Friday, May 28, 2010

Champagne Friday in the Punchbowl

Happy Champagne Friday from Punchbowl Crater!

Our last stop on Day One was Punchbowl, the site of the National Memorial Cemetery of the Pacific. Perhaps made even more eerie is the fact that we were the only ones there. Yes, it was a Wednesday afternoon, late in the day, but there were only 2 other people in the entire park - an employee cruising the grounds on a golf cart and a lady reading a book at the overlook. Spooooky! Like we missed the rapture or something.

To give you a little background* on Punchbowl, it was formed approximately 80,000 years ago during one of Hawaii's periods of volcanic activity. Lava pushed right up through the coral reefs to form the crater. As I mentioned yesterday, the Hawaiian name translates to "Hill of Sacrifice"...even though that name was not chosen specifically for this memorial. Originally, it was used by the Hawaiians as an alter to sacrifice humans to pagan gods and execute those who had violated taboos. (I'm sort of glad I didn't know this part as we were walking around. I would be getting the same heebie jeebies that I got from touring the Coliseum.) But during the reign of Kamehameha (Remember him? He lost 400 soldiers off the side of a cliff in a very unfortunate chess move...), 2 canons were mounted at the rim and fired to announce the arrival of dignitaries and to signify important occasions. In the 1930's, the slopes became available for lease and they were then rented by the Hawaiian National Guard for range practice. It has also been used as a bunker to protect Honolulu and the south edge of Pearl Harbor during the tail end of WWII.

The idea for the cemetery came in the 1890's when Honolulu's population began to grow (I guess they realized that putting that many gravestones thatclosetogether was a bad idea). It was initially rejected for fear of polluting the water supply (people in Kentucky would have never thought about that. I'm talking to you, lady who put her well below her outhouse) and they were also not crazy about the idea of a city of the dead suspended above a city of the living. But by the 1940's, Congress was authorizing a small fund to establish a national memorial in Honolulu, providing it was acceptable to the War Department and that the site was donated instead of purchased. The governor of Hawaii agreed to donate the land. It was not until the late 40's, though, after a good deal of prodding on the part of Congress and veteran organizations, that the idea came about to use it for the permanent burial of those fallen, prisoners of war, and missing in action during WWII and in Guam.

When you visit, it just looks like a very large park with a concrete memorial at the front and flowers dotting the landscape. The headstones are flat, which creates a very cohesive visual, not disrupted by headstones of varying shapes and sizes. As a Virgo with a generous dose of OCD running through my veins, I really enjoyed this. Artificial flowers are not allowed, but the real ones found in Hawaii naturally are so much more beautiful. Many grave sites have a vase of Birds of Paradise, which is simply the most unreal flower found occurring in nature. We first encountered them in San Francisco and I've been gooey over these flowers ever since.

Another cultural norm found in cemeteries is the placement of the deceased person's favorite food and/or drink...sort of like pour out a forty for my homey. But it's an assortment of food and drinks. You see packages of snack foods, open cans of beer or Diet Coke or even drinks purchased from, say, McDonald's, and just left the paper cup with the straw and everything. So, just to cannot leave fake flowers, but you can leave an open can of beer or a McDonald's cup sitting on the grave site. As you can imagine, OCDAllyson twitched a little at this. Princess Pomtini told us, though, that they do come around every few days to pick it up and dispose of it...I guess it just takes too long for a spirit to drink a Pabst and eat a Ding Dong. Plus, if I were homeless, this is where I would go for my 3 meals a day.

But back to Punchbowl....words really can't describe the awesome and the overpowering, so let's do it in a photo gallery, shall we?

This is looking away from the memorial, back toward Honolulu. There are graves on either side of the grassy center.

When you walk up to the memorial at the top of the hill, you see this. give you some direction, if you looked to your right at this moment, you would see the view from the first picture.
At the front...if you were standing at the end of that grassy strip and looking toward the memorial, you would see this 3D sculpture of a lady in the very center of the memorial. Her inscription says

The solemn pride
that must be yours
to have laid
so costly a sacrifice
upon the alter
of freedom

And the people say..."Amen."

As you enter the memorial, there are huge maps, made of chipped and colored glass of all of the wars, battles, and even skirmishes in the Pacific. They show routes frequently traveled and methods of attack.
This is one of the maps...depicting the Liberation of the Philippines in 1945.

Inside is a very simple alter, with candles and a cross and the American flag. There are also a few rows of pews for those who would like to stop for a moment or several. If you notice the glass reliefs built into the alter, they are also carried through to the gates of the memorial:

Outside, in front of the mounted lady, are these very tall walls, on either side of the walkway:
Each white wall has thousands of names inscribed of those POW or MIA military service members from each battle or war in the Pacific. And see the tree?
They purposely hollow out the center of each one. I wish I knew why. Wikipedia has really let me down on that one.

And the view from the crater really does give you the most amazing views of Honolulu and Diamond Head (to the left).
And you don't even have to hike it to the top. You can drive. And it's free. And it is truly a beautiful and serene place that creates the most perfect environment for honoring our missing in action, prisoners of war, and fallen.

So, from the Captain and the Mrs., we want to wish you all a very Happy Memorial Day weekend. Be safe in however you choose to celebrate. I will be hitting the pool and the driving range on base with my favorite veteran before he jets off for a month of training in CA. And I think I'll give Army Dad a call, too. Whatever you do, try to hug a veteran...or at least shake one's hand this weekend. They deserve so much more, but they are most pleased with your show of appreciation for their sacrifice. And it's easy. And it's free.

Happy Champagne Friday and Happy Memorial Day Weekend!

*Again...I'm relying heavily on Wikipedia for this information. If it's wrong, don't write to me, write to Wikipedia. OKThanks.


  1. So now all I can think about is why those trees are shaped like compasses in a cemetery. *sigh*

    Happy Memorial Day to you! And a great big thank you to YOU and your hubby for your service to our country.

  2. Sometimes I think reading your blog is like sitting in a classroom. Yay for wikipedia! I feel smarter today for visiting your blog :) Thank Neal for me and hug yourself too. Have a great weekend!

  3. I'm going to have to find a veteran for me to hug this weekend.

    This was awesome and educational. I have what some people might consider a strange obsession with graveyards so this was right up my alley. I'm going to have to put in my will that I want Stella Artois and sushi left on my grave when I go. Screw flowers.

  4. Thanks so much for this! I think I need to make a special trip to visit it someday. Hope you guys have a great Memorial Day!

  5. Call me a weirdo, but I think National Cemeteries are so beautiful. I love the Arlington National Cemetery and there is one in St. Augustine that's beautiful too. This was the perfect post for Memorial Day! y'all are so cute. I hope you have a lovely time at the pool and driving range..enjoying the SOUTH!

  6. Wow, that was a lesson right there! Isn't it strange how history is more interesting the older you get... well, it is for me anyway. :) And the hollowed out trees... what in the world is up with those?? You need to do some more research and get back to us. Ha.

    Happy Memorial Day, and thank you, to both you and the Captain.


  7. Seriously want to go there. These posts aren't doing anything to quell that desire.

    Happy Memorial Day to you and Captain Neal. You know, it's Fleet Week and there are sailors running around all over the place. Is grabbing thier butts as good as a hug?

  8. Happy Memorial Day to you and yours!!

    Where in this great state is the training?

  9. Happy Memorial Day to you too! These past couple of posts have been fun and so educational! We went to Hawaii for our honeymoon and stayed on the North shore. We didn't see diddly when we were there compare to your trip. I guess we have to go back now!

  10. Happy Memorial Day weekend to you lady!

  11. This may have already been said but maybe the trees are hollow to signify halos? or maybe like a wreath worn on the head?(Like the greeks did, or like Hawaiians do?)

    This is lovely - again thank you for sharing! ox

  12. We planned to go there a few years back and both had to bail due to work. Those jobs are distant memories and we missed out on Hawaii. BOO! Time to plan another trip!


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