War dead and vets remembered


POSTED: Monday, May 25, 2009

The deteriorating facade of the Waikiki Natatorium served as a poignant backdrop yesterday to the first of several Memorial Day observances around Oahu.





        More Memorial Day services will be held today at Punchbowl, Schofield Barracks and the Hawaii State Veterans Cemetery in Kaneohe.

Making an appearance at both Punchbowl and Kaneohe will be Veterans Affairs Assistant Secretary Tammy Duckworth, a 1985 McKinley High School and University of Hawaii graduate. She will be the guest speaker at the Kaneohe ceremony at 1 p.m.


Mayor Mufi Hannemann will deliver the keynote address at the city's ceremony, begining at 8:30 a.m. at Punchbowl.


Col. Matthew Margotta, commander of U.S. Army Garrison Hawaii, will be the speaker at the Schofield Barracks ceremony, which will begin at 10 a.m. at the post cemetery.




More than 50 people gathered before the crumbling structure to pay tribute to 101 isle soldiers who died in World War I and 10,000 others who served. The Friends of the Natatorium have sponsored this annual Memorial Day weekend ceremony since 1989 to remember America's war dead and honor the state's military veterans.

Later in the afternoon, the 111-acre National Memorial Cemetery of the Pacific at Punchbowl became a carpet of small fluttering American flags and leis planted on the grave markers of 38,000 veterans by several hundred Scouts.

In Waikiki, with the 82-year-old archway of the natatorium as a backdrop, former City Councilman John Henry Felix said the World War I memorial has become “;a victim of shameful neglect and political machinations.”;

Commenting on the long-running battle over the memorial's fate, Felix said that it would “;unthinkable”; to demolish monuments like Punchbowl and Arlington National Cemetery and rejected the wrecking-ball option for the natatorium, once a popular saltwater swimming pool. Duke Kahanamoku helped open the facility in 1927, and fellow Olympians Johnny Weissmuller and Buster Crabbe swam there.

;[Preview]  Memorial Day Lei Donations To Honor Fallen Troops

The community came through with enough lei's to honor fallen troops at the National Memorial Cemetery of the Pacific at Punchbowl.

Watch ]


Referring to a recent Army Corps of Engineers report that outlined seven proposals to demolish the natatorium and replace it with a sandy beach, Felix said the only decent option is complete restoration.

Four years ago, Mayor Mufi Hannemann shelved a $6.1 million repair project, and he has said he is seriously considering demolishing the pool—which was closed by the city in 1979—and relocating the familiar 100-ton archway and its four stone eagles. The city is studying the proposals.

Brig. Gen. Gary Hara, slated to become the next commander of the Hawaii Army National Guard, recalled that by 1916 one of every five eligible males in the territory of Hawaii had enlisted in what was to become the Hawaii Army National Guard. But because the unit here was never selected to fight in Europe, many of the soldiers went to the West Coast to join the Army.

Hara said that when the Hawaii Army National Guard's 29th Brigade Combat Team was called to active duty in August, 83 percent of the 1,700 citizen soldiers were combat veterans—one of the highest percentages in the country. The brigade also saw active duty in 2005 and '06 and in the Vietnam War.

Last night, retired Adm. Ron Hays, former commander of U.S. Pacific forces, spoke at the annual Vietnam veterans candlelight ceremony at Punchbowl, which ended with a helicopter flyover and the lighting of 1,000 candles in remembrance of the missing in action from all countries.

Since 1868, Americans have set aside a day in May to honor those who have sacrificed their lives in defense of their country. At first called Decoration Day, intended to honor Union soldiers who died in the Civil War, the day was extended after World War I to casualties of any military action.