Tuesday, May 17, 2022 |
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HANAPEPE — Memorial Day was a time to not only remember those who put their lives on the firing line for America, but also to recall the veterans who served 50 years ago in the Vietnam War, said Kaua‘i Mayor Bernard Carvalho Jr.
Hosted by the Kaua‘i Veterans Council, President Bill Honjiyo on Monday officiated a special recognition for Kaua‘i veterans who died during the Vietnam War. Earning the Silver Star and five Bronze Stars for gallantry in the conflict, Honjiyo was described as a hero by Capt. Nicholas Mongillo.
“Today, as we look over the graves which are decorated with small American flags, we should remember that each American flag that flies in the beautiful tradewinds represents someone who not only gave to the service of our country, but to each and every one of us,” Carvalho said.
The Hanapepe Veterans Cemetery is dressed accordingly only twice a year — Memorial Day and Veteran’s Day. Boy Scouts from troops around the island ready the cemetery for the public.
“Isn’t this a wonderful sight,” said Yuta Wakuta of Kapa‘a who arrived to pay tribute to his family. “Thank you, Boy Scouts. This is such a nice place to spend a day like today.”
Mongillo, commanding officer of the Pacific Missile Range Facility in Mana, repeated a statement he made during previous speaking engagements.
“I want to reaffirm my past statements, that I wished we lived in a world in which we didn’t need armed forces,” Mongillo said in his keynote presentation. “It’s a noble belief, and maybe someday, mankind will achieve this lofty goal. Unfortunately, I don’t see this occurring in our lifetime.”
Mongillo said it wasn’t too long ago where we saw 20 million soldiers perish in siege warfare in World War I.
Some of the men present at the Memorial Day service fought in the European and Pacific theaters in World War II, representing the Allies and the United States, Mongillo said.
The Korea and Vietnam conflicts further highlighted how peace has yet to be realized.
With the fall of the USSR and The Iron Curtain, America now faces other challenges like the war on terrorism.
“Unfortunately, there are bad people out there,” Mongillo said. “Evil people that would take your freedom away in a heartbeat, if we allowed them to. In a world of uncertainty, there is one certainty — someone, somewhere wants to take what you have.”
Mongillo said by protecting America and its allies, the country fills veteran cemeteries across the nation.
“Today, we are paying special tribute to the more than 58,000 men and women whose names are captured on the Vietnam Wall in Washington, D.C.,” the PMRF commander said. “We also honor those who served and lived to return to their homeland, many bearing the physical and psychological scars of war.”
Mongillo, a teen during the Vietnam War, remembers his uncle who was drafted into the U.S. Marine Corps.
“We were proud of him, but many others vented their frustrations with the war at him and other returning veterans,” Mongillo said. “The nation was in turmoil — pro war vs. anti-war — and many attacked the young service member as if he had a say in the country’s course.
“Vietnam veterans didn’t return to a hero’s welcome. Some were spat upon, called ‘baby killers.’ It was a shame. It was a mistake,” he said. “It took many years before America acknowledged its errors, healing itself and ultimately coming to terms with the Vietnam War, building the Vietnam Wall.”
Mongillo said when he returned from the Gulf War in 1991, by contrast, thousands of people welcomed the soldiers.
“Thank you, Vietnam veterans, for enduring, for holding your heads high during those tough years when some of America forgot about you,” he said. “Thank you to all the veterans and their families in the audience today, and to everyone in this great nation who supports their military.”
• Dennis Fujimoto, photographer and staff writer, can be reached at 245-3681 (ext. 253) or dfujimoto@ thegardenisland.com.
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