BY ROBERT GOWAN – We thought he was “the first Big Island boy” to die in the Global War on Terror. The Honolulu mainstream media news reporters told us so and they told us “dozens of people” showed up to witness the passing of his hearse last week Thursday. Both turned out to be not the case.
United States Marine Christopher Camero, a Waimea resident, was the first Big Island native to die from wounds received on the battlefield. He is the first to be buried at the West Hawaii Veterans Cemetery. And he is the youngest of the three men from our community who lost their lives in Iraq and Afghanistan.
With the Annunciation Church bell ringing and with the assembled congregation and the chorus singing The Battle Hymn of the Republic, Chris’s body was loaded into the hearse. Then began the slow, police-led cavalcade procession that included dozens of Patriot Guard Riders on Harley Davidson motorcycles, immediate family members and dozens of other vehicles with his family and friends. The procession would stretch for miles.
I joined the group and as we turned onto the Lindsey Bridge, the incredible turnout of the community of Kamuela/Waimea on the Big Island became immediately clear.
Many people holding American flags or Marine Corps flags and with their hand over their heart, were standing along both sides of the bridge and up to the Mamalahoa intersections.
As the procession turned onto the Mamalahoa Highway, there was a vast sea of people on both sides of the road.
Hundreds of people were waiting, standing at attention, saluting, waving, crying and holding hands.
This was one of the most amazing scenes I have ever seen in my entire 42 years of residency here.
It appeared that every school child from every school in the entire Waimea area were standing along the roadside. Eyes wide, little hands over their hearts, some with small United States stick flags in their hands. I cried.
As we slowly passed by, the gathering along the roadside went on and on. People stood at the gates of their homes, entire families were there together. Camp Tarawa with its perfect Honor Guard standing at full attention and in salute.
Out of town into the open, the crowds thinned, but here we saw pockets of folks with their flags, some individuals all alone, hand over their heart.
Out into the wide-open spaces south of town, looking backwards, the long line of Harleys rumbled like rolling thunder. American flags were fluttering from their fantails.
All along the route and in the most unexpected places individuals stood by to greet the passing procession. Some people were obviously aged veterans, standing at such stiff attention that they were trembling.
There was a large gathering at the Waikoloa Road junction where the procession turned down to pass through Waikoloa Village and on to the Queen Ka’ahumanu Highway.
Finally arriving at Waikoloa Village, it seemed the entire town was there, including police officers, veterans, firemen saluting and more families.
Winding our way down to the Queen Kaahumanu and making the final wide turn to reach the West Hawaii Veterans Cemetery, we were again greeted with the scene of people from the Kohala Coast resorts. Tourists in their rent-a-cars stopped, hands on their hearts. How did they know? The radio….
All the workers and heavy equipment operators at the Hawaii County transfer station and all their gigantic equipment carefully arranged and positioned in an orderly manner of honor workers standing by, big smiles, hands over their hearts. And so it went.
The next large gathering along a nearly vehicular empty Queen K Highway was at the Four Seasons Hualalai and Kukio entrances. The resort workers, many with American flags, were standing by.
As the procession came up the last long hill, there was a phenomenal gathering of Big Island citizens along both sides of the highway leading into the West Hawaii Veterans Cemetery entrance.
A massive American flag, suspended between the booms of two of HELCO’s largest trucks, formed an impressive arch that everyone passed under.
At this point, I went to the cemetery entrance to take up my position with the Gathering of Eagles Hawaii Flag, relieving those of my team who had been standing the watch, so that they could attend the services.
Before I did, however, I filmed the passage of all the motorcycles, then the hearse and finally the family of young Chris Camero.
As the first private car passed by, a lady in the rear seat with the window down said to me simply “thank you.”
And thank you ma’am for the ultimate sacrifice of your only son, for this country we all call our home.
We shall never forget him. This was the very least we could do for him – and for you .
Editor’s note: For a full video and photo report, see http://goekona.wordpress.com/2011/08/18/aloha-oe-chris-a-hui-hou/