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Hawaii’s World

By A.A. Smyser

Tuesday, July 4, 2000

remind us who paid for
our independence

BEST reached from the Richards Street side of the state Capitol lawn is our subdued memorial to those from Hawaii who died in wars in Korea and Vietnam.

A tower design was rejected by vocal veterans who finally agreed on these five black granite curved terraces of names -- and names only -- of the fallen.

The configuration is such that each engraved block stands out individually from neighbors either forward or behind or above or below. That unusual structure in itself creates interest and invites perusal of the names.

A small entrance monument says for Korea's fallen:

"Long ago, far off,
we fell on fields of honor.
Remember us now."

And for those who died in Vietnam:

"Grieve not for lost youth.
Carved in memory and stone,
we abide in your dreams."

Year markers at the foot of the rows denote 1950 to 1953 for the 456 Korea dead from Hawaii and 1962 to 1977 for the 312 islanders killed in Vietnam.

We lost more in Korea than in Vietnam because Hawaii units were closer to the scene of the June 25, 1950, surprise attack. They were the first units that could be rushed into combat to keep the entire South Korea from being engulfed by the North.

We still were a U.S. territory then, not a state, but our dead were four times the per capita U.S. average. They gave evidence of Hawaii's loyalty among all our ethnic groups and became a strong argument for statehood.

A few years ago, I noticed that the black name stones had become stained and soiled, mostly the result of being in a nest of shower trees and other greenery giving quiet to the place.

Others noticed, too. This year, the Chamber of Commerce of Hawaii bestowed its Aloha Spirit Award on Louis Baldovi, a vet who was dismayed by the signs of deterioration of the memorial. He enlisted fellow members of the Korean War Veterans Association to go to the site weekly to spray the memorials with cleaner, hose them down, keep the names sparkling and tidy up the grounds.

Soon other organizations of retired military, plus a community group and members of a church volunteered help. Today different groups rotate maintenance responsibility. In addition to the Korean War Vets are the Jesus Christ Mission Church, Special Forces Association, Chosin Few from the Disabled Veterans Aloha Chapter, Reserve Officers Association, Fifth Regimental Combat Team, American Legion Post 12 and Veterans of Foreign Wars Post 849, Air Force Association and Hiki No Alumni, a National Guard group.

THE Hawaii state Office of Veterans Services coordinates the schedule.

A memorial for 106 World War I dead from Hawaii is at the Waikiki Natatorium. A monument at King and Punchbowl streets erected during World War II names hundreds of the 800 from Hawaii who died that conflict, but was not added to after the war.

A bronze eternal flame on Beretania Street beside the governor's mansion at Washington Place honors all Hawaii residents who have served in the armed forces. I presumptuously tell friends this is my memorial.

The total of Hawaii resident dead in the four wars approaches 1,700 -- not including those many nonresidents killed Dec. 7, 1941, at Pearl Harbor. Our ability to celebrate another Independence Day today owes much to such sacrifice.

A.A. Smyser is the contributing editor
and former editor of the the Star-Bulletin
His column runs Tuesday and Thursday.

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