Kelsey Copes-Gerbitz of Waiakea High School, Brittany Todd of Parker High School and Codi Limm of Iolani shared a laugh yesterday morning while making leis in the Maile Lobby of the Hale Koa Hotel. The three are part of the Hugh O'Brian Youth Leadership Seminar. The leis will be donated to the National Memorial Cemetery of the Pacific for Memorial Day.

Floral fanfare

An abundance of leis will adorn
grave sites of vets at Punchbowl

Collection of floral leis for the grave sites at the National Memorial Cemetery of the Pacific at Punchbowl exceeded expectations this year.

Not only will there be a lei for each of the approximately 38,400 graves, there will be extras for the Hawaii State Veterans Cemetery in Kaneohe, according to cemetery Director Gene Castagnetti.

Castagnetti credited Mayor Mufi Hannemann's administration with helping to organizing schools to contribute leis and an increased public awareness of the sacrifices of the military.

People dropped off several thousand more leis yesterday, which were put into refrigerated containers with those already donated by schools. This afternoon, in the continuation of a tradition dating back to 1950, Boy Scouts and Girl Scouts will place a lei and a small American flag on each grave.

Despite a brush fire yesterday afternoon on the dry, outer slope of Punchbowl crater, Memorial Day events will go on as planned today and tomorrow.

There was a wait to get into Punchbowl Crater yesterday morning, as relatives brought flowers and tributes.

Richard Varble, a worker at the National Memorial Cemetery of the Pacific at Punchbowl, went through leis donated since Friday in preparation for Memorial Day services.

Hideko Horita, her husband, Rex, and a grandson paid respects to her brother, 100th Battalion member Harold Gyotoku, who died in 1952, and her son, Rex Jr., who died two years ago.

"It's a habit," Horita said. "It's Memorial Day. We better go."

Jackie Perreira placed flowers on the graves of her father, Kitami Namba, and uncle Norman Kaleo, who are buried in different locations in the cemetery. She also left each an open can of Budweiser beer, "so they can enjoy it together," she said.

"They were drinking buddies," explained Perreira's daughter, Kelly Devera.

"We say hello to all the guys here," Perreira said, gesturing to the curving green lawn of graves behind her and the American flags fluttering in the breeze. "The holiday is for them."

Yesterday morning, 30 high school sophomores who are participating in a weekend Hugh O'Brian Youth Leadership Seminar spent several hours stringing plumeria and orchid leis.

Gan Uyeda of Mid-Pacific Institute said making leis "honors these people that have given us the freedoms and the rights that we have today."

"A couple of hours of my time is nothing," said Jasmine Enos of Waianae High. The veterans "contributed their time for us, and that means more to me than anything."

Chloe Rapozo of St. Joseph School smiled yesterday morning while making leis in the Maile Lobby of the Hale Koa Hotel. Rapozo is participating in the Hugh O'Brian Youth Leadership Seminar.

Though Punchbowl Cemetery is officially closed to new burials, sometimes vacancies are created when a body is moved to another cemetery. In that way, five men who died serving in Iraq have been buried at Punchbowl, Castagnetti said.

"I think the American public and the citizens of Oahu are more aware of the commitment of American military men and women now, because so many are deployed fighting global terrorism," Castagnetti said.

"Young people are realizing they are the direct beneficiaries of the service and sacrifice of American service men and women," Castagnetti said. "And they are becoming more cognitive that they have a role to play."

When cannons fire 21-gun salutes at Punchbowl ceremonies tonight and tomorrow, the man giving the commands will be 25-year-old Marine 2nd Lt. Phuong Phan, who was just stationed in Hawaii last week.

The Vietnam-born Phan has lived in the United States since 1986, became a naturalized citizen in 1998 and a Marine in January 2004. He said he expects it to be "awesome" to participate in Memorial Day ceremonies at Punchbowl.

"After seeing everything going on in the world after 9/11 and the wars, I wanted to help do my part," Phan said of his decision to enlist.

Phan knows that his currently planned six-month deployment to Okinawa could change into deployment to a war zone.

"It's part of the job description," he said. "I would not mind at all."

Memorial Day Events


>> 6 p.m. Candlelight service, National Memorial Cemetery of the Pacific at Punchbowl.


>> 8:30 a.m., Mayor's Service, Punchbowl Cemetery.

>> 11 a.m., Parche Memorial in the Pearl Harbor Naval Station.

>> 11:30 a.m., Schofield Barracks.

>> 1 p.m. Governor's Service, Hawaii State Veterans Cemetery in Kaneohe.

>> 6:30 p.m., Toro Nagashi, lantern floating ceremony, Magic Island, Ala Moana Beach Park.

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