KAILUA-KONA — A century since the close of World War I, veterans and leaders marked the centennial celebration of Armistice Day Sunday reflecting on how far the county has come thanks to the men and women who serve it.
But 100 years later — today more than ever — America should look to its veterans as an example of selflessness, respect and love, they said.
“There’s no greater lesson that needs to be learned by the leaders of our country today than the ones set forth by the example that our veterans live by,” U.S. Congresswoman Tulsi Gabbard told the crowd at the West Hawaii Veterans Cemetery No. 2. “Veterans who sacrifice their own personal interests out of a greater love for our country, for our principles and for our people.”
The division in the country is amplified by leaders across an array of sectors — government, business, banking, health care — who use their power and influence for their own personal gain rather than the greater good, she said.
“In order for us as a country to understand how to heal these divisive wounds, we have to come together,” said Gabbard, a National Guard member who was re-elected last week. “And we find that solution by looking no further than to our men and women in uniform who, generation after generation after generation, motivated by love for one another and our country, have been willing to sacrifice everything for us.”
Lt. Col. Loreto V. Borce Jr., an Oahu native and current commander at U.S. Army Garrison Pohakuloa Training Area, said it was an honor to spend the day reflecting on the sacrifices Hawaii’s ohana has contributed over the years — a tradition he’s proud to carry on.
“As we look over the past 100 years, I’m reminded of the high price Hawaii paid in our conflicts. The price paid for those who fought in World War II, Korea, Vietnam and wars in the Middle East,” the keynote speaker said. “A price paid not only because of Hawaii’s proximity in the front lines but because of the willingness of Hawaii’s sons and daughters to serve in our armed forces.”
An ample crowd attended the event hosted by the American Legion Auxiliary and other volunteers. Under sunny but windy skies, it began at 11 a.m. with the tolling of 21 bells to commemorate the Veterans Day and Armistice Centennial event.
It also served as a way to honor the late Dr. Earl Bakken. The inventor of the battery-operated pacemaker died on Hawaii Island on Oct. 21 at the age of 94. He was a World War II veteran and prolific donor to veterans causes, including to the West Hawaii Veterans Cemetery.
“We shall be eternally grateful for his contributions,” said American Legion Kona Post 20 Commander Jim Hussey, who served as master of ceremonies.
Veterans young and old attended and mingled at the pot luck that followed the hour-long service. American flags decorated headstones in neat rows atop the cemetery’s manicured, green grass.
Yasunori Deguchi, a member of the 442nd Regimental Combat Team during World War II, said he volunteered for the military at the age of 18 to “perpetuate what was good and continue to perpetrate what was good.”
That was the common bond his brothers-in-arms shared at the time; to do the right thing. Seeing everyone pay their respects on Veterans Day is an emotional experience for him.
“We should never forget,” he said.
Steve Tartaglia, an Air Force veteran who served in Vietnam, echoed those sentiments.
“I think it gets more emotional the older you get,” he said. “As you’re getting up in age, I think you start thinking about it more and more. How many we’re losing every day.”