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Dignitaries from Japan, South Korea visit Punchbowl

By Gregg K. Kakesako

LAST UPDATED: 4:16 p.m. HST, Nov 12, 2011

 Two top Asian leaders — South Korean President Lee Myung-bak and Japanese Prime Yoshihiko Noda  — made their first official visits to the National Memorial Cemetery of the Pacific at Punchbowl this morning, paying tribute to America's servicemembers and their families.

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

They made separate visits to Punchbowl with only Lee, who was elected in 2008, stopping after the wreath-laying ceremony to address the small crowd of veterans invited to attend the late-morning ceremony. The cemetery was closed from 8 to 11 a.m. for security reasons.

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

Speaking through an interpreter, Lee  thanked the Korean War veterans for their service, saying because of the bitter Korean War "we are blood brothers."

"Many comrades that you fought alongside in Korea and many of your friends have not made it back home," Lee said. "We are very happy to see all of you here.

"Korea and the United States are a relationship that has been borne out of the tensions of war. We are blood brothers."

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

Richard Higa, treasurer of Korean War Veterans Chapter 1, said his group appreciates Lee's recognition of what American veterans did in Korea. "It shows that our loss there has not been in vain."

Higa said Hawaii had 456 servicemembers killed in action in Korea, their names 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 servicemembers who have never been identified.

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

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