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City hoping graduation lei will help fill Memorial Day need

By Robert Shikina

LAST UPDATED: 8:18 a.m. HST, May 21, 2014

City officials are hoping high school graduates will donate lei from commencement ceremonies to the annual Memorial Day tribute to soldiers buried at the National Memorial Cemetery of the Pacific at Punchbowl.

"Every lei helps," said Jeanne Ishikawa, deputy director of the city Department of Parks and Recreation, which is organizing the annual effort. "I think it's a gracious gesture ... we have so many freedoms because of those who served before us."

Officials are asking for 38,000 lei by this weekend. On Sunday, members of the Boy Scouts will place a lei and an American flag at each grave site in the cemetery. On Monday, the 65th annual Mayor's Memorial Day Service will be held at the cemetery at 8:30 a.m. The event is open to the public. 

Since the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs took over Punchbowl in September 1973, some graves lacked flowers for Memorial Day just once. Ishikawa said every year's a "nail-biter." This year, officials are hoping that with many high school graduations slated for Friday or Saturday, graduates will fill the need.

The city is reaching out to a few schools by way of Project Grad programs, which usually limit participants to wearing one lei.

"We're hoping that they will consider collecting lei and then donating them to the Memorial Day ceremony," Ishikawa said. "Any graduation that's happing on Friday night or Saturday night, we would totally welcome the donation."

Extra lei will donated to the Hawaii State Veterans Cemetery in Kaneohe.

Willie Hirokane, operations manager at the state veterans cemetery, said there hasn't been enough lei for every grave site at the state cemetery since he started there about six years ago. With typically a few hundred to a couple thousand lei for the 9,000 grave sites, the cemetery rotates the placement of lei each year.

"In the last couple of years, we've been seeing zero," he said of lei coming from Punchbowl. "We just make do with whatever we can get."

A Girl Scout delivered several hundred lei last year after collecting them as a part of her own project at Windward Mall, Hirokane said.

Donated lei must be made of fresh flowers or ti leaves and measure 20 to 24 inches before tying.

Lei can be given to Punchbowl staff from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. Saturday and 8 a.m. to noon Sunday or dropped off at designated city parks and fire stations on Friday and Saturday. 

The donation schedule can be found at

For additional information, call 768-3002.

Shuttles to Monday's Punchbowl ceremony will leave from Alapai Express Bus Terminal from 7 to 8 a.m. for regular bus fare or with a bus pass. Parking at the Civic Center parking lot will be free.

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