Sunday, January 24

Hill of Sacrifice

National Memorial Cemetery of the Pacific
Momma and I are now well rested enough to write about our whirlwind trip to Honolulu.

I shall start with a little background. Nineteen years ago Momma's aunt flew her extended family to Honolulu to be with her when she interred the ashes of her late husband at the National Memorial Cemetery of the Pacific. He was a World War II veteran and a survivor of the Battle of Iwo Jima, Feb. 19 - March 26, 1945).

Momma does not know too much about his wartime experiences as a Marine simply because he Did Not like to talk about it. She does know he was running up the beach at Iwo Jima when there was a blast or explosion which knocked him to the ground. When he looked up, his two best friends (who had been on each side of him) were dead. He was later shot through the wrist and received a Purple Heart. 

That service qualified him for burial at the National Memorial Cemetery of the Pacific (informally known as Punchbowl Cemetery).

Momma's aunt enjoyed having her entire family with her so much she always said she wanted us to do the same when she died and made provisions for such a trip in her estate. So this trip was planned since her death in October. 

Few national cemeteries can compete with the dramatic natural setting of the National Memorial Cemetery of the Pacific. The "Punchbowl" was formed about 75,000 to 100,000 years ago during the Honolulu period of secondary volcanic activity. A crater resulted from the ejection of hot lava through cracks in the old coral reefs which, at the time, extended to the foot of the Koolau Mountain Range.

Although there are various translations of the Punchbowl's Hawaiian name, "Puowaina," the most common is "Hill of Sacrifice." This translation closely relates to the history of the crater. The first known use was as an altar where Hawaiians offered human sacrifices to pagan gods and the killed violators of the many taboos. (During the late 1890s, a committee recommended that the Punchbowl become the site for a new cemetery to accommodate the growing population of Honolulu. The idea was rejected for fear of polluting the water supply and the emotional aversion to creating a city of the dead above a city of the living.)

The Punchbowl Cemetery is a national cemetery located at Punchbowl Crater in Honolulu, Hawai'i. It serves as a memorial to honor those men and women who served in the United States Armed Forces, and those who have given their lives in doing so.

The view of Honolulu from the rim of the Punchbowl crater.
It is administered by the National Cemetery Administration of the United States Department of Veterans Affairs and is listed on the National Register of Historic Places. Millions of visitors visit the cemetery each year, and it is one of the most popular tourist attractions in Hawai'i.

In February 1948, Congress approved funding and construction began on the national cemetery. Prior to the opening of the cemetery for the recently deceased, the remains of soldiers from locations around the Pacific Theater—including Guam, Wake Island, and Japanese POW camps—were transported to Hawai'i for final interment. The first interment was made Jan. 4, 1949 - 10 years before Hawai'i became a state. The cemetery opened to the public on July 19, 1949, with services for five war dead: an unknown serviceman, two Marines, an Army lieutenant, and one noted civilian war correspondent, Ernie Pyle.

Since the cemetery was dedicated on Sept. 2, 1949, approximately 53,000 World War I, World War II, Korean War, and Vietnam War veterans and their dependents have been interred. The cemetery now almost exclusively accepts cremated remains (cremains) for above-ground placement in columbaria.

The National Memorial Cemetery of the Pacific contains a "Memorial Walk" that is lined with a variety of memorial markers from various organizations and governments that honor America's veterans. As of 2012, there were 60 memorial boulders (bearing bronze plaques) along the pathway. Additional memorials can be found throughout the National Memorial Cemetery of the Pacific—most commemorating soldiers of 20th Century wars, including those killed at Pearl Harbor.

Among the many memorials is the quote from Abraham Lincoln's letter to Mrs. Lydia Bixby: 
The solemn pride that must be yours, to have laid so costly a sacrifice upon the altar of Freedom.

That costly sacrifice can take place with lives lost - or the emotional toll it later takes upon our veterans and their families.

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