Sponsored by:

Comment, blog & share photos

Log in | Become a member
The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Monday, November 12, 2001

New breed of veterans honored at Punchbowl

By Walter Wright
Advertiser Staff Writer

Hawai'i honored soldiers of a new war yesterday in somber and stirring Veterans Day ceremonies held two months to the day after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks.

John Lessary Jr., whose hand was injured in a grenade attack during the Korean War, offers a salute at the Veterans Day ceremony at National Memorial Cemetery of the Pacific at Punchbowl.

Jeff Widener • The Honolulu Advertiser

Airliners that struck the World Trade Center towers and the Pentagon that day may have changed the way Americans live, speakers said, but they have not dampened America's spirit.

From Punchbowl Crater under pelting rain to a wind-whipped state cemetery in the shadow of the Ko'olau, hundreds of citizens jumped to their feet yesterday to applaud veterans whose sacrifice seemed more vivid now that the front lines are in our own back yards.

Firefighters and policemen who died in New York, and the brave band of passengers who stopped terrorists from hitting their target with a fourth jet-liner, were added to the pantheon of American warriors called Minutemen, Yankees, Rough Riders, Doughboys and GIs.

"On this very day a brief two months ago," Retired Army Gen. Fred Weyand told more than 500 citizens at the National Memorial Cemetery of the Pacific at Punchbowl, "thousands of Americans, as well as several hundred others from over 50 countries, were torn apart, crushed or burned to death."

A holiday created to celebrate the armistice of the "war to end all wars," Weyand said, now remembers veterans of a brutal Sept. 11 attack that reveals "the barbarism that lurks just beneath the surface of Western civilization."

Vic Hayman, a member of Normandy Veterans, wore his medals at yesterday's Veterans Day ceremonies at the National Memorial Cemetery of the Pacific.

Jeff Widener • The Honolulu Advertiser

A "group of depraved, malevolent assassins under the direction of Osama Bin Laden" have reminded the world once more, Weyand said, "that civilized behavior is like a thin veneer" that must be protected and passed on in each generation or "give way to barbarism in all of its evil forms."

Weyand, a former Army chief of staff who served in World War II, Korea and Vietnam, said America should never again take some sort of strange pride in being regarded as a "sleeping giant," because the cost of each awakening "has been paid in the blood and lives of too many of the American veterans whom we honor this morning."

Weyand, 85, said he is sure that America will win this war.

So did Col. Frank Steer of Kailua, a World War I veteran who remembers when weapons of mass destruction were mustard gas and phosgene in the fields of France.

The Veterans Day ceremony at the National Memorial Cemetery of the Pacific drew hundreds of people.

Jeff Widener • The Honolulu Advertiser

Dozens queued up to shake the hand of the 100-year-old Steer, who sat in a wheelchair, the French Legion of Honor and the U. S. Pearl Harbor Survivors decorations hanging from ribbons around his neck.

Both attacks, Steer said matter-of-factly, were "both very clever military actions, and very successful, very well planned. We let our pants hang out a little. They surprised us completely and they are still surprising us.

"We are going to win, but we are going to lose one hell of a lot of foot soldiers," Steer predicted. "The Air Force will help some, but if you are going to win you've got to use your foot troops."

At the Hawai'i State Veterans Cemetery in Kane'ohe, red white and blue ribbon lei were abundant. Master of ceremonies Retired Brig. Gen. Irwin Cockett said it was hard to realize, while gazing out at the ancient Ko'olau range, that on Sept. 11 "our whole world changed, and, for many, their world ended."

It was the veterans of yesterday, Cockett said, who laid the foundation for freedom that the warriors of today are defending.

The new warriors, State Adjutant Maj. Gen. Edward Correa Jr. said, include the police and firefighters and public safety and even postal workers, as well as "those great patriots who prevented a jet from hitting its target Sept. 11 when they stormed the cockpit."

Lt. Gov. Mazie Hirono, representing Gov. Ben Cayetano at the ceremony at the cemetery, said Hawai'i's "spirit of giving, peace and unending aloha are important to the healing and support needed by our fellow man."