DENNIS ODA / DODA@STARBULLETIN.COM
Wahiawa Elementary School students Jace Tsue, left, McRafe Malanog, John Morales and Ana Agbayani marched in yesterday's Veterans Day Parade in Wahiawa. The parade started at Kaala Elementary School, continued up California Avenue and ended at Wahiawa District Park. It included 60 marching units and bands and was sponsored by the Wahiawa Lions Club.
Party marks milestone for veterans home
HILO » Officials from Hilo Medical Center and other agencies held a "topping-off party" yesterday, celebrating the completion of the roof on the 95-bed Yukio Okutsu Veterans Home.
When construction ends next summer, the facility will provide services for veterans statewide needing long-term nursing home care.
Yesterday's gathering was an observance of Veterans Day, a landmark in the construction project and a celebration of the service to the nation of World War II veteran Yukio Okutsu, whose name will be on the building.
Born at Koloa, Kauai, Sgt. Okutsu of the 442nd Regimental Combat Team was awarded the Medal of Honor for heroism at Mount Belvedere, Italy, on April 7, 1945. He had to wait until June 2000 for the nation to recognize his courage.
"My father was a humble man. He would shy away from attention," said his son Wayne, attending the gathering with other family members.
But state Sen. Russell Kokubun, who secured naming of the veterans home for Okutsu, said something was needed to show that the home was not just another agency. "We needed to put a face on this place," he said.
ROD THOMPSON / RTHOMPSON@STARBULLETIN.COM
Wayne Okutsu showed his father Yukio's Medal of Honor during yesterday's "topping-off party" for a 95-bed veterans home in Hilo. The medal will be permanently displayed at the facility.
Okutsu died in 2003. His family decided that his medal will be permanently housed at the Veterans Home.
"The medal is not ours anymore," said Wayne Okutsu. "It belongs to everybody, especially the guys who didn't come home."
Groundbreaking for the veterans home was in August 2005. After completion of the building early next summer, it will be furnished and ready for occupancy by the late summer or fall, said Ron Schurra, chief executive of Hilo Medical Center.
The project is costing $33 million, which includes demolition of an old hospital building, and construction and equipping of the new home, he said.
Built in an H-shape on sloping ground, it is one story on the high ground and two stories downslope. It has 15 single rooms and 40 double-occupancy, semiprivate rooms, plus an outpatient area, said project manager William Maguire.
Advocates had sought a 200-bed facility, noting that Hawaii was one of only three states without such a home. Gov. Linda Lingle determined that 95 beds was an appropriate size.
Schurra noted that an aging long-term care facility for the general public will be torn down eventually, with a replacement to be built uphill from the main hospital. That will leave space for possible expansion of the veterans home, downhill from the hospital.