DENNIS ODA / DODA@STARBULLETIN.COM
Coast Guard helicopters flew overhead Friday as Coast Guard Commandant Adm. Thad W. Allen dedicated the Coast Guard Pacific Veterans Memorial at the National Memorial Cemetery of the Pacific at Punchbowl.
Overdue honor: New memorial for Coast Guard
Despite its storied history in war and peace, the Coast Guard long had no memorial at one of the island's most revered settings -- the National Memorial Cemetery of the Pacific at Punchbowl.
That changed on Friday when dignitaries including Gov. Linda Lingle and the head of the Coast Guard, Adm. Thad Allen, unveiled a memorial stone and plaque honoring the service and sacrifice of the Coast Guard, which was established in 1790.
Retired Coast Guard Lt. Cmdr. William Clark -- who joined the Navy at 16 in 1944 -- applauded the move. Clark transferred to the Coast Guard in 1948, serving in the Korean and Vietnam wars as a marine engineer.
"This is something the Coast Guard really needs," said Clark, 80, who moved here in 1959. "This is really a wonderful thing for the service."
Also joining in the tribute and dedication were family members of Petty Officer Douglas Munro, the Coast Guard's only Medal of Honor recipient. Munro was 22 when he died in 1942 at Guadalcanal while rescuing 500 Marines.
Allen told how Munro maneuvered his landing craft between rescue vessels and enemy gunfire on the beach.
His sister, Pat Sheehan, who has attended numerous events honoring her brother, said: "Doug would have been very embarrassed by all this attention.
"On the other hand, if it brought honor to the Coast Guard, I think he would say it was OK."
Following Friday's dedication ceremony, Sheehan and her son Douglas Sheehan, a retired Coast Guard commander, were approached by Petty Officer Todd Minnick.
Minnick was a crew member aboard the Honolulu-based Coast Guard cutter Walnut, which last summer participated in the 65th anniversary ceremony of the invasion of the Solomon Islands.
As part of its deployment, the Walnut also went to Guadalcanal and brought back a 2,000-pound boulder from Point Cruz near the beach where Munro was killed.
Parts of that boulder were used as the base for the Coast Guard memorial, which eventually will be erected on Punchbowl's Memorial Drive, leading to the cemetery's lookout.
Minnick also said his daughter, JoLynne, a seventh-grader at Kahuku Intermediate School, had entered a history contest, using as her subject the Guadalcanal campaign and the exploits of Medal of Honor recipient Munro.
DENNIS ODA / DODA@STARBULLETIN.COM
Rear Adm. Sally Brice-O'Hara, 14th District commander, left, and Allen held the maile lei while kahu Kordell Kekoa, center, conducted a traditional Hawaiian blessing.
In his remarks, Allen traced the Coast Guard's wartime record, which began on Dec. 7, 1941, with the Japanese attack on the Pacific Fleet at Pearl Harbor and extended through deployments and maritime interdiction missions in the Middle East.
In 1941, the Coast Guard cutter Taney, anchored at Pier 6 in Honolulu Harbor, fired anti-aircraft barrages at attacking Japanese fighters. However, Allen said it was during the landings at Normandy in France and throughout the Pacific that the Coast Guard played a vital role.
"It was in the ships and landing crafts of the amphibious landing forces where the Coast Guard played one of its most important roles in the Allied victory -- bringing the assault troops to the beaches and proving reinforcements and support," Allen said. "The handling of small craft in the surf was a specialized skill not common in the Navy -- not so for the Coast Guard," because the Coast Guard had the most seasoned small boat handlers in the military.
Both Mayor Mufi Hannemann and U.S. Sen. Daniel Akaka praised the creation of the memorial at Punchbowl, which attracts 5 million visitors annually.
Akaka called it "pono -- making it right -- that there is finally a memorial as a statement of gratitude."
Said Hannemann, "It is a misnomer to think that our Coast Guard only protects us from our coast, our waterways, our seas and our oceans. You are there for us. You are always ready."