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National Memorial Cemetery of the Pacific

The National Memorial Cemetery of the Pacific (also Punchbowl National Cemetery) serves a memorial to those men andwomen who served in the United States Armed Forces. It is administered by the National Cemetery Administration of the United States Department of Veterans Affairs and is listed on the National Register of Historic Places. Thousands of visitors visit the cemetery each year, and it is one of the more popular tourist attractions in Hawaii.

The cemetery is located in Punchbowl Crater (Pūowaina in Hawaiian), located just north of downtown Honolulu. In ancient times Punchbowl was used as a site for human sacrifices, and pū-o-waina means “hill of placing (human sacrifices).”

In February 1948 Congress approved funding and construction began on the national cemetery. Since the cemetery was dedicated on September 2, 1949, 34,000 veterans of World War I, World War II, the Korean, and Vietnam wars have been interred. The cemetery is now full and a new veterans cemetery has been built and dedicated on the windward side of O’ahu at Kāne’ohe.

Prior to the opening of the cemetery for the recently deceased, the remains of soldiers from locations around the Pacific Theater—including Guam, Wake Island, and Japanese POW camps—were transported to Hawaii for final interment. The first interment was made January 4, 1949. The cemetery opened to the public on July 19, 1949, with services for five war dead: an unknown serviceman, two Marines, an Army lieutenant and one civilian—noted war correspondent Ernie Pyle. Initially, the graves at National Memorial Cemetery of the Pacific were marked with white wooden crosses and Stars of David—like the American cemeteries abroad—in preparation for the dedication ceremony on the fourth anniversary of V-J Day. Eventually, over 13,000 soldiers and sailors who died during World War II would be laid to rest in the Punchbowl. Despite the Army’s extensive efforts to inform the public that the star- and cross-shaped grave markers were only temporary, an outcry arose in 1951 when permanent flat granite markers replaced them.

The National Memorial Cemetery of the Pacific was the first such cemetery to install Bicentennial Medal of Honor headstones, the medal insignia being defined in gold leaf. On May 11, 1976, a total of 23 of these were placed on the graves of medal recipients, all but one of whom were killed in action.

In August 2001, about 70 generic unknown markers for the graves of men known to have died during the attack on Pearl Harbor were replaced with markers that included USS ARIZONA after it was determined they perished on this vessel. In addition, new information that identified grave locations of 175 men whose graves were previously marked as unknown resulted in the installation of new markers in October 2002.

The National Memorial Cemetery of the Pacific contains a memorial pathway that is lined with a variety of memorials that honor America’s veterans from various organizations. As of 2005, there were 63 such memorials throughout the National Memorial Cemetery of the Pacific—most commemorating soldiers of 20th-century wars, including those killed at Pearl Harbor.

After their retreat in 1950, dead Marines and soldiers were buried at a temporary gravesite near Hungnam, North Korea. During “Operation Glory” which occurred from July to November 1954 the dead of each side were exchanged; remains of 4,167 US soldiers/Marines were exchanged for 13,528 North Korean/Chinese dead. In addition 546 civilians who died in United Nations Prisoner of War camps were turned over to the South Korean Government.. After “Operation Glory” 416 Korean War “unknowns” were buried in the Punchbowl Cemetery. According to a DPMO white paper,1,394 names were also transmitted during “Operation Glory” from the Chinese and North Koreans {of whom 858 names proved to be correct}; of the 4,167 returned remains were found to be 4,219 individuals of whom 2,944 were found to be Americans of whom all but 416 were identified by name. Of 239 Korean War unaccounted for: 186 not associated with Punchbowl unknowns (176 were identified and of the remaining 10 cases 4 were non-Americans of Asiatic descent; one was British; 3 were identified and 2 cases unconfirmed). A list of names associated with the “Punchbowl unknowns” are here; fifty-seven years after the Korean War, remains of two of the “Punchbowl unknowns” were identified-both from the 1st Marine Division: one was Pfc. Donald Morris Walker of Support Company/1st Service Battalion/1st Marine Division who was KIA Dec 7, 1950; the other was Pfc. Carl West of Weapons Company/1st Battalion/7th Regiment/1st Marine Division who was KIA Dec 10, 1950.

From 1990 to 1994 North Korea excavated and turned over 208 sets of remains-possibly containing remains of 200-400 US Servicemen-but few identified because of co-mingling of remains.

From 1996 to 2006 220 remains were recovered from near Chinese border. In 2008 a total of 63 were identified (26 World War II; 19 Korea; 18 Vietnam) (Among those identified: January 2008 remains of a Michigan soldier. In March 2008 remains of an Indiana soldier  and an Ohio Soldier were identified). According to a report June 24, 2008 of 10 Korean War Remains disinterred from the “Punchbowl Cemetery” six have been identified. In January-April 2009 a total of twelve Unknowns have been identified-three from World War II; eight from Korean War; one from Vietnam.

In 1964, the American Battle Monuments Commission erected the Honolulu Memorial at the National Memorial Cemetery “to honor the sacrifices and achievements of American Armed Forces in the Pacific during World War II and in the Korean War.” The memorial was later expanded in 1980 to include the Vietnam War. The names of 28,788 military personnel who are missing in action or were lost or buried at sea in the Pacific during these conflicts are listed on marble slabs in ten Courts of the Missing which flank the Memorial’s grand stone staircase.

The dedication stone at the base of staircase is engraved with the following words:


At the top of the staircase in the Court of Honor is a statue of Lady Columbia, also known as Lady Liberty, or Justice. Here she is reported to represent all grieving mothers. She stands on the bow of a ship holding a laurel branch. The inscription below the statue, taken from Abraham Lincoln’s letter to Mrs. Bixby, reads:


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