HANAPEPE — Chaisen Ragragola was joined by his cousins Monday placing flowers at his great-grandfather’s grave.
“We come to all the veterans events,” Ragragola said at a packed Hanapepe Veterans Cemetery during the annual Memorial Day ceremony. “This is my great-grandfather’s grave. I also have an uncle buried here.”
At least 500 people visited the cemetery to honor, remember, and pay tribute to veterans and their families who lie at rest. Hosted by the Kauai Veterans Council with Stu Burley serving as the emcee, the Memorial Day service featured Capt. Jim Hickerson, retired U.S. Navy, a former pilot and prisoner-of-war, as the guest speaker.
“I will never forget,” said George Inouye of Kekaha. “I was a Vietnam War veteran, and when we came home, people forgot about us. I have two friends buried here, and I will never forget. I fly my flag on every veteran event. I even fly one at my house and people call me ‘G.I.’”
Capt. Bruce Hay, commander of the Pacific Missile Range Facility at Mana, spoke of “the power of one,” during the ceremony.
Memorial Day started with “one powerful day to remember those who were killed during the Civil War,” Hay said.
“There is the Unknown Soldier, known only to God, who is a powerful reminder of those who pay the ultimate price for freedom,” he said.
Hay said even the American flag, when it was first proposed, was a competitive event with several different designs considered before they settled on “the one flag which represents all 300 million of us.”
Cub Scouts Grant and Griffin Parker of Cub Pack 334 in Kalaheo, took the opportunity to swap out worn American flags that flew over gravesites of their family friends. Boy Scouts from several troops did similar duty in addition to cleaning up the cemetery and preparing it for Monday’s service.
The flags will be properly retired during the Flag Day observance in June.
“There were a lot of scouts this year,” said John Iwamoto, a Scout leader from Troop 83 and with the Military Order of the Purple Heart. “This is more people than I can remember. It made the work go faster.”
Janet Kahalekomo, visiting the grave of her husband Abraham, a Vietnam veteran, agreed.
“There were a lot of people — especially Cub Scouts,” the kupuna from Eleele Elementary School said. “They were really busy, too — like little bees going here and there. Everybody should come visit the cemetery because how many of the veterans who are buried here have no more families to come visit them?”
Joe and Carol Tosto of Carlsbad, California, did just that.
“We’re visiting from California,” Joe said. “We always take time to pay respects to veterans, and it makes me proud of the Kauai Marriott Resort and Beach Club, where we’re staying. When we first came to Kauai, they had nothing special to observe this day when we honor those who fought for our freedom — not even flying the American flag. I’m glad to see they now have American flags flying along the escalator. But they did more — they fly Americana bunting from the balconies above the pool. It is truly a moving sight.”