LIHU‘E — On Monday, when many families will be spending the Memorial Day holiday at the beach or at a family barbecue, those who have fought for the United States will be honoring their friends who have already died.
“It’s a solemn event, when we recognize those who have fallen in combat and those who have served and passed on,” said Norberto Garcia, a retired Marine Corps soldier who served in Operation Desert Storm in the early 1990s.
Retired U.S. Marine Corps 1st Sgt. J.Q. Smith, a veteran of three wars, said Memorial Day is when the veterans who were able to return home from wars recognize those less fortunate.
“I got to come home and have children and grandchildren,” said Smith, who fought in World War II, Korea and Vietnam. “All they got was a casket and a hole on the ground.”
There are about 3,000 to 4,000 veterans on Kaua‘i, according to Garcia.
All veterans from Kaua‘i who fought in World War I have already died. But there is still a handful of World War II veterans, including Smith, the only veteran on Kaua‘i who has fought in three wars.
For his service, he received two purple hearts and a medal for valor. Smith said he was one of the first officers to be deployed to the Vietnam War in 1965. He said he served there for almost two years and was treated really well when he came home.
But in 1968, U.S. citizens increased criticism against the war, and soldiers returning home were not treated very well, he said.
Garcia said when he returned from Desert Storm in the early 1990s, he received a warm welcome. Some Vietnam veterans who served during Desert Storm experienced for the first time a warm welcome then they came back to the U.S., Garcia said.
Garcia, an active Kaua‘i Police Department officer, serves as the Kaua‘i Veterans Council Commander, is in the Marine Corps League Committee and is also the chairman of the Board of Trustees of the Kaua‘i Veterans Museum in Lihu‘e.
Smith is still refuses to stop, working as the operations manager at Kaua‘i Veterans Center in Lihu‘e.
The ceremonies at Kaua‘i Veterans Cemetery in Hanapepe will start at 10 a.m. Monday. The program, among other things, includes the U.S. national anthem, the Hawaiian national anthem and speakers such as Mayor Bernard Carvalho Jr., Capt. Nicholas Mongillo and Lt. Col. Tom Batey.