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One of the most visited special attraction in the State of Hawaii is the Punchbowl National Memorial Cemetery of the Pacific. The memorial honors the sacrifices and achievements of American Armed Forces in the Pacific during World War II and the Korean conflict plus those missing from the Vietnam Conflict. The memorial to U.S. astronaut Ellison Onizuka of Hawaii who perished aboard the Challenger space shuttle is also at Punchbowl. An unknown soldier killed in the Pearl Harbor attack in 1941 was the first internment at this site. Annually, over five million people visit the Memorial, making it the most frequently visited attraction in Hawaii.
The cemetery is set within the crater of an extinct volcano known to Oahu's residents as "Punchbowl" because of its shape. The crater was once known to Hawaiians as Puowaina, or "the hill for placing of sacrifices." It is for this reason that the street leading to Punchbowl is also called Puowaina. During World War II Punchbowl served as a fire-control post for defense of the harbor. It was the Territory of Hawaii that offered Punchbowl to the federal government for use as a military cemetery.
As you enter the main gate of the national cemetery, at a distance you will immediately see the impressive Memorial Building. Inside the memorial building is a chapel, mural maps detailing Pacific Theatre conflicts of World War II and Korea. Portrayed are ten maps that record the names of World War II campaigns in the Pacific and two maps of the major battle actions in the Korean Conflict. The maps trace the step-by-step progress of the Pacific war that ultimately led to the defeat of the Japanese Empire.
Within the memorial is a series of stairways bordered by massive 12-foot-high walls of Italian Trani marble called the Ten Courts of the Missing. Inscribed on these walls are the names of 8,093 who were declared missing in action from World War II. Another 8,163 are listed as the missing from the Korean Conflict. Two half-courts were dedicated in 1980 at the foot of the stairway to honor 2,489 missing from Vietnam. The names are listed alphabetically by branch of service. They represent every state of the Union and the District of Columbia, Puerto Rico, Guam, Samoa, the Philippines, The Panama Canal Zone, Mexico and Canada. Medal of Honor winners are designated in the courts by a gold star and gold lettering of the name. The tablets do not record the names of those interred in the cemetery since each gravesite has a name written on a stone tablet marking the veteran's resting place. The Dedicatory Stone at the base of the stairs is the focal point of numerous wreath-laying ceremonies each year and on it is an inscription which reads as follows:
"In These Gardens Are Recorded the Names of Americans Who Gave Their Lives in the Service of Their Country and Whose Earthly Resting Place is Known Only to God."
The 30-foot high statue of Columbia gazes down upon the Court. Beneath her are the words of sympathy written by President Abraham Lincoln to a mother whose five sons were killed during the Civil War. It reads as follows:"The Solemn Pride That Must Be Yours to Have Laid So Costly A Sacrifice Upon the Altar of Freedom."
The gravesites of the veterans who have been interred in the cemetery are geometrically laid out around the crater's 112-acre floor.
From the back of the Memorial, if you walk towards the ocean on the outer drive and follow the Memorial Walk up to the viewing deck, you'll be rewarded with one of the best views of Honolulu - from Diamond Head to Ewa Beach. Right below you will see the long lines of vehicles moving along both directions of the H-1 Freeway, the tall buildings in the downtown area, and the hotels that line up along Kalakaua Avenue. You will also see the numerous homes and apartment buildings scattered all over the leeward side of Oahu, the jets taking off or landing at the Honolulu International Airport, and the beaches of Waikiki & Ala Moana with the clear blue waters of the Pacific Ocean extending into the horizon. It is a magnificent panoramic view of Honolulu and is no doubt a beautiful sight to behold.
Punchbowl is now filled to capacity with 33,143 grave sites. There are no white crosses used to mark the grave sites. Individual marble tablets laid flush to the ground are used to identify each person buried at the cemetery. And during Memorial Day, as a tribute to all those buried at the National Cemetery, the local boy scouts plant small American flags at each grave site. Flowers and leis are also placed on each tablet. More than 100 flags line the road leading to the memorial along the central mall. The flags once covered the caskets of those buried here and elsewhere and have been donated to the cemetery of this purpose. The "Avenue of Flags" also is displayed on Presidents Day, Independence Day, Veterans Day and Thanksgiving.