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Imperial couple honors war dead at Punchbowl


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POSTED: Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Under a steady rain, Emperor Akihito and Empress Michiko of Japan honored America’s war dead at the National Memorial Cemetery of the Pacific at Punchbowl this morning.

The imperial couple, who arrived on Oahu yesterday afternoon, started their first full day here by returning to Punchbowl.

They were greeted by a 21-gun salute with three cannons thundering off seven rounds each as the couple’s motorcade arrived.

The couple was greeted by Gov. Linda Lingle, who bowed deeply and shook their hands, and by Adm. Timothy Keating, head of the Pacific Command.

The rain started as a Marine band played the Japanese national anthem, followed by the “Star-Spangled Banner” to open the brief ceremony.

A breeze rustled the U.S. and Japanese flags that lined the mall as the emperor and empress arrived. Later, the steady downpour added to the solemn ceremony as Akihito, with the help of a U.S. Marine, placed a large floral wreath before the Dedicatory Stone at the base of Honolulu Memorial.

The couple bowed their heads, closed their eyes and there was a moment of silence.

Their visit was attended by about two dozen invited observers, about 40 Japanese reporters who stood out in their dark suits, local media, and a joint military color guard.

A second 21-gun salute, this time seven Marines shooting three rounds in unison, followed the wreath-laying. Immediately afterward, a P-3 U.S. Navy surveillance plane followed by a P-3 from the Japan Self-Defense Forces flew overhead, emerging from the clouds into the blue sky.

The couple, who has visited Punchbowl in previous visits, most recently in 1994, signed the guest book and greeted guests as the rain continued to pour.

Adm. Robert Willard, Pacific Fleet commander, attended with his wife Donna.

“I’m thrilled,” he said before the ceremony. “We served twice in Japan and we’ve never seen their majesties.”

Fred Ballard, public affairs officer for the Department of Veterans Affairs in Hawaii, said, “It is kind of neat to have an emperor visit. I have never seen one before. It wasn’t too long ago that you couldn’t even look at them even if you were Japanese.

“I think veterans will appreciate the fact that he has come out to honor America’s war dead. I certainly do,” said Ballard, who is a veteran.

The couple left Punchbowl to attend a luncheon with Lingle at Washington Place.