Recently, my husband and I flew to the island of Oahu for a few days. Although most people fly there for pleasure, we arrived there to fulfill a promise as well as remember and honor the thousands who died in service to our nation during World War II.
So, on a calm and beautiful morning in Honolulu, we were winding our way up through the small neighborhoods of the city embedded into the side of an extinct volcano. As our rental car rounded the final curve, we were treated to a breath-taking overlook of the city.
After looking to my left, we passed through the entrance to the National Memorial Cemetery of the Pacific, commonly known as the Punchbowl, located in the center of a volcanic crater.
As we entered the Punchbowl, I wasn’t prepared for the wave of emotions that swept through me. I found myself breathless, my eyes blurred with tears, and absolutely overwhelmed. Since these behaviors are most unusual for me, my husband asked me multiple times if I was okay. I was okay. But I knew that I was experiencing one of the most profound moments of my life.
A Peaceful Place
Although I have visited many cemeteries, I have never actually been in one where I had a sense of complete, pure, and ultimate peace. On that Sunday morning, I was filled with the most beautiful and calming peace high above the city of Honolulu. The air carried only bird songs, ocean breezes, and undisturbed silence.
As I began walking up the gradual rise toward the tall white engraved Tablets of the Missing, I read the names of the honored buried in this most beautiful place and spent a moment of quiet reflection and thanks to each of them for their service.
An Unexpected Encounter
About halfway up the rise, we noticed a small and frail woman scrubbing a gravemarker next to the walkway. We watched her lovingly clear and clean the marker. Finally, she straightened to inspect her work and finished by placing fresh flowers as a loving remembrance. It was such a touching and lovely moment.
Keith and I were careful not to encroach on her private moment and walked quickly and quietly at an appropriate distance. Both of us were stunned when she turned and spoke to us saying, “He was my brother. He was killed in France in World War II.”
We expressed our sympathies for her loss and thanked him for his service and sacrifice. She continued on to tell us that she was a young girl when he left to join the Army Air Forces. She spoke of loving memories of Henry string that he often gave her coins to buy crack seed candy at the local store. When speaking of his death, she told us that those who had served with her brother said that he insisted that the medics treat his other wounded comrades before treating him. She said that in doing so, he gave his life for others.
Her brother, PFC Henry Matsuzo Chibana, was 23 years old when he died in France on 17 October 1944.
I was so moved by her loyalty and dedication to brother. She has been caring for his grave for his grave for seventy-eight years. That is the essence of unconditional love.
Honoring a Fallen Soldier
Henry’s sister was tiring, and I could tell that she must leave to go home and rest. But her story and Henry’s was so compelling that I asked for a few more moments of her time. I briefly explained that I was volunteering with the Stories Behind the Stars program which is a national non-profit organization that seeks volunteers to write life stories all 421,000+ men and women killed in World War II. After a brief description of the program, I asked her for permission to write her brother’s story. She hesitated for only a moment, smiled, and softly said, “Yes. Please do.”
Then she gathered her cleaning supplies, put them into her car, and told us that she was going to the other side of the cemetery to clean and care for two more of her brothers who are also buried there.
[AUTHOR’S NOTE: If you would like to read PFC Chibana’s life story, please visit his Roll of Honor page (click HERE) on the Together We Served website.]