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For 4 decades, a Vietnam veteran has been Punchbowl cemetery’s jack-of-all-trades

Updated: Jun. 9, 2021 at 5:04 PM HST
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HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) - At the National Memorial Cemetery of the Pacific, Joe Flores is the king of the keys.

“I got so many keys,” he said.

One is to his work shop, where tools line the walls and work benches and pieces of Punchbowl’s story are stored away in files.

He’s collected a lot of history in the nearly 40 years he’s been the cemetery’s maintenance mechanic.

“My first task was just walking around with a lawn mower, pushing mowers,” he said.

Punchbowl hired Flores in 1982, after he answered an ad in the newspaper. He’s come a long way. The 76-year-old is now the cemetery’s jack of all trades.

“He knows where all the pipes are. He knows about the irrigation. He knows where all the keys are and what they lead to. He knows how to use every piece of equipment here,” cemetery spokesman Gene Maestas said.

Flores never turns down an assignment, even if it’s something he’s never done before.

“Let’s put it this way, if I can’t do it I’m going to find out how to do it,” he said.

After four decades in the same setting, he is a walking road map of Punchbowl, often doling out directions to visitors. He knows the cemetery so well he can point out where all 33 Medal of Honor recipients are buried.

“Every time it’s time to put the markers out, I know exactly where to go to,” he said

Over the years, Flores has won awards and commendations for his service. This year he’s a finalist for the National Cemetery Administration’s Outstanding Team Member award.

“We should be hearing the disposition of that award here real soon.” Maestas said.

Flores is a Vietnam veteran and a Bronze Star recipient. Working at the resting place for America’s military means more than a paycheck.

“That’s what our mission is to take care of our veterans, and to make sure that the families are taken are of as well, that they see the layout and the beauty of this place,” he said.

He and his wife, Zara, have been married for 50 years. He can retire now, but he won’t.

“When the wife tells me, ‘Hon, it’s time for you to retire. I want you home.’ Then I’ll probably consider it at that time,” he said.

Until that day comes, he’ll continue being the cemetery’s go-to guy.

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