High above the busy beauty of Honolulu and Waikiki Beach, on the Hawaiian island of Oahu, sits the National Memorial Cemetery of the Pacific, at the “Punchbowl” Crater. The now-extinct Puowaina Crater, by best accounts, was formed 75,000 – 100,000 years ago, during a period of secondary volcanic activity. In the early 19th century the crater served as a critical stronghold of the Oahu natives, unsuccessfully defending the island from the invading forces of King Kamehameha the Great (1756-1819). Puowaina (Crater), commonly translated as ‘Consecrated Hill’ or ‘Hill of Sacrifice’, is known to have been an altar of human sacrifices to the gods, by the early Hawaiians.
The National Memorial Cemetery occupies approximately 112 acres of lush, beautifully manicured grounds within the rim of the crater, overlooking downtown Honolulu. The U.S. Congress, in 1940, appropriated $50,000.00 for a small cemetery in the Honolulu area and in 1943, the Governor of Hawaii offered Punchbowl as a site for its location. The funding however proved insufficient and the project was delayed until the end of World War II. Ground was broken in early 1948, with the first interment made on January 4, 1949. Punchbowl Cemetery was opened to the public on July 19, 1949, with the services of one unknown service person, two Marines, an Army Lieutenant, and a civilian, Ernie Pyle, a Pulitzer Prize winning journalist killed in 1945 by a Japanese sniper near Okinawa.
The most prominent structure at the National Memorial Cemetery of the Pacific is the Honolulu Memorial. Dedicated in 1964 by the American Battle Monuments Commission, it initially honored the sacrifices and achievements of American Forces in the Pacific Theater during World War II and the Korean War. In 1980 the monument was expanded to include the Viet Nam War. The central structure of the Honolulu Memorial is the statue of “Lady Columbia” (the representative of grieving mothers), which is flanked by a hallway with maps depicting notable military battles of the region. The inscription below the statue is a quote taken from Abraham Lincoln’s letter to Mrs. Bixby (see image caption). The monument also includes a small but picturesque chapel.
Today, Punchbowl Cemetery is the final resting place for approximately 45,000 men and women who made the ultimate sacrifice for their country, including 13,000 service persons and civilians from World War II. It is also the site of the annual Easter Sunrise service, Honolulu’s largest ecumenical event.
For additional information visit: http://www.cem.va.gov/cems/nchp/nmcp.asp