WAILUKU >> As hundreds of people paid tribute to veterans during a Memorial Day service at the Maui Veterans Cemetery, a Hawaii National Guard official said that a $6 million cemetery expansion project will honor veterans’ sacrifices even more.
“Upon completion, the appearance of Maui Veterans Cemetery will achieve shrine (status) . . . and will demonstrate that the nation appreciates their selfless service,” said Col. Kenneth Hara, deputy adjutant general of the Hawaii National Guard, The Maui News (http://bit.ly/1dyseNH) reported Tuesday.
Hara was keynote speaker at the annual program that included a flower drop over flag-decorated graves and the reading of the names of 79 veterans who were buried in the cemetery during the past year.
“For over 60 years, Americans have come here to pay tribute to our heroes who have faithfully served our country,” Hara said. “It is fitting that the final resting place for these heroes is such a serene and resting place.”
He said it is estimated that the cemetery, established in 1951, will run out of room in less than a year.
But the purchase of 10 additional acres and the funding secured by agencies working together will provide an additional 500 crypts and 400 burial spaces, as well as 50 additional paved parking spaces and 100 unpaved parking spaces, Hara said.
Hara, whose family is from Hilo, said he is part of a “proud tradition” of service that includes his Vietnam War veteran father, his brothers and now his son. Including cousins and uncles, Hara said that his family members have more than 300 years of combined military service.
“What I thought about was commitment and sacrifice – not on my part but everyone else,” Hara said.
He said that before 9/11, when soldiers were asked why they joined, many would have said it was for benefits such as a college education.
“After 9/11, that all changed,” Hara said. “When you talk to those young people now, they said, ‘I join to serve my country.’
“Now the quality of the individuals is better. They’re serving for the right reason. They’re serving their country.”
Hundreds of people turned out for the service, many with family members buried at the cemetery.
“I always brought my dad here, I brought him every year,” said Haiku resident Sally Iwankiw, whose father was a World War II veteran. “He passed three years ago, so we’re now bringing the kids.”
Among those with her Monday were her granddaughter and 2-year-old great granddaughter, Alohilani.
Wailuku resident Chad Apana, attending the service for the first time, brought flowers for his grandfather Carl Apana, a World War II veteran, as well as two uncles from Lahaina. “One of them taught me fishing when I was little,” Apana said.
He said he was remembering them as well as other veterans.
“I have a few friends in the military that are overseas,” Apana said.
As part of the program, Bill Staton asked people also to remember the thousands of unaccounted-for Americans who are missing in action or prisoners of war from World War II through the Gulf War.
“Their memorial might look like over 80,000 dog tags hanging from a barbed-wire fence,” he said.
Korean War veterans from all branches of the military helped with parking and setting up the program.
“It’s a very nice occasion and we thank all the people for participating,” said Richard Tavares, who served in the Marine Corps during the Korean War.