Veterans honored at Waikiki Natatorium for Memorial Day

Published: May. 29, 2011 at 7:16 PM HST|Updated: May. 30, 2011 at 12:06 AM HST
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Peter Apo
Peter Apo
Ron Oba
Ron Oba

By Ben Gutierrez - bio | email

WAIKIKI (HawaiiNewsNow) - It's not the largest Memorial Day service in Hawaii. But the ceremony held Sunday morning at the Waikiki Natatorium has drawn people for the last 23 years.

"We've had a pretty loyal audience over the years," said Peter Apo, president of the Friends of the Natatorium, which organizes the event. "The people show up year in and year out, and it's a rather intimate gathering."

Dozens of people came to honor veterans and war dead, with the backdrop of the Natatorium, which was built in 1927 as a memorial to honor those who fought and died in World War I.

"The War Memorial is beautiful, and we specifically try to set up here so people can see, of course, the defining architectural feature, which is the memorial arch," Apo said.

The ceremony included a 21-gun salute and the playing of Taps.

The ceremony also marked the day with hula from those far too young to remember those wars, and speeches from those old enough to have fought in them -- and survived.

"The War Memorial Natatorium not only honors the more than ten thousand men and women of Hawaii who volunteered to serve in World War I, it is really a memorial that reminds us that freedom is not free," Ron Oba, a World War II veteran of the 442nd Regimental Combat Team, told the gathering.

The memorial itself still stands, even after the last surviving World War I veteran passed on earlier this year. It also stands while talk resurfaces about whether to tear it down.

"We try not to make any political statements today," Apo said, "but the fact is that somewhere down the line we're going to have to come to grips with the fact there are people who see options here rather than having the Natatorium."

Instead of political statements, speakers came to remember and reflect.

"If you understand Memorial Day, then you understand why we're here," Lt. Gen. Duane Thiessen, the U.S. Marine Pacific Commander, told the crowd after departing from his prepared remarks to point out the many children who were in the audience.

Thiessen paused for several seconds, before continuing, "People gave all so that we could be here and have what we have." And then he tapped his hand over his heart.

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