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Hawaii News

A lei for each grave

Dan Nakaso
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BRUCE ASATO / basato@staradvertiser.com

Brady Kaya, 7, of Cub Scout Pack 488 in Newtown placed ti leaf lei on grave markers Sunday at the National Memorial Cemetery of the Pacific at Punchbowl. Hundreds of Scouts participated in the annual "A Good Turn" event to decorate every grave for today's Memorial Day services.

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BRUCE ASATO / basato@staradvertiser.com

Matthew Looney, 12, of Scout Troop 195 placed a lei Sunday on a grave marker at the National Memorial Cemetery of the Pacific at Punchbowl.

Thanks to a last-minute outpouring of public support, American heroes interred at the National Memorial Cemetery of the Pacific at Punchbowl each have a commemorative lei to mark their service this Memorial Day.

Some 50,000 lei were needed to ensure that each fallen service member is individually honored today. On Saturday, city officials issued a call for volunteers to help make up a 15,000-lei deficit.

"It’s important that we decorate each grave and remember our veterans," said cemetery director Gene Castagnetti, a retired Marine. "The way we as a nation honor our war dead speaks volumes about us as a society."

"We now have enough lei for every grave site," said Susan Fishbein, a spokeswoman for the regional Veterans Affairs office that includes Hawaii. "We really thank the community for coming through for our veterans. This was a great community effort."

Only once have some graves lacked flowers for Memorial Day since the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs took over Punchbowl in September 1973, Fishbein said.

Castagnetti said that last year there were so many lei that Punchbowl ended up giving 6,000 of the flower garlands to the Hawaii State Veterans Cemetery in Kaneohe for Memorial Day.

Punchbowl officials had been asking for fresh flower or ti leaf lei of 20 to 24 inches long to be donated by noon Sunday. Had the minimum count not been met, they were prepared to accept lei of any type or length even after today’s ceremonies.

Like hundreds of other Cub Scouts and Boy Scouts who fanned out across Punchbowl on Sunday, nine Scouts from Moanalua Cub Scout Pack 9 placed miniature U.S. flags at the headstones in Section Q, followed by 20 older scouts from Moanalua’s Troop 9, carrying flower lei.

Travis Kon, 9, had performed the ritual before of placing a lei, then standing and saluting in a sign of respect.

When his arms were finally empty of lei on Sunday, Travis said it would be unfair for only some graves to have flowers.

"We need to show respect for the people who fight in war," he said.

Cub Scout Dylan Cox, 7, presented 30 lei at Punchbowl for the first time on Sunday.

And when he was done, Dylan said he understood the need to honor each grave marker with a lei.

"They died trying to protect our country," he said.

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