BY HONOLULU MAYOR PETER CARLISLE – Aloha and welcome to the National Memorial Cemetery of the Pacific at Punchbowl for the Mayor’s Annual Memorial Day Ceremony.
It is an honor and privilege to preside over this solemn observance.
We have with us today U.S. Senator Daniel Akaka, leading our delegation of officials from all levels of public service; along with top military leaders; members of the diplomatic corps; veterans; students; service men and women, and their families.
It is our honor to have with us today loved ones and comrades of some who have made the ultimate sacrifice in defense of our nation. Welcome. We owe you more than words will ever be able to express. And we vow that we will never forget.
Many people worked long and hard to organize and prepare for today’s gathering here at Punchbowl, and we are grateful for their exemplary efforts.
Mahalo to all the participants and sponsors, including our city Department of Parks and Recreation, to Director Gary Cabato and Deputy Director Albert Tufono, and to all the hard-working volunteers who assisted them.
We want to acknowledge the Boy Scouts who placed lei at each grave, and the Girl Scouts who did the same at the Hawaii State Veterans Cemetery.
And thank you to the many people who picked the flowers and strung the lei, from keiki to kupuna.
We also salute the hundreds of schoolchildren statewide who participated in the annual Memorial Day lei poster contest. We recently honored the winners at Honolulu Hale, where their winning posters are on display for everyone to enjoy.
Today, as we honor and pay tribute to our fallen warriors, please share with me a moment of silence for all those men and women who serve our nation today—especially those who face danger far from their homes and loved ones. (brief pause)
May they soon return in safety and in peace.
We are here today to remember and to honor all the soldiers, sailors, airmen, Marines, Coast Guardsmen and merchant mariners who fought for our freedom and our future, and who made the ultimate sacrifice.
We are here to sincerely acknowledge our debt to them and to their families—a debt that can never be repaid in full.
Very humbly, we say to each one of them: Mahalo.
Far too many of our fellow Americans have suffered tremendously to ensure that we would enjoy life and liberty today.
Americans like Army Chief Warrant Officer 2 Don C. Viray of Waipahu, who was killed in a helicopter crash in Afghanistan, and was buried in these hallowed grounds this month.
Americans like those who died alongside him in that crash:
Chief Warrant Officer 2 Nicholas S. Johnson, of San Diego, California;
Specialist Dean R. Shaffer of Pekin, Illinois;
and Specialist Chris J. Workman of Boise, Idaho.
We must never forget them.
Memorial Day is about remembering and honoring the sacrifices of the past. It is also an opportunity to appreciate the present, and to look forward and rekindle our hope for a more secure and peaceful world.
Our military men and women are an essential part of our community here on Oahu.
The U.S. Pacific Command, headquartered at Camp Smith in Honolulu, oversees forces operating in an area of responsibility from the U.S. west coast to the western border of India, and from Antarctica to the North Pole.
The 25th Infantry Division, based at Schofield Barracks in Wahiawa, has served our nation since before World War II, and was the last Division Headquarters in Iraq.
Marine Corps Base Hawaii is a vital part of Kaneohe, U.S. Coast Guard Sector Honolulu keeps our ports and waterways safe, and the Navy and Air Force at Joint Base Pearl Harbor-Hickam are a huge contributor to our security, as well as our economy.
These service men and women are our friends and neighbors.
It is often said that the price of freedom is eternal vigilance. And that is true. But it is also true that skilled diplomacy and genuine good will can at times be more effective than war.
We must remain strong and resolute in the defense of our nation. But we must also strive to avoid conflict and protect lives through peaceful means. Indeed, the honor and memory of our nation’s fallen demand nothing less.
Honolulu is uniquely positioned to facilitate both military preparedness and international dialogue. And that famous harbor not far from here will always evoke powerful memories of tragedy and resilience.
It is my sincere hope that our city will always continue to foster peace and security.
On this day, I’d like to share with you the story of an American soldier. Private Ernest Uno was born in Salt Lake City, and grew up in Los Angeles. In 1942, as World War II raged, he enlisted in the Army and was soon sent to fight in Europe.
In 1944, he wrote from Italy to his sister, Mae:
“There isn’t much I could tell you, except that I am well. Things I can’t write about are in the newspapers, and over the radio anyway.
“One thing I do like to talk about, is the people here. Their welfare, and their conduct with the presence of Allied Troops in their towns, instead of the dreaded Germans.
“Being part of front line troops we are usually the first to march thru the towns which have cost so much blood and sweat to liberate. But the people are not ungrateful.
“They know that when we come, we mean to stay. That means that the war is over for them, and an end has come to their long oppression. As soon as we enter we are showered with all they have to spare – wine, water, and fruits. And many times, they wait along the roadside to offer us warm, fresh milk.
“What they have to give is simple and little but when you’re tired from lack of sleep, worn out from fighting without rest, dirty and unshaven, you accept their gifts with a lump in your throat. The poor peasants never asked for this hell, and they want to make good our sufferings.
“There was one time while we were fighting, that a sniper killed one of our men. A woman saw him die, and she sat by his body and wept. Maybe she had a son once, who knows? But she refused to leave his body, and between tears, she tried to tell us how horrible it was to see an American soldier die for their sake.”
Private Uno wrote that he sincerely believed in fighting to free others from oppression, so that future generations could live in peace, and know the true meaning of freedom.
His sister received his letter in what was called the Amache, Colorado, War Relocation Camp. For she and their parents were among the thousands of Americans of Japanese Ancestry who were incarcerated in such camps during the war, considered untrustworthy solely because of their ethnicity.
While he was held in that same camp with his family, Private Uno had volunteered to fight for his country. He joined the 442nd Regimental Combat Team, along with thousands of Nisei volunteers from Hawaii.
He survived the war, had a long career in community service with the YMCA, became an Episcopal pastor here on Oahu, and served as chaplain of the 442nd Veterans Club. He passed away in 2007, and is buried here at Punchbowl.
One of the places the 442nd helped to free from Nazi tyranny was a town in France, called Bruyères.
The people of Bruyères have never forgotten those brave Americans who brought an end to their nightmare.
Last year, we welcomed to Honolulu Hale a visiting delegation from Bruyères, which is one of our 28 sister cities around the world.
Two men who were present during the hellish battle for Bruyères in 1944 had initiated the sister-city relationship after a chance meeting years later.
Wilbert S. “Sandy” Holck, a 442nd veteran from Honolulu, visited Bruyères with his wife Chisato, and their six young children in the late 1950s.
Communication was very difficult until Gerard Deschaseaux, a Bruyèran who understood some English, was summoned to meet with the Americans. Holck and Deschaseaux hit it off immediately and they and their families would become lifelong friends.
The men worked together to convince their respective city governments to form the Bruyères-Honolulu sister-city relationship, which was officially established in 1961. Holck later served as a member of the Honolulu City Council from 1974 to 1978. He passed away in 1999, and is buried at the Hawaii State Veterans Cemetery in Kaneohe.
Last year, Holck’s son, Willard Holck, recalled a historic photo of his father meeting Deschaseaux in Bruyères for the very first time:
“In that moment, I’m in my father’s arms and my brother Wilbert stands waist high next to him. We’re just kids. Monsieur Deschaseaux is smiling and is extending his hand to my father in a greeting. After that handshake, they would become lifelong friends, and our respective families have been very close ever since. The sister-city relationship, really, is part of both families. Our fathers created it. Their children continue to perpetuate it.”
Today, it is my hope that future generations will continue to perpetuate such friendships made possible by the efforts—and in far too many cases, the blood—of our fathers and mothers.
Today, there is much basis for optimism to complement our nation’s vigilance. Conflicts that produced incredible sorrow and sacrifice years ago have given way to friendships as well as partnerships, and provide hope for the future.
It no doubt seemed incomprehensible in 1941 to suppose that the United States would soon enjoy strong relationships with Japan and Germany. And in 1975, who knew that Vietnam would later welcome American investment and conduct training exercises with the American military?
We have, indeed, much to look forward to. As we embrace hope for our future, let us remember and honor each and every person who has made the ultimate sacrifice in our defense.
They answered the call of duty and served our great nation in all corners of the globe:
From Kaheohe to Pearl Harbor;
From the frozen forests of Europe to the steaming jungles of Asia;
And from the sun-baked sands of the Middle East to the windswept waters of the North Atlantic.
They served our nation far above the clouds and deep beneath the waves.
They were parents, siblings, sons and daughters.
They were farmers and factory workers, teachers and accountants, doctors, nurses, welders, journalists and lawyers.
And for our nation, they became warriors.
We remember each of them today. And we remember all those resting on foreign shores and at the bottom of the seas.
We remember those who perished in combat and those who were starved in captivity; those who remain missing in action; those who came home to become great leaders; and those who were never quite whole again.
We owe a place in our hearts to those who have served our nation.
Let us continue to hope for a more peaceful future, and let us strive to attain that goal, as elusive as it may seem. We owe no less to those whom we honor here today.
And God bless America.