HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) - Two Hawaii men who gave their lives while serving in the Vietnam War were among those honored during a ceremony at the Vietnam War Memorial Wall on the Mall in the nation's capitol Monday.
President Barack Obama delivered the Memorial Day key note address marking the 50th anniversary of the war.
"Let us tell the story of a generation of service members, every color, every creed, rich and poor, officer and enlisted, who served with just as much patriotism and honor as any before you," Mr. Obama said.
The president assisted in laying a wreath at the base of the memorial wall. Representatives of several selected "gold star" families were also invited to place wreaths in front of the wall. Oahu resident Billie Gabriel represented her family by laying a wreath in honor of her older brother, James "Kimo" Gabriel. The Farrington High School graduate was just 24 years old when he lost his life in a Viet Cong ambush in 1962.
"I believe regardless how you feel or felt about the war, we need to right now separate the war from the warriors and honor all these men and women gave their lives for our country," Billy Gabriel told Hawaii news now after the anniversary ceremony.
Waialua native and Vietnam veteran Ben Ishida watched the ceremony from the second row. Ishida sat among military brass and other VIP guests because of his tireless effort to have a fellow Waialua High School graduate and Navy airman officially recognized after being slighted for more nearly five decades.
Albert Kuewa served on the aircraft carrier USS Ranger with Ishida. In 1964 Kuewa lost his life when struck by the prop of an aircraft on the carrier.
More than 58,000 Vietnam casualties had their names inscribed on the memorial wall. But Kuewa's name was missing. Ishida said the military did not consider Kuewa's death to have occurred in combat, and therefore his name was left off the wall. But Ishida knew that was a mistake. He said the USS Ranger was actively engaged in combat sending wave after wave of planes from the flight deck to bomb targets on land. And, according to Ishida, because Kuewa was killed in combat he deserved a place on the memorial wall.
"I was his honor guard coming home, bringing his body home. And I know exactly what happened. I was standing right there. So when they say we weren't attacking, that was really wrong," Ishida told Hawaii News Now.
During visits to Kuewa's grave at the National Memorial Cemetery of the Pacific at Punchbowl Ishida promised his friend he would one day correct the injustice and Kuewa's name would be added to the long list of war heroes on the wall.
Monday May 28, 2012 was that day. Thanks to Ishida's persistence the military finally declassified records involving the USS Ranger's combat operations. Those records confirmed what Ishida had said all along. The Ranger was engaged in combat the day Ishida was killed. And Kuewa deserved a place along side the other vets on the memorial wall.
During the Memorial Day ceremony ten new names, including that of Albert K. Kuewa, were unveiled on the wall.
"It means everything to me because I have accomplished what I wanted done for so long," Ishida said after finally seeing his friend's name on the wall where it will life in perpetuity.
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