By JOHN BURNETT
Tribune-Herald staff writer
Those who sacrificed their lives fighting America’s wars were honored Monday during the annual Memorial Day ceremony at East Hawaii Veterans Cemetery No. 1.
Retired Col. Norman Stahl of the Marine Corps League Camp Tarawa Attachment noted that many “have chosen to celebrate Memorial Day by going to the beach, taking advantage of sales or hosting barbecues” without any thought of the men and women who died in battle so others can bask on the beach, shop for bargains or fire up the hibachi with family and friends.
“I applaud you for taking the time out to reflect on the great sacrifices made by our fallen comrades, for by doing so, you have chosen to observe the true spirit of Memorial Day,” Stahl told the 200 or so present.
Command Sgt. Maj. Alan Higgs of the U.S. Army’s Pohakuloa Training Area called it “fitting that a grateful nation comes together and recognizes those who have sacrificed in defense of our nation and protection of our liberties.”
Higgs told the story of his friend, Command Sgt. Maj. Steven W. Faulkenberg, of the 2nd Battalion, 2nd Infantry Ramrods.
“In November 2004, on a dark night in Fallujah, Iraq, Task Force Ramrod was pushing forward and clearing various areas of the town,” he said. “An Iraqi Army unit that was attached to the task force broke contact with the task force as they were moving forward. Steve went back to find them and bring them forward to link up with the rest of the task force. During the break, the insurgents infiltrated back into areas once cleared by the task force, and set up an ambush, which they initiated when the Iraqi unit and Steve entered the kill zone. Steve was hit, but was able to get the Iraqis to fight through the ambush. He later died of wounds while being evacuated.”
“I want you to know who he was and know about him by his character,” Higgs said. “By doing this, I honor him, his sacrifice to the nation, and his fellow soldiers.”
U.S. Rep. Tulsi Gabbard spoke at the ceremony. The 32-year-old Hawaii Democrat, who served two tours of combat duty in the Middle East, is a captain in the Hawaii Army National Guard’s 29th Brigade Combat Team.
“The responsibility we have to carry forward and to turn the honor that we pay today into action is one that I carry with me every single day,” she said, and called Memorial Day “bittersweet.”
“We are awed by the great sacrifices that people have made, but also saddened by the memories of our friends and members of our family who we’ve lost,” she said.
Gabbard spoke about a recent meeting in Washington with a group of journalists from Pakistan and talking with them about democracy.
“This 55-year-old man from Pakistan, he looks like a little boy going through elementary school learning about democracy for the first time. He was in awe,” she said. “And he said, ‘That is amazing. We don’t have this in my country.’ Obviously, the challenges that they have in Pakistan are very different and the freedoms they enjoy are very limited.
“But for me, it was a very proud moment as an American, as a soldier, as a member of Congress, to be reminded about what our heroes have sacrificed for.”
Gabbard also mentioned the first legislation she introduced in Congress, the “Helping Heroes Fly Act,” a bipartisan measure to improve airport security screening processes for wounded and severely disabled service members and veterans.
“I was approached by wounded warriors, the Wounded Warriors Project and different veterans’ groups, saying that there are those who were severely wounded in combat trying to travel — those with prosthetic limbs or other injuries — who were being faced with shameful treatment and with inconsistent treatment by the TSA (Transportation Security Administration) as they tried to go home,” she said. “They were being told that they had to take their prosthetic leg off, for example, and hop through the screening on one leg. And obviously, that is unacceptable treatment towards one who sacrificed so much.
“Thankfully, I was able to work with the stakeholders and come up with a mandate for consistent training and a process for our heroes to be able to travel in a very respectful way and it passed unanimously on the floor (of the U.S. House of Representatives) last week, 413 to zero votes.”
“It gives me hope for what we can accomplish, not only as a Congress, but coming together as a community,” Gabbard said.
Mayor Billy Kenoi also spoke, and said that we “cannot say thank you enough for the incredible sacrifice so many have made for so long for all of us.”
“My children and my family get to sleep every night in a safe country that protects them (and) looks out for them,” he said. “And the reason that is so is because brave warriors have come before them and fought, bravely, with honor, with dignity, and most of all, with love — with love of country, with love of family, with love of community.”
Email John Burnett at firstname.lastname@example.org.