Candlelight vigil honors those still MIA
by Suzanne Roig
Advertiser Staff Writer
Some came to remember one person, others one too many, but all believe Memorial Day is the day to reflect on those who made the ultimate sacrifice in the name of freedom.
Last night, as the sun set over Honolulu, a lone orange and white U.S. Coast Guard helicopter cast its search lights onto the lawn of the National Memorial Cemetery of the Pacific at Punchbowl in a symbolic gesture of looking for an MIA as part of the 29th annual Vietnam Veterans Memorial Day Eve Candlelight ceremony.
"It's great that people still care," said Chris Abbatiello, a Mākaha resident who served in the Air Force from 1975 to 1980. "I come to the Memorial Day ceremony every year. This is for the men and woman who didn't make it back."
About 300 bikers rumbled up Punchbowl in a noisy reminder of the freedom that is a right for all Americans. The bikers made their journey en masse from Kaka'ako Waterfront Park to the cemetery as a mini-Rolling Thunder, similar to the nationwide motorcycle ride reminding everyone not to forget members of the military still missing in action or listed as prisoners of war.
"I participate to honor the soldiers who gave their life and fought for freedom," said John Young, a 62-year-old Mililani resident. "Today is for the Vietnam veterans. War always stays with you."
As small American flags fluttered in the breeze, Civil Air Patrol cadets from Hickam, Wheeler and West O'ahu composite squadrons carried wreaths in remembrance to a dedication monument at the base of the Honolulu memorial.
U.S. Sen. Daniel K. Inouye, the only World War II veteran at the ceremony last night, said that he was proud to be an American who served his country.
"I will always have gratitude in my heart for those who stood up for (Americans)," Inouye said. "To all of you who have served in Vietnam, I salute you."
The keynote speaker for the two-hour ceremony, retired Brig. Gen. Jerome Hagen, reminded the audience that there were thousands of soldiers buried in cemeteries around the globe who should be remembered, too.
Hagen flew 483 combat missions in an A4 Skyhawk during the Vietnam War, earned the Silver Star, wrote the book, "War in the Pacific," and is now an instructor at Hawai'i Pacific University.
He spoke of how Memorial Day is a time for Americans to remember their fallen "friends, mothers, fathers, brothers, sisters, sons and daughters who gave their lives in the name of freedom. Their sacrifice is our mandate. And our challenge is to remember."