The Honolulu Memorial at the National Memorial Cemetery of the Pacific is undergoing a major renovation project, which began in 2014.
On Memorial Day, officials expect and unusually large crowd at Punchbowl for this year’s remembrance.
Thousands will gather to pay tribute to the men and women who have made the ultimate sacrifice for our country’s freedom.
But this year’s Memorial Day event will be bigger than normal with a number of agencies holding a combined ceremony for the 50th commemorative year of the Vietnam War.
It is sponsored by Gov. David Ige, Honolulu Mayor Kirk Caldwell, the U.S. Veterans Administration, the State of Hawaii Office of Veteran Services, the City and County of Honolulu, the 50th Anniversary of Vietnam Commemorative Committee, various Vietnam veterans organizations, and several other groups.
Visitors will notice visible changes at Punchbowl and parking for the Memorial Day service will be different from years past.
Despite the changes, there are still hundreds of Boy Scouts and families who are keeping their traditions alive.
It’s always heart-warming to see the next generation place flags and lei on each headstone.
“Now we have the younger folks that are learning how to appreciate their veterans and what Memorial Day is really all about. It’s not a three-day vacation,” said Gene Maestas, National Memorial Cemetery of the Pacific.
This year, the Boy Scouts had enough lei for their annual event. The cemetery grounds are adorned with flowers, and ready for Monday’s ceremony.
“This year is the 50th commemorative year of the Vietnam War, so we combined ceremonies with the state, the Veterans Administration, and our ceremony to make one big collective ceremony to honor our Vietnam veterans,” said city Department of Parks and Recreation deputy director Jeanne Ishikawa.
Officials expect about 3,000 people to attend, triple than the usual amount of participants on Memorial Day.
The event is free and open to the public, however there will be no public parking in Punchbowl.
“Because of the anticipated… triple the size of the crowd, we won’t be able to accommodate all the cars, so we are saying no personal vehicles are being allowed here,” Ishikawa said. “We’ve made accommodations in terms of where we can set up, how we are going to set up, and just to make sure everyone is comfortable.”
Click here for more information on the ceremony, as well as others held in honor of Memorial Day.
Another change people will notice is the cemetery itself.
At the front entrance, a new administration building and information center is under construction.
“In addition to all the construction, we are updating [the] Courts of the Missing and those names are going to come down, so [some] of them will be updated and some of them have been found, so they are no longer in the Courts of the Missing,” Maestas explained.
The project includes a newly built columbarium that contains “6,800 additional niches that will allow us to serve the veteran population here in Hawaii for approximately 10 more years,” Maestas said.
Visitors who come every year tell us the change is good.
“It’s getting full and they need more space. It’s good that families have some place to come and pay their respects to their family,” visitor Diane Tamane said.
“It’s basically a family tradition since I can remember,” said visitor Sweetheart Tupuola. “To come here and hear the stories, I did not know of them, but to be here and to hear the stories from my aunty, uncle, and dad, it’s a blessing.”
The cost of the project is $25 million. Construction is expected to be completed by September.
Traffic restrictions/shuttle information
Parking and driving in Punchbowl will be restricted until noon and gravesite visitors are asked to arrive after this time. No personal vehicles will be allowed before noon unless previously authorized.
Free shuttles will be available for the public from the Alapai Transit Center from 5:30 a.m. to 7:30 a.m. the morning of the ceremony. Eighteen city buses will continuously shuttle attendees during this time. The last shuttle departs at 7:30 a.m. Attendees are required to be within Punchbowl by 8 a.m., after which access into Punchbowl will be restricted until the ceremony is finished. Shuttle service back to the Alapai Transit Center will commence following the conclusion of the ceremony and the last shuttle back will depart at noon. Regular bus rules apply to the shuttle service, including limits on baggage.
Shuttle riders are encouraged to park at one of several free sites, including: the Frank F. Fasi Municipal Building parking lot, Alapai Transit Center parking lot, and President William McKinley High School’s parking lot accessible from S. King Street. TheHandi-Van reserved rides and licensed/marked taxi cabs will be allowed to drive into Punchbowl.
Due to Memorial Day activities, tour vehicles will be prohibited from accessing the facility for three days starting at 8 a.m. on Saturday, May 27, until 8 a.m. on Tuesday, May 30.