American flags flutter among Maui graves, honoring sacrifices of the fallen

It's a visual reminder of those who served our country and who are no longer with us today.
Published: May. 30, 2022 at 7:16 PM HST|Updated: May. 30, 2022 at 7:49 PM HST
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MAKAWAO (HawaiiNewsNow) - Hundreds gathered at Maui Veterans Cemetery Monday morning to honor our nation’s fallen heroes.

It’s the first time an in-person Memorial Day ceremony was held on the Valley Isle since 2019.

Approximately 3,300 flags were carefully placed at each grave at the cemetery in Makawao – a visual reminder of those who served our country and who are no longer with us today.

“It’s not that the pain is gone by any means. As I heard Taps play, I had tears streaming down my face,” said Gabriel Rao.

Rao’s brother Sgt. Elijah J. Rao died in Afghanistan in 2009 during Operation Enduring Freedom. He was just 26 years old.

“It’s an opportunity for us to take a moment and have a pause, a moment of clarity, and a moment to really just be grateful for the sacrifice that so many have,” Rao said. “Although they may be nameless to you, there is a family behind each name.”

Organizers estimate about 200 people attended the ceremony in Makawao to reflect and honor members of the U.S. military who made the ultimate sacrifice.

“These people gave their lives for us,” said Doll Aricayos.

Aricayos’ husband Joseph served in the Vietnam War for six years.

She said he was exposed to Agent Orange, the highly toxic herbicide sprayed by the military throughout South Vietnam.

Joseph died last December.

“It reminds you that you didn’t get this freedom by being handed over. Somebody had to do something, or somebody had to give up something for me to have this freedom,” Aricayos said.

It’s been almost 50 years since the Vietnam War.

Bo Mahoe served on the front lines.

“As a draftee in the Vietnam War, I went that full tilt of going into the infantry and serving in the jungles of Vietnam. I lost 14 members of my unit. And so, it’s very close and dear to me, Memorial Day. I remember those 14 soldiers always. Especially today, Memorial Day,” Mahoe said.

Although there were no veterans from the Greatest Generation present in Monday’s audience, a handful of Korean War vets stood together proudly.

“You know the saying goes, ‘freedom is never free,’” said 92-year-old Korean War veteran Robert H. Saiki. “We should honor all the buddies that sacrificed their lives for freedom.”

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