KAILUA-KONA — Battle tested, war survivor Garrison Command Sgt. Maj. Luis Ortiz of Pohakuloa Training Area told a crowd of more than a hundred people that he woke feeling sick Monday morning.
As he did every year on Memorial Day.
It was a holiday, sure. But one that always cuts the Puerto Rico born veteran at his core.
Somber, serious, it’s a day that offers Ortiz time to reflect on his brothers- and sisters-in-arms, those who fought with him, and before him, some who survived and those who didn’t.
Like his friend, Michael Jacobson, who fell in battle in Iraq in 2016.
“I remember that last roll call when his name was called and there was no response,” Ortiz, the keynote speaker for the 11 a.m. ceremony at West Hawaii Veterans Cemetery No. 2, said.
“I’m angry when I get a cheerful ‘happy Memorial Day.’”
Because each year it seems the meaning behind the day is lost a little more. It’s swallowed up in the masses who treat it as a celebration for the unofficial start of summer. Or it’s a day off from work where big box stores are throwing out season sales. Or it’s simply lost somewhere in the heightened political divide that’s eating the country.
“What happened,” the Bronze Star recipient asked. “When did we lose touch?”
For the hundred plus who gathered under a bright blue Kona sky, the true reason for remembering remained front and center. The annual event hosted by the Veterans of Foreign Wars Post 12122 Auxiliary brought Janet Randolph, whose husband was a fighter pilot during World War II.
The late William Randolph was shot down and captured in Germany, an “overwhelming experience” for the young pilot, shortly before the end of the war in 1945. He was eventually freed and went on to live a long, prosperous life raising a family with his wife. The holiday represents a day to pay their respect.
“By all means,” she said. “Every year.”
Glenn Kossow also visits to pay tribute annually. His father was injured severely in World War II, but never talked about the experience.
His resting place is in the cemetery perched high above the Pacific Ocean and before
the ceremony began Kossow stood quietly over his dad’s headstone.
“It’s just remembering through my dad and other people just how bad, how terrible war is,” Kossow said on the meaning he gets from attending every year.
The cost of service has hit especially close to home in West Hawaii recently.
Konawaena graduate and Army Sgt. 1st Class Reymund R. Transfiguracion died in 2018 from wounds suffered from an IED in Helmand province, Afghanistan. Hawaii Police Officer Bronson Kaliloa was shot in the line of duty in Puna last summer. And last week Hawaii Fire Department Capt. David Mahon died in a three car accident on Saddle Road. These are but examples.
“Let’s not forget our hometown heroes,” Ortiz said. “Their dates and names should not be forgotten.”
It’s that sacrifice and service that makes America the country that it is. And it’s understanding that must persevere through today’s indifference, Ortiz added.
Source: Hawaii Tribune Herald