HOUSTON, TEXAS (HawaiiNewsNow) - Among the loved ones and high-profile dignitaries that gathered to say goodbye to President George H.W. Bush was a young man from Hilo who had an important job.
Keola Waiau is a member of the Navy’s ceremonial guard. On Wednesday, the 25-year-old had the honor of carrying Bush’s casket into St. Martin’s Episcopal Church in Houston.
“I’ve been blessed. This is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to say I’ve been a part of a president’s funeral,” Waiau said by phone from Houston.
After graduating from Kamehameha Schools in 2011, Waiau says he went to college and worked full time in Hilo, but he wanted to do something more.
He joined the Navy in 2016, and while at boot camp in Chicago, he was selected to join the ceremonial guard, which is stationed in Washington, D.C.
Waiau says the training was rigorous because the team represents the Navy in some of the most prestigious ceremonies in and around the nation’s capital.
"There are people who are watching you, grading your every step. The main focus is that we're able to stand tight and not move, and make sure our uniforms are absolutely flawless because of all the eyes that are going to be on us," Waiau said.
Waiau says he’s participated in several events at the White House and also had the privilege of serving as a casket bearer for the late U.S. Senator John McCain.
"It's kind of surreal to be honest. I remember when I was carrying McCain's casket, just seeing some of the people that were there and being able to be a part of it was just an awesome feeling," said Waiau.
Waiau says he has about a month left in Washington before he transfers to Florida for his next assignment.
Kenneth Waiau says he's extremely proud of his son for serving his country in this capacity, and he says he's not ashamed to share his photos of Keola on his phone.
"I show it to all of my friends and clients every opportunity I get," he laughed. "I can't think of anyone else who's more deserving of this. The essence of being a ceremonial guard, which is humility and service of duty and love of country, I think he exemplifies all of that."
Waiau will also be escorting President Bush's casket after the private memorial service Thursday.
The late president will then be laid to rest at his presidential library on the campus of Texas A&M University.