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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Tuesday, June 1, 2010

Memorial Day traditions honor fallen

BY Mike Gordon
Advertiser Staff Writer

Hawaii news photo - The Honolulu Advertiser

Varney Range, his son, John, and his wife, Johnnette, visit the grave of her father, John Helemauna Rego, at the National Memorial Cemetery of the Pacific at Punchbowl.

BRUCE ASATO | The Honolulu Advertiser

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Just as she has done since she was a little girl, back in the days when Memorial Day at Punchbowl was a huge family picnic, Johnnette Range sat before her father's grave to honor his memory.

She brought ginger, anthuriums and heliconia and arranged them in a plastic container to place at the grave where her father was buried when she was 9. John Rego was only 32 when he was killed by a sniper in Vietnam.

"We have been coming here every Memorial Day since 1966," said Range, 53, of Kalihi. "It's an important tradition in my family. It's something that my mom did and now it is something we do, too."

That is the essence of Memorial Day, which was marked at National Memorial Cemetery of the Pacific yesterday morning by ceremonies both public and private by military color guards, speeches and jets in formation and by quiet family gatherings on the lush lawn of the crater.

The formal presentation drew a crowd of about 1,400. Some wore medals, some, lei.

U.S. Sen. Daniel Inouye, a World War II Medal of Honor recipient, told them that the freedoms they enjoy were paid for with lives of men and women they will never know.

"It should serve as a reminder to us all of the tragedy and darkness of war and of the glory of courage and patriotism," he said. "Today is a day of reflection. Today is a day of remembrance."

In the crowd, veterans of six wars listened as Inouye underscored the nation's most recent losses more than 5,400 casualties in Iraq and Afghanistan, "our sons and daughters" but he also said the nation must do a better job of welcoming home those who return.

"The true test is the honors we bestow," he said. "It is the welcome home with open arms. It is the health care and rehabilitation we provide. It is the helping hand we extend to their families. It is a simple act of kindness and thank you for their service."

Mayor Mufi Hannemann, host of the 61st annual event, said that even though the fallen had come from all walks of life, they shared something with the audience.

"They were our fellow Americans," he said. "They were our people. And they will always be remembered, especially on this special day."

Hannemann said the quest for peace should never die. "We should never lose hope," he said. "We should always strive and constantly pray for a world devoid of conflict and turmoil and destruction."

Many of the veterans in the audience came to remember their comrades.

It was the reason that brought Hibbert Manley, an 82-year-old Army veteran from Wahiawā who fought in the Korean War.

"They're here," he said. "We have to honor them. It's the least we can do."

The service included one of its signature moments: three rifle volleys, taps and a missing-man flyover by four Hawai'i Air National Guard F-15 jets. As the F-15s swooped in from Diamond Head, one of them nosed up toward the heavens.

It roared into the clouds until all that could be seen was a pair of orange afterburners.

In that moment, as she stood on the edge of the cemetery, Johnette Range began to cry.