious Service Medal and the National Defense Service Medal for her heroism and service to our nation.

 

We thank the Boy Scouts who placed lei at each grave here at Punchbowl yesterday and the Girl Scouts who did the same with Gail and I at the Hawaii State Veterans Cemetery. Mahalo to the thousands of people, especially the schoolchildren and kupuna, who picked the flowers and strung the lei. We also salute the hundreds of schoolchildren statewide who participated in the annual Memorial Day lei poster contest. I was able to honor the winners recently at Honolulu Hale, where their winning posters were displayed.

 

I would also like to thank our city Department of Parks and Recreation, Director Les Chang and Deputy Director Gail Haraguchi, and all the wonderful volunteers who work so hard to ensure this important annual event is a success.

 

It has been 59 years since the first Memorial Day service was held here to honor those members of the armed forces who died in service to our nation.

 

By that morning in 1950, more than 12,000 Americans had already been laid to rest in these hallowed grounds, mostly casualties of World War II. 

 

We must never forget those who made the ultimate sacrifice for our nation during that terrible conflict:

 

Those who perished on the beaches of Normandy; in the skies over Berlin; in the deserts of North Africa; in the jungles of Guadalcanal; in the waters of the North Atlantic; and in the streets of Manila.

 

The war changed Hawaii and the rest our nation forever.  It introduced thousands of American servicemen and women to our islands, and produced a new generation of Hawaii-born leaders who were eager to serve our community after returning from duty, and to realize their full potential.

 

But many more lives would be cut tragically short in the years to come, in places like Korea, Vietnam, Lebanon and Somalia.

 

— Places like Iraq and Afghanistan.

 

 

We are here today to remember and to honor all the soldiers, sailors, airmen, Coast Guardsmen, Marines and merchant mariners who have given their lives for us.

 

We are here to recall the incredible sacrifices they have made, and to acknowledge a debt that can never be repaid in full.

 

We remember all those laid to rest at this sacred site.

 

And we remember those who lie in unmarked graves on lonely foreign shores; 

 

Those entombed beneath the waves;

 

Those who were taken prisoner and never released;

 

Those who remain Missing in Action;

 

We must also remember those who served our country proudly, but returned home tormented by hidden wounds and personal demons that followed them from the combat zones.

 

Many never fully recovered, and died on mean streets surrounded by loneliness, addiction, poverty and squalor. They deserved so much better.

 

We are here today to remember and to honor every one of our veterans who sacrificed their lives for our freedom, and to express our gratitude and appreciation to those who continue to serve our great nation today.

 

I would like to personally thank Admiral Timothy Keating, commander of the United States Pacific Command, for his exemplary service to Oahu, our state, our nation, and the Asia Pacific region. Admiral Keating bears the immense responsibility of overseeing American military forces throughout the region, an area encompassing half the earth's surface—the world's largest military command. Admiral, your service is truly appreciated.

 

And let us remember that more than 7,000 Hawaii-based troops are currently serving our country in Iraq and Afghanistan, such as state Rep. Mark Takai. Many others have already returned from earlier deployments, and they truly deserve our appreciation and respect.

 

But we must especially remember today those who did not return to their ohana, their friends, their loved ones, their community – their home.

 

These were real people, with real lives and real families — people such as First Lieutenant Nainoa Hoe, who was raised in Kailua and graduated from Kamehameha Schools and the University of Hawaii. He was just 27 years old when he was killed by a sniper while on patrol in Mosul, Iraq in 2005.

 

Hoe was married, had already earned a Master's Degree in Business Administration, and had demonstrated strong leadership skills as ROTC battalion commander at UH, and on duty in Iraq. His future seemed bright, indeed, like so many before him, and so many after — so many we must always remember.

 

Let me conclude with a few stanzas from a poem by U.S. Coast Guard pilot Kelly Strong.

 

I heard the sound of Taps one night,
When everything was still


I listened to the bugler play
And felt a sudden chill.


I wondered just how many times
That Taps had meant "Amen,"


When a flag had draped a coffin
Of a brother or a friend.


I thought of all the children,
Of the mothers and the wives,


Of fathers, sons and husbands
With interrupted lives.


I thought about a graveyard
At the bottom of the sea


Of unmarked graves in Arlington.
No, freedom isn't free.

 

Mahalo. Aloha ke akua. God bless you all. Malama pono.