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Kokua Line

Renovation means many vases missing at Punchbowl


Question: After we finished cleaning my husband’s tombstone at the National Memorial Cemetery of the Pacific at Punchbowl, we realized the flower vase was missing. I went to the office and was told the vase contained asbestos, therefore we must purchase a new one at Oahu Cemetery for $200. They then will put that vase at my husband’s tombstone. It’s not a matter of $200, but a matter of respect and thoughtfulness. Why can’t my husband, a retired captain with the 100th Battalion, who was wounded in Italy in World War II, have his own vase?

Answer: There was a major misunderstanding.

Every family is allowed to place its own vase at a grave site but is responsible for its care and maintenance.

The national cemetery’s policy is that it is “not responsible for safeguarding, maintaining or repair of these vases, unless we are directly responsible for its damage,” Director Gene Castagnetti said.

The cemetery does not sell or profit from the sale of vases, he said. Instead, it provides families with a list of vendors, which includes Oahu Cemetery.

“The (Punchbowl) cemetery gets nothing, and we put in the vase at no charge to the next of kin,” Castagnetti said. “But once in the ground, we can’t take responsibility for it.”

Families are not required to purchase any vase, he said, and Punchbowl provides “temporary vases” at no charge.

Unfortunately, your vase is one of thousands of vases and in-ground containers that have been found to be badly deteriorated or, worse, to contain asbestos, during Punchbowl’s continuing “grave marker renovation project.”

The project is one-third complete and involves “cleaning, raising, realigning grave markers and the associated personally owned in-ground vases,” Castagnetti said.

(The project began in 2009, but the original contractor was “terminated … because of a lack of performance to the standards they were supposed to attain,” he said. The new contractor, meanwhile, is “doing extremely well.”)

The problem is with older vases that have been subjected to “all types of environmental conditions from surface water, irrigation, pesticides, fertilizers … and they deteriorate over the years,” he said.

The other problem is with vases that were manufactured with asbestos. In the case of your vase, the inner sheath had deteriorated, then found to have asbestos.

Because asbestos is a hazardous material, employees are instructed to immediately remove a vase so asbestos fibers don’t get into the air or be ingested, then to dispose of it.

 “Then we send the next of kin a letter,” Castagnetti said, noting responsibility for any replacement lies with the family.

“Because there are more than 10,000 vases in the cemetery, we don’t go and check (each vase) for serviceability, until there is something like this (grave renovation) project,” he said.


Castagnetti asked Kokua Line to help notify Punchbowl families that many in-ground containers, where vases are supported, have deteriorated.

“We will dispose of them, but if they would like to come in advance, they can at least pick up the serviceable portion before we dispose of it,” he said. The problem is that there are “just too many people to send letters out to.”

So far, “we’ve got a thousand of these taken out of the ground that are all in different stages of deterioration,” he said.

They’ve been held in storage for six months to a year, because family members apparently don’t come to the grave sites anymore and there is no contact information.

Families wishing to recover their vases while the renovation is going on are asked to contact the administrative office, 532-3720.

“At the completion of the renovation, if the vase and in-ground container are in a serviceable condition, we will replace (them) at no charge,” Castagnetti said.

But again, he reiterated, the cemetery is not responsible for safeguarding, repairing or maintaining any personally owned and purchased vase.

Write to “Kokua Line” at Honolulu Star-Advertiser, 7 Waterfront Plaza, Suite 210, 500 Ala Moana Blvd., Honolulu 96813; call 529-4773; fax 529-4750; or email

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