It’s a very delicate expansion plan balancing Native Hawaiian culture and honoring fallen U.S. veterans.
The National Memorial Cemetery of the Pacific at Punchbowl is running out of space to bury America’s heroes and will begin expanding outside of its gates.
About 90 U.S. servicemen and women are laid to rest each month at Punchbowl.
And at that rate, they’ll run out of space in three years.
The new expansion plan will buy them a decade of burial space at this historic landmark.
A major concern for veterans like Steve Putnoki, who has served next to some of these fallen heroes, hopes to go home with them too.
“I will be up there, guys that are in the service especially in combat, it’s very important your brothers depend on each other,” says Putnoki, Acting Adjutant with Hawaii’s Disabled Veterans.
But the National Memorial Cemetery of the Pacific is nearly bursting at its seams and needs to grow outside its gates.
“Going to move out front of the main gate, where the federal government has 5 acres of land, and we will build a new Administration Office and Public Information Center,” Director of the National Memorial Cemetery of the Pacific Gene Castagnetti said.
That will enable them to tear down the current Administration and Visitor’s Center, opening up room for a new columbarium that will support 7000 additional burial spaces.
But as the cemetery grows, it’s moving further into the surrounding neighborhood, meaning more traffic and congestion.
“Well, obviously not thrilled about it but if there’s a need for it we will go along with it,” says Brian Marguleas, who lives across the street from the proposed expansion location.
It also means more construction on Punchbowl, known as Puowaina, a sacred place to many Native Hawaiians.
“There was a sacrificial site, Kamehameha passed through there, there were battles reported there, there are heiaus in the area,” President of the Papakolea Community Development Corporation Harold Johnston said.
The VA, Native Hawaiian groups, and the Papakolea community have been working closely together.
An EIS was completed in June and they have agreed that cultural practitioners will remain on site for additional monitoring during construction.
“It’s all federal land but from the Hawaiian land, we view the area as one area,” Johnston said.
Johnston, who is a retired Marine himself, wants American heroes to continue being honored at Punchbowl, but also hopes the Hawaiian warriors who fought and died in that same area will be respected.
Construction is expected to begin by the end of this year.
It’s $10 million price tag is being funded by a federal appropriation.