Friday, October 9, 2015         

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Leaders pay tribute at Punchbowl

By Gregg K. Kakesako


Two of Asia's top leaders -- South Korean President Lee Myung-bak and Japanese Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda -- made their first official visits to the National Memorial Cemetery of the Pacific Saturday morning and paid tribute to America's service members and their families.

Both Lee, 69, and Noda, 55, are in the islands to attend Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation meetings this weekend in Waikiki and at Ko Olina.

They made separate visits to Punchbowl. The cemetery was closed from 8 to 11 a.m. for security reasons.

"Korea and the United States are in a relationship that has been born out of the tensions of war," Lee told a small group of Korean War veterans. "We are blood brothers."

Noda arrived at Punchbowl first, at 8 a.m. in a nine-car motorcade.

Greeting him were cemetery Director Gene Castagnetti, Mayor Peter Carlisle, and Maj. Gen. Peter Pawling and Brig. Gen John Hicks of the Pacific Command.

Noda, who assumed the prime minister's post from Naoto Kan in September, stayed for 17 minutes at the cemetery in the extinct volcanic crater where more than 53,000 service members and their family members are buried.

He did not speak, but did sign the official guest book after laying a wreath of green anthuriums and yellow orchids. Marine Sgt. Israel Alvarez helped Noda place the floral tribute before the cemetery's dedicatory stone.

As taps echoed off the walls of the 110-acre crater, a light drizzle drifted over the fewer than 25 people attending.

After the ceremony, Pawling thanked Noda for his country's "friendship, teamwork and support."

Lee arrived at 10 a.m., greeted by Carlisle, Castagnetti and Rear Adms. Paul Becker and Robin Watters, representing the Pacific Command.

Lee placed a wreath of dark red anthuriums, yellow daisies and white chrysanthemums before addressing more than 20 Korean War veterans from the 5th Regimental Combat Team, the Korean War Veterans Aloha Chapter and the Korean War Veterans Chapter 1.

Speaking through an interpreter, Lee thanked the veterans for their service.

"Many comrades that you fought alongside in Korea and many of your friends have not made it back home," said Lee, a former mayor of Seoul who was elected president in 2008. "We are very happy to see all of you here."

Richard Higa, treasurer of Korean War Veterans Chapter 1, said his group appreciates Lee's recognition of what Americans did in Korea.

"It shows that our loss there has not been in vain."

Cemetery officials said there are more than 34,000 Americans who served in the Korean War buried at Punchbowl.

Higa said 456 Hawaii service members were killed in action in Korea, and their names are inscribed on one wall of the Korean and Vietnam War Memorial at the state Capitol.

After the 20-minute wreath-laying ceremony, Lee and his party stopped by a section of Punchbowl that contains the remains of 863 service members who have never been identified.

Both Lee and Noda were given the appropriate cannon salutes when their motorcades arrived -- 21 rounds for Lee as the head of state and 19 for Noda as prime minister. Thirty-eight soldiers from Bravo Battery, 2nd Battalion, 11th Field Artillery, 2nd Brigade Combat Team, 25th Infantry Division, rendered the official cannon salute in both instances.

A seven-member Air Force honor guard from Joint Base Pearl Harbor-Hickam provided a 21-shot rifle salute at the end of both ceremonies.

On Friday, Australian Prime Minister Julia Gillard, one of the 21 world leaders here for APEC, participated in Punchbowl's annual Veterans Day services and was among the more than 40 dignitaries and veterans organizations that offered floral tributes. Initially, Philippine President Benigno Aquino III also was to lay a wreath at Punchbowl, but his visit was canceled.

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