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1,000 people attend Veterans Day service

By William Cole

LAST UPDATED: 4:59 p.m. HST, Nov 11, 2013

About 1,000 people came to the National Memorial Cemetery of the Pacific at Punchbowl on Veterans Day today to pay respect to past and present military members for their service to the nation.

The ceremony took place at the base of the Honolulu Memorial and its grand staircase flanked by inscribed named of missing Americans from World War II, the Korean War and Vietnam War.

U.S. Rep. Tulsi Gabbard, a Hawaii Army National Guard member and one of only two female combat veterans in Congress, said "as we celebrate Veterans Day, there are millions of Americans all across the country and around the world who celebrate with us."

Some lay a wreath or flowers at a grave and pay tribute to those who have made the ultimate sacrifice, she said. Others stop to shake the hand of a service member and express their gratitude.

"But collectively, we say 'Mahalo' on behalf of a grateful nation forever indebted to our fallen warriors and their families and for all who continue to serve," Gabbard said. "This is a debt that is impossible for us to perfectly repay."

Akira Okamoto, 92, recalled his days as an Army Staff sergeant with the highly-decorated 442nd Regimental Combat Team of mostly nisei soldiers of Japanese descent who fought valiantly in Italy, France and Germany in World War II.

"We were so close together -- they are like our family," he said of his fellow soldiers in Cannon Company.

"Me and my partner used to go behind enemy lines and look for targets to support the infantry," said the one-time forward observer. "When I think of that today, I am lucky to be alive. We had a lot of close calls."

Over 40 members of his former company are buried at Punchbowl, said Okamoto, who was in a wheelchair.

So is his father, a World War I veteran, as well as two brothers and a sister.

"I think about all my brothers, my family," Okamoto said of his thoughts on Veterans Day.

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