Veterans cemetery asking families to respect the rules
Exactly 22 years ago on August 1, 1991 the Hawaii State Veterans Cemetery in Kaneohe opened. Today there are nearly 10,000 people buried there. But some families have been bending the rules on how to honor their loved one.
Uniformity is a must in the military and it carries over into death as well, which is why the Hawaii State Veterans Cemetery in Kaneohe is getting the word out about plots that break the rules.
Pinwheels, candles and trinkets, they all add a personal touch, but it's also a violation.
"Any of those things that are individualized or memorialized are not permitted in our cemetery," said Col. Ron Han (Ret.), Office of Veterans Services Director, Department of Defense.
The rules haven't changed, but enforcement has. Col. Han is trying to return the cemetery to the same level of respect for all, literally. They won't let people raise the gravesites, plant their own grass or make an outline around the plot.
"It shows a distinction between grave areas. In reality the fact that they are buried here is of the highest honor in and of itself," said Col. Han. "It's respect and honor. We have Congressional Medal of Honor recipients buried next to general officers buried next to airmen buried next to soldiers. Their graves are not distinctive other than their gravestone."
Technically the only things allowed at the gravesite are the permanent vases for flowers and an American and State flag. Although even flag sticks that are too high are a violation.
"What you see up at Punchbowl should emulate the Kaneohe Hawaii State Veterans Cemetery and the other state cemeteries across the state," said Col. Han. "We're honored to have someone interred here. It is a higher standard and we really ask the public and those who come and visit to recognize that high standard and help us kokua."
He says people put up tents and barbeque at the gravesites. They've even seen people wash their cars or give driving lessons on the grounds, all of which is not allowed.
"I notice some people have a divider like I'm special," said Noreen Santiago, Ewa Beach.
Noreen Santiago's dad is buried at the Veterans cemetery in Kaneohe. She and her mother visit the gravesite every other week. They are happy the rules will be enforced because people added so many extras it became a competition like one family cared more than the others.
"We shouldn't be up keeping our yard like that or that we're competing with Mr. Jones," said Santiago. "It doesn't make it feel respectable almost."
"There may be people doing things to enhance graves here and not understanding the affect it may have on others," said Tom Johnson, who was dropping off flowers with his wife at a relative's gravesite. "I think if they understood the rules I think then people could behave accordingly. I think it was intended for them to all have equal status here."
The administration will be sending out letters to family members with loved ones buried at the Hawaii State Veterans Cemetery in Kaneohe. If you get a notification you will have 30 days to pick up the items at the gravesite. After that the cemetery will store the items for another 30 days. Anything not picked up after that will be thrown away.
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