Governor speaks at Memorial Day ceremony in Hilo

By JOHN BURNETT

By JOHN BURNETT

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Tribune-Herald staff writer

About 200 people gathered Monday at East Hawaii Veterans Cemetery No. 1 in Hilo to honor the memories of the men and women who gave their lives fighting America’s wars.

The commemoration, organized by the Camp Tarawa Detachment of the Marine Corps League, featured an address by Gov. Neil Abercrombie, who said that “until today” the governor had traditionally spoken on Memorial Day at the Hawaii State Veterans Cemetery in Kaneohe, Oahu.

“I felt that it was important that the neighbor islands be taken into account, for sure. Um, I’m a politician,” Abercrombie quipped, to laughter and applause from those present. “But more than that, I felt it was very, very important for the governor — not me personally, but whoever is governor — to acknowledge in as many venues as possible what the Memorial Day is all about in terms of our commitment to each other.”

Abercrombie praised the sacrifices of the “citizen soldiers” in the Pacific Theater during World War II, and made references to the Pearl Harbor attack and the bloody battles fought mainly by the Marine Corps on Wake Island and Iwo Jima.

“We here in the Pacific understand what Memorial Day is all about. This is why we are gathered here today,” Abercrombie said. “We’re engaged in a ritual. Many of you have done ceremonies like this over time as I have. Why do we do it? Why do we come back again and again? We know what’s going to take place. We’ve been through it before. So why do we do it? Why do human beings engage in rituals? Because ritual is the great conserver of values. That’s what this is about. This is an understanding of our values made real in our everyday lives.”

Lt. Col Rolland C. “Chris” Niles, commander of the Army’s Pohakuloa Training Center, called Memorial Day “an opportunity to take action in a way that honors the sacrifices of those who died so that we might live free.”

“For us, it is a lei that symbolizes our respect and honor and love,” Niles said. “… Our honor and commemoration of these veterans today is in the shadow of our Army’s most decorated unit. The 442nd Regimental Combat Team epitomized this sacrifice with over 20 Congressional Medal of Honor winners, 52 Distinguished Service Crosses, 560 Silver Stars, 28 Oak Leaf Clusters to the Silver Star, 4,000 Bronze Stars and 1,200 Oak Leaf Clusters to the Bronze Stars — and perhaps most telling of all, 9,486 Purple Hearts. Last year, (the 100th Infantry Battalion of the 442nd) was recognized with the Congressional Gold Medal. … So not only did these men serve their country, they demonstrated courage and sacrifice beyond measure.”

A few veterans of the 442nd, the legendary “Go For Broke” regiment of World War II comprised mostly of Japanese Americans from Hawaii, were in attendance. The youngest of those still alive are now in their late 80s. Also present were veterans of the conflicts in Korea, Vietnam, Iraq and Afghanistan. Many wore garrison caps identifying them as members of organizations including the Veterans of Foreign Wars, American Legion and Disabled American Veterans.

Retired Marine Corps Master Sgt. Brian Jordan, who donned his uniform for the occasion, made note of the dignitaries present.

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“Of all the distinguished guests here, the real distinguished guests are behind me,” he said, referring to those who lay at rest in the veterans cemetery.

Email John Burnett at jburnett@hawaiitribune-herald.com.