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A Quiet Memorial Day

May 27, 2014 - Ray Tsuchiyama

See: Maui News “On The National Memorial Cemetery of the Pacific” November 2012

See: Maui News “My Uncle at Makawao Veterans Cemetery” July 2013

See above for two related blog posts with Memorial Day themes.

Once I visited the Makawao Veterans Cemetery, and in an older area, closer to the chain-link fence entrance, there is a section of white grave markers, not the same-level-as-the-ground square markers where my uncle and aunt are buried.

The graves – in Plot 1 -- are of veterans of World War One, the “War to End All Wars”, dating back to a time when the United States stepped out of isolation and sent troops across the Atlantic to France in mid-1917. The other Allies, like Great Britain, France, Russian Empire, Japan and Italy, had been fighting against the Central Powers (Austro-Hungarian Empire, German Empire) since August, 1914. The War would end in November 1918.

These graves, then, are of men who were in their mid-20s in 1917, so they were born on Maui around 1892. There were 10,000 soldiers from Hawai'i who fought in World War I.

Imagine a baby born on Maui in the early 1890s, around the time of the Overthrow, a time of political turmoil. His parents, especially if they were Japanese immigrants or even Hawaiian, would have been incredulous if they were told in 1892 that their son as an American soldier would serve in France in a far-off European War.

In 1917 there was an all-Nikkei (or Japanese-American) Company D of the 1st Hawaiian Regiment of Infantry. It is likely some men from Maui joined this company.

With so many who fought for the United States from Hawai'i, it comes to no surprise that in 1918, the civic association Daughters and Sons of Hawaiian Warriors first proposed a memorial to the more than 10,000 men from the then-Territory of Hawaii who volunteered to serve in the great War.

This great civic project would include government leaders and a site was chosen in Waikiki, close to Diamond Head, and what we now call the Natatorium War Memorial was built. The structure was designed in the “Beaux-Arts architectural style”, and the entrance to the memorial included an arch featuring four stone decorative eagles (where else in Hawaii do we see such ornamentation?) that reflected this style, very progressive in the 1920s.

As many who grew up as children in 1940s - 60s Honolulu know (like myself), there is a 100 meter by 40 meter salt water swimming pool. In the opening ceremonies on August 24, 1927, Olympic gold medal holder Duke Kahanamoku made the first swim (it was also his birthday). All of the Honolulu Kahala elite, wounded veterans, politicians -- all rose in wild applause.

The “cleansing” of the Natatorium salt water pool was very simple: two big holes would allow, as the engineers projected, a natural “wave action” of rising and receding ocean tides. In reality, sand quickly filled up the holes and the water grew stagnant, and soon the pool became unusable by the early 1970s, and now the dilemma has continued up to now, decades later, what to do – restore the pool (which some community activists point to as the actual “living memorial” for Hawai'i’s World War I fallen soldiers in Europe) or give the Natatorium a new life as an "inland" park, in some fashion (moving the entrance arch), with the pool gone forever.

Many years have passed, and many projects announced to begin at the Natatorium site in the "near future", and hopefully, something will happen. As I wrote in a previous essay in the mid-1980s, the Natatorium War Memorial is Hawai'i’s only “ruins”, paradoxically next to the most highest-priced real estate in the State, and is linked to the Maui Veterans Cemetery and the Great War, a conflict where 9.7 million soldiers and 6.8 million civilians died.


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