HANAPEPE — Wars, said Capt. Vinnie Johnson, “cost us our most precious treasure, our nation’s men and women.”
“No war, big or small, long or short, popular or not, can magnify nor diminish their sacrifice,” he continued. “All served when called in their time. We must remember them all.”
The commander of the Pacific Missile Range Facility, dressed in military whites, paused and looked out at the crowd gathered at Kauai Veterans Cemetery in Hanapepe on Monday, Memorial Day. American flags fluttered in the distance as the wind blew on a sunny, warm morning.
“With great sacrifice comes great hope,” he said, wrapping up a short speech. “Today is also the chance to hope for the best in all of us.”
Johnson was one of several speakers at the 90-minute ceremony attended by about 300 people. The theme was “Accelerate the American Spirit.”
There were young and old, citizens and dignitaries, military leaders and Boy Scouts. All were there for the same reason, to pay tribute to those who died while serving in the armed forces.
Congresswoman Tulsi Gabbard delivered a pointed message that spoke of the painful price of war, which should be a last resort.
She said Memorial Day is looked forward to by many as a day off from work or store sales. But for others, it is not a happy day, she said.
“Ask any Gold Star family who has gone through the unimaginable loss of a loved one what Memorial Day is all about,” she said.
Gabbard, who served two tours of duty in the Middle East and is a Major in the Army National Guard, said that like many, she woke up Monday with a heavy heart.
“On this day, we are reminded of the very high and real cost of war and who pays that price,” she said. “That cost exists in the names on these gravestones, it exists in our hearts, our memories of our friends who never came home.”
She said some of the country’s leaders talk about sending thousands of troops to foreign lands, intervening with the military here or there, “without seeming to understand or appreciate the cost of war, and that those numbers they seem to throw around carelessly represent real people — someone’s son or daughter, husband or wife, mom or dad.”
Families with military members face daily worries and pray for the safe return of their loved ones. They live in fear of a phone call or knock on the door that will “forever turn their world upside down,” Gabbard said.
“Those leaders don’t seem to realize the cost of war is not limited to those who make that ultimate sacrifice,” she said. “It exists within the rooms of our homes, with wounds that are both visible and invisible.”
She said the country must demand of its leaders that if troops are sent to fight a war, it must be the last option, not the first. There must be a clear mission.
“And make sure those missions are truly worthy of the great sacrifice our servicemembers and their families,” Gabbard said.
She said the best way to honor the fallen, those whose lives were lost in combat, is to remember “their strength, their courage and their deep love of our country.”
“And take advantage of the time and life each of us has been granted by doing our best to live our own lives of service, making a positive impact on those around us.”
Many stood and applauded when Gabbard finished.
Kauai Mayor Bernard Carvalho, Jr., said each time our nation goes to war, lives are lost. Wars, he said, are not without their glory and are not without heroes. But there are heart-breaking losses.
“We must remain steadfast in ensuring that our fallen solders did not die in vain,” Carvalho said.
He spoke of the sacrifice of Jesus Christ and those in the military.
“One died for your soul. One died for your freedom,” the mayor said.
Emcee Stu Burley, a Navy veteran and president of the US Navy League-Kauai Council, spoke of the need to teach a younger generation in this fast-paced world “how those who gave their lives gave us our freedoms to speak, to vote, to pursue our dreams.”
He said America is in good shape, and it’s getting better.
“We live in the most peaceful time in human history,” Burley said. “Once you understand that, and you want to know what’s really working, so you can accelerate the progress so you can spread it to more people and more places around the world. “
“The aloha spirit helps us get there on this small island,” he continued. “We must take that celebration to America and beyond. Our veterans gave us that purpose.”
Commander Harry Kaneakua, a decorated, retired U.S. Navy SEAL, displayed red, white and blue flowers during his speech.
The red flowers symbolize zeal of our departed comrades, he said, and the white, purity and affection. The blue symbolize the nation’s truth and fidelity. And finally, he held up a wreath, a symbol of eternity.
“Its powers speaks the life everlasting,” he said.