Friday, May 20, 2011

National Cemetery of the Pacific, Part 1.

A couple of weeks ago, I was on the phone with my grandfather who was asking me about my travels in Hawaii. I told him everything I'd seen so far, from surfing to my thrift store finds. He enjoyed listening, but one thing struck out at me:

"Have you been to Pearl Harbor or Punchbowl yet?" He asked. I admitted that I hadn't, but that I would go for sure.
"I think it would be a great honor if you could go visit," he said in that gentle way only Pop could. I promised I would.
I realized that it wouldn't just be an honor to pay a visit to those who were lost while serving, but it would honor Pop as well. Pop is proud man who has a love for literature, classic movies, and especially history. He was also a high school teacher for decades and although he retired two years before I began my freshman year, I could tell the love he had for his job was inspiring. All of my teachers remembered and spoke fondly of Pop. He's never stopped teaching really, since I learn something new whenever I visit him. I realized visiting Punchbowl and Pearl Harbor would not be an easy trek for Pop. I decided the best way to take him along would be though my writings and camera. And so, we begin our journey here.


Punchbowl is a cemetery that also serves as a memorial to our US Armed Forces. Thousands of people visit each year, and it is considered one of the most popular attractions in Hawaii. It's a little difficult to find though because it's on a mountainside above Honolulu. You have to travel up many winding roads and the bus that picks you up only comes hourly, so make sure you're on time for it if you ever come here. I set out early in the morning, since I knew I would probably have to make a day out of it. I remember visiting Punchbowl when I was 17, but not really comprehending what I was looking at. I wanted this time to be a completely different experience.

After I boarded the bus and went up the winding hills, I realized that the area surrounding Punchbowl was incredibly different than downtown. Full of luscious green hillside, clear blue sky, tropical flowers in full bloom, and beautiful homes, it was like heaven. The bus dropped me off at the nearest area to Punchbowl. Roosters were across the street from me. "When you're done, just come back here to the bottom of the hill." The driver told me. " I thanked her, and she drove off.

I was warned by a friendly passenger earlier that I would be doing a lot of walking up hills and stairs. She was worried. I'll take a quick detour here and describe what life is like with the locals, since this entry will make more sense that way. It's really shocking to me that passengers have begun to notice my travels everyday, and I have gotten to know them. I've never said anything about my walking difficulties and I've never let my guard down or told them much about me (most don't even know my name), but they've let me know when some travels will be challenging. They recommend places to me. They tell me the places to stay away from. They remind me to stay safe and smart, and sometimes they just say good morning. It's not something you see in New Jersey, and I'll admit it's taken me a good three weeks to adjust. Everyone knows everyone around here and you have to be ready for just about anyone to sit on the bus and strike up a conversation with you. I haven't realized just how "East Coast" I've become over the years I have lived in New Jersey, where you don't talk to people you don't know, and people don't take pause to notice others. (Not in a bad way, it's just how it is.) We're so busy rushing from one place to the next, saying "Good Morning" is forgotten. "Stranger Danger" is never far from your mind either, so it's foreign to me when I see everyone waving to one another here. I've had to remind myself to smile at people, or wave back. A couple of locals have joked I have "mainland face" (The face that doesn't smile) or they ask me why I'm sad. It's thrown me, since I'm not sad at all.

Anyhow, I quickly discovered what that passenger meant by "lots of walking."

I stayed smart and did what she told me to do, which was to rest when I needed to and take pictures in the meantime. Let me tell ya, pictures were necessary here:

Finally, I reached the front entrance. I could already see the immaculate grounds in the distance, as well as members of the military.

What little you could hear of the city life below us was now gone completely. There were no car horns, no buses, no swarms of people, loud laughter or jolly conversation. As I neared closer, I could see tourists on the monument surveying the scene around them. Some took pictures. Some were in awe. Others looked somber. Different accents echoed in the distance as they quietly conversed with their friends and families. Some of the accents were British, some Australian. I noticed different languages as well. Some German, some Japanese. What we all had in common was a mutual respect for the place we were in. We were surrounded by sacred company, a company most of us would probably never be with again. Before heading to the cemetery area, I decided to make that steep climb up the monument and take a good look myself.

Here's the view from the monument:

After that, I went inside the monument, the chapel and down to the cemetery below. I will continue our journey in my next entry. Aloha for now friends.


  1. This is very interesting. Man, that DOES look like a lot of walking but well worth it I am sure. I am sure your Pop will love it.

  2. It was so well worth it. It was one of those moments you never have again.