POSTED: 1:30 a.m. HST, Dec 23, 2012
LAST UPDATED: 6:24 a.m. HST, Dec 23, 2012
Today's memorial service for U.S. Sen. Daniel Inouye at the National Memorial Cemetery of the Pacific at Punchbowl is open to the public, but hundreds fewer people will be able to attend than originally anticipated, a cemetery official said Saturday.
President Barack Obama's attendance at the service, along with the presence of 20 members of Congress and several international dignitaries, are some of the reasons the cemetery has been forced to ramp up security and significantly restrict the number of people allowed onto the premises.
"The number right now hasn't been nailed down, but it's certainly not going to be as open as was originally intended," cemetery spokeswoman Nadine Siak said Saturday. "It's certainly not just because of the president, but I have to say that's an element that has made the situation different than it was originally."
Siak said the cemetery first planned on setting up 1,000 chairs with additional space for people to stand. The number of attendees instead will be "in the hundreds," she said.
Large public events held at the cemetery each year, such as the Veterans Day Ceremony in November, can draw 1,500 people or more.
Those hoping to attend the memorial service have been instructed to gather at the Alapai Transit Center to board buses that will shuttle them to and from the cemetery. The free shuttle service, which will include Handi-Vans for riders with mobility difficulties, will begin at 7 a.m. and run until 9 a.m., or whenever maximum capacity is reached. The Punchbowl service will begin at 10 a.m.
The Department of Veteran Affairs at Punchbowl announced Saturday that tickets will be distributed at the Alapai Transit Center parking garage on a first-come, first-served basis, and only people with tickets who ride the dedicated buses will be allowed into the cemetery. People in private vehicles and walk-ins will not be allowed into Punchbowl today, and there will be no shuttle service from schools or other locations.
Airport-like security will be set up at the transit center, so the VA is urging people to bring as few personal items as possible. Bags, sharp objects, umbrellas, liquids other than bottled water, and signs will not be allowed, but bottled water, cameras and cellphones will be permitted.
Siak said the city will be providing at least six buses to shuttle people, and Hawaii Tourism Authority has donated the use of three additional buses.
TheBus noted on its website that only 800 people will be allowed into the cemetery and service will stop when maximum capacity is reached.
Siak said she isn't sure where TheBus obtained that specific number, but would not estimate how many people will be accommodated.
DANIEL INOUYE MEMORIAL SERVICE
National Memorial Cemetery of the Pacific Today, 10 a.m.
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Wayne Yoshioka, director of the city Department of Transportation Services, which runs TheBus, said he could not comment on the restrictions because Secret Service officials instructed the city to forward all inquiries to Punchbowl officials.
Gary Hashimoto of Waipahu said he understands that security needs to be increased for the president, but he thinks it's unfortunate that last-minute plans have been made to restrict the event after officials announced that it would be very open to the public.
"Sen. Inouye paved the way for a lot of people," Hashimoto said. "I'm guessing there's probably thousands of regular folk like me that want to attend, and that's going to be difficult if not impossible to have happen now."
Siak said people sometimes mistake Punchbowl for a wide-open park because of its lack of raised headstones.
"We do have limited space because we can't really have people standing on peoples' graves," she said. "Because the headstones are so beautiful, people sometimes think it's a park."
In addition, she said the cemetery is going to be packed with dignitaries and the motorcades of cars that accompany each of them, along with military security equipment, and there needs to be room for emergency vehicles to enter and exit the grounds should the need arise. Full military honors will also be observed during the service, which includes the firing of cannons that have to be situated a safe distance away from the crowd.
"Trying to figure out how we can get more people in is one of my greatest concerns," Siak said. "And we're working very hard to enable the greatest number of people to see this historic event in person."
Officials say Obama does not plan to speak at the ceremony this morning.
Inouye's family has asked that there be no flowers at the event.
In lieu of flowers, contributions can be made to the Daniel K. Inouye Fund, care of the Hawai‘i Community Foundation. The ongoing fund was established at the request of his widow, Irene Hirano Inouye. Contributions now or in the future can be mailed to the Daniel K. Inouye Fund, Hawai‘i Community Foundation, 827 Fort Street Mall, Honolulu, HI96813; or at www.hawaiicommunityfoundation.org.
Inouye's arrival at the ceremony will be marked with a 19-gun cannon salute. A missing-man flyover will be conducted by F-22 Raptor fighter jets of the Hawaii Air National Guard.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.