LIHU‘E — The county Planning Commission recently unanimously approved two new columbarium structures at Kaua‘i Veterans Cemetery in Hanapepe.
The action will more than double the number of existing niches and address a delicate issue for the island’s war veterans — a growing backlog of deceased servicemen without a place of final rest.
“The existing columbarium are full and there is a wait list of more than 10 urns to be interred,” said Bill Honjiu, president of the Kaua‘i Veterans Council, which consists of 14 veterans’ associations.
Honjiu, a Vietnam War veteran himself, said the numbers are increasing. The youngest Korean War veteran on Kaua‘i is 76 years old, and World War II veterans are in the their 80s and 90s.
“Vietnam vets are right behind,” he said. “I’m 74 years old.”
The cemetery is on the outskirts of Hanapepe Town, on the Westside, occupying 5.45 acres of state-owned lands. Built in 1950, it has 2,500 gravesites, including in-ground burial plots, in-ground buried cremain plots and two columbarium niches — used for above-ground internment of cremated remains.
The existing columbaria hold 140 niches altogether. The two columbaria approved Sept. 27 will hold an additional 192 niches — one structure will hold 64 niches, and the other will hold the remaining 128 niches.
Gina Ichyama, project coordinator at the state Department of Accounting and General Services, said the two columbaria are part of a bigger, statewide project touching all Neighbor Islands. But Kaua‘i has the greatest need because of a back log.
Those urns waiting for a place of rest are being held by the families of the deceased until the additional columbaria can be constructed, according to a letter signed by Gene Yong, senior project manager at consultant Belt Collins Hawai‘i, which operates in Honolulu, Colorado, Asia and the Pacific region.
Greg Jackson, director at the state Office of Veterans Services, said the project is a “win-win” on all grounds, because it will do a service to veterans, and also create jobs and income. An approved grant of $1.59 million gives the project a green light on four Neighbor Islands, he said.
“The current burial rate (for war veterans) is one-to-two per month,” Jackson said. “But quite frankly that number is set to increase.”
Many war veterans showed up at the commission meeting to give support to the proposal, including Quinton Balas, a WWII and Korean War veteran and president of the Military Intelligence Veterans of Kaua‘i.
“As the men and women veterans of Kaua‘i age, the only place of honor on this island for the solemn and well deserved internment and place for rest for their remains and ashes when they pass away is at the quiet and peaceful cemetery at Hanapepe,” Balas said.
Jackson, responsible for overseeing all the county veterans cemeteries on all of the Neighbor Islands, said the timeline for the project is subject to “a couple of outside factors.”
The project was proposed by DAGS, on behalf of the OVS and the state Department of Defense.