One woman's efforts over several years secures a memorial to four WWI soldiers
POSTED: 1:30 a.m. HST, Nov 7, 2010
LAST UPDATED: 1:15 a.m. HST, Nov 10, 2010
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Lei Kahanu Girelli wept through the entire ceremony commemorating a memorial stone for four World War I veterans whose tombstones had been removed from an Alewa Heights cemetery over the years.
Girelli remembers seeing tombstones at the top of the hill near the entrance to Puukamalii Cemetery when she was a girl.
Several years ago, during a visit to the cemetery, where both of her parents are buried, Girelli noticed a cluster of tombstones at the bottom of the hill near a shed and figured that some graves in the cemetery were unmarked.
Girelli set about trying to draw attention to the unidentified veterans' graves by placing flags on all the plots and hanging a sign, "Don't forget World War I vets," which she made small enough to fit on the fence along the tiny cemetery.
U.S. Sen. Daniel Akaka helped get approval for the group marker from the U.S. Department of Veterans' Affairs National Cemetery Administration.
He spoke at a ceremony unveiling the memorial stone yesterday at the National Memorial Cemetery of the Pacific at Punchbowl and explained how Girelli enlisted the help of Solomon Kam of the Veterans of Foreign Wars Diamond Head Chapter to create the memorial.
"They sought to restore the veterans' memory and their honor," Akaka said. "This morning, a few short days before Veterans Day, we come together as a community to answer their call that 'we never forget.'"
"This is just beyond words," Girelli said after the ceremony. "I cannot speak of it. I was crying all through the ceremony. I didn't know this was going to happen."
After years of working to have the veterans identified at the cemetery, Girelli, 81, said she did it because she felt someone should remember the soldiers.
"I thought that was ridiculous for somebody to disrespect the graves of the World War I boys, because my brother was a World War II veteran," she said.
The memorial stone lists the four veterans' names: Cpl. Alexander Kahuli, Pvt. Punilei Moole, Pvt. John Palakiko and Cpl. George Kaninau.
Above the names, an inscription says their final resting places remain unknown, although they are somewhere in the cemetery.
Genealogist Fran McFarland spent nine months searching for descendants of the four soldiers. She said families for each soldier came yesterday, including one family member who flew from Kauai to represent the family of Moole.
The family of Cpl. Alexander Kahuli brought six generations of descendants to the ceremony.
Kapio Kahuli-Apo, Kahuli's great-granddaughter, said that in the past she tried to find Kahuli's gravestone with Kahuli's daughter, who lives in Pennsylvania and is 85 years old. But the gravestone was in a hole and was found with the other soldier's tombstones after Girelli had her grandsons dig them up.
"I feel honored," she said. "I feel happy that she was able to accomplish (the memorial stone) and she never gave up," Kahuli-Apo said. "I think if she wouldn't have found the headstones, today wouldn't have happened at all."