Monday, April 25, 2011

Hawaii's solemn "Punchbowl" Cemetery

As mentioned in the previous entry, H and I have been on the road the last couple weeks.   Business for me, and some family time for H in her home state of Hawaii.  Fortunately, my business travel sometimes takes me to Hawaii, so we were able to link up and spend a little time together.

Every time we make it out to the islands, we visit the National Memorial Cemetery of the Pacific to pay tribute to H's grandfather, a veteran of World War Two, Korea, and Vietnam.  The cemetery is located in the Puowaina Crater and known locally as the "Punchbowl" because of its shape.  According to the cemetery custodians, Puowaina means "Consecrated Hill" or "Hill of Sacrifice."  Established in the late 1940s, the Punchbowl contains some 11,597 identified and 2,079 unidentified dead from the Pacific Theater of World War Two (WW2), including Pearl Harbor, Guadalcanal, China, Burma, Saipan, Guam, Iwo Jima, and Okinawa.  Also interred are the remains of 848 US servicemen who died in the Korean War.  In addition, the Punchbowl contains the Honolulu Memorial, which honors some 28,778 servicemen from WW2, as well as the Korean and Vietnam wars, who are missing in action or lost or buried at sea in the Pacific.
In all, the cemetery contains the graves of about 34,000 veterans--some with their spouses-- of World War One, WW2, the Korean War, and the Vietnam War.  One of those graves, just to the left once you drive through the entrance is Sergeant First Class Raymond Sakomoto, a veteran of WW2, Korea, and Vietnam, and H's grandfather and the object of our visit.

The 100th Infantry Battalion was a unit of Nisei (second generation Japanese Americans) soldiers formed from the Hawaiian National Guard.  The unit was not allowed to fight in the Pacific and was instead ordered to Europe where it fought valiantly and suffered heavy casualties during the campaigns in Italy and France.  The 100th was highly decorated and became known as the "Purple Heart Battalion."  Many of the men from the 100th are buried in the Punchbowl.

Ernie Pyle was a famous WW2 war correspondent who wrote from the perspective of the common soldier, winning the Pulitzer prize in 1944, as well as the love and respect of many soldiers.  He spent much of his time covering the war in Europe, but went to the Pacific in time for the invasion of Okinawa.  He was killed by Japanese machine gun fire while he was with the 77th Infantry Division on Ie Shima, a small island off Okinawa, on 18 April 1945.

The Honolulu Memorial with the names of the missing from three wars to the left and right of the steps.

The names are etched on each of the columns.

The highlighted entry is a Medal of Honor winner.

The memorial includes paintings depicting the Pacific campaigns of WW2.

Including Tarawa, where the US Marines suffered over 3,000 casualties in about 76 hours of fighting.

And Iwo Jima where the Marines had nearly 34,000 casualties.

And Korea.

Looking back towards the entrance to the cemetery.

Three brothers killed during the attack on Pearl Harbor, 7 December 1941.

View from the rim of the crater looking over Honolulu with the Diamond Head crater in the background.
A look back into the crater.

Monument to US servicemen who died on the infamous Burma--or Death--Railway, many of whom came from the USS Houston, a cruiser which was sunk early in the war in the Battle of Sunda Strait, between Sumatra and Java.  The Burma Railway was famously depicted in the movie "The Bridge on the River Kwai."

Numerous small monuments to units which fought in the Pacific War line the walkway along the rim of the crater, including this one from the 24th Infantry Division.


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