Memorial Day is viewed by many, if not most, as the unofficial start of summer, a three-day weekend marked by beach outings and backyard barbecues — and the meaning of the actual holiday is all but forgotten.
But in the midst of a coronavirus pandemic that’s driven many functions requiring human contact to be done online, the solemn observance held annually by Veterans of Foreign Wars Post 3830 and VFW Auxiliary 3830 took to Facebook Live Monday from Hawaii Veterans Cemetery No. 1 in Hilo.
With the exception of “Taps,” which was played by Ray Gandy, a retired brigadier general, Army Ranger and Vietnam War veteran, music was prerecorded instead of played by the Hawaii County Band because of mandated crowd-size limits and social distancing. The VFW post provided the color guard and the American Legion performed the funeral volley of rifles instead of those services provided by ROTC units, Hawaii Youth Challenge or the National Guard.
The rows of graves stood starkly empty save a few individuals and families stopping briefly to place flowers at a loved one’s headstone.
And with only an invited few in physical attendance plus dozens viewing remotely, Pat Sauer, the auxiliary president, succinctly summed up the significance of the nationally recognized observance.
“Memorial Day is a solemn day to remember everyone who has died serving in the American Armed Forces,” Sauer said.
“It’s easy to forget what Memorial Day actually means when you’re longing to go to the beach and being asked to stay home and social distance from family and friends. But the historical reason for the holiday signifies much more than a three-day weekend or picnics and beach visits,” she added.
Mayor Harry Kim, an Army medic during the Vietnam War, surveyed the rows of graves, all decorated with small American flags and many with flowers, as well as the veterans cemetery’s sparsely populated pavilion.
“It’s lonesome here but it’s a good feeling, also, oddly, of being alone with your thoughts of all that is around you — and also of how lucky we are in Hawaii,” Kim said. “When I look out there and see the tens of thousands of graves that are shown on … national film, … very few of them are even decorated. And the Hawaiian way is not to forget. And we must remember this: It is not ‘we will not forget,’ but ‘we cannot forget.’”
Hawaii Army National Guard Sgt. 1st Class Aurelio Tumpap, the event’s keynote speaker, described Memorial Day as “a somber time to reflect but … also a celebration of memories.”
“Although only one day is reserved to honor our fallen, I feel Memorial Day should be celebrated any time of the year. There should be no restrictions on remembering our loved ones,” Tumpap said. “Because of the COVID-19 pandemic … many of you could not be here in person. As unfortunate as that is, the important thing is you are at home and staying safe. Many events have been postponed or even canceled. Thanks to your dedication and resilience, we still have this ceremony. Today’s event shows no disease can stop the human spirit.
“That said, I’d like to thank all the medical personnel, first responders and essential workers who are keeping this country running. I would also like to express my heartfelt condolences to those families who lost someone to this disease.”
Tumpap, a second-generation career soldier, paid tribute to his father, Master Sgt. Aurelio Tumpap, who died two years ago.
“He served this great nation for 21 years and was the reason I joined the military,” Tumpap said. “… In my case, my father’s untimely death motivated me to be a better man — not in the sense of improving my life, but making more sacrifices and helping out others. I still feel his presence, pushing me to work hard and to never give up.”
Over Memorial Day weekend, a number of local high schools held drive-through diploma lines and virtual graduation ceremonies. Fittingly enough, Tumpap’s conclusion, while honoring the nation’s fallen heroes, contained overtones of a valedictory address.
“One of these days, somebody will be celebrating my life, as well as yours. Until then, I challenge you to live life to the fullest,” he said. “… You never know how long we have on this earth. Take every opportunity to say ‘I love you’ to your loved ones. Always greet everybody with a smile, even though you don’t know them. Be a good Samaritan and help those who need help.
“Never make excuses on why you can’t accomplish your goals and dreams.”
Email John Burnett at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Source: Hawaii Tribune Herald