On just his second day in office — Dec. 7, 2010 — Gov. Neil Abercrombie asked that all state and U.S. flags at state and county agencies be flown at half-staff.

It was in remembrance of the Pearl Harbor attack, of course — “to honor American patriots who died as a result of their service.”

A governor ordering flags lowered on important dates is nothing new. Abercrombie also did so for Memorial Day and Sept. 11 remembrances this year.

Moreover, he ordered flags lowered for the passing of revered government figures, like former Big Island Mayor Stephen Yamashiro and U.S. District Judge Samuel P. King.

But, Abercrombie has also ordered flags lowered for lesser-known figures, many of them former lawmakers belonging to the Democratic Party of Hawaii who have not been in the public mind for decades. In these cases and others, the governor has stated that the honorees made significant contributions to the state.

All told, Abercrombie has ordered flags to fly half-staff 16 times during his 10 months in office.

Three Times In One Week

Just last week, flags were lowered to mark the passing of three people:

• Former legislator and First Circuit Court Judge Katsugo Miho

• Former legislator Lisa Naito

• Former legislator — and swimming legend — Keo Nakama

In addition to Sept. 11, flags were also lowered last month for Senior Chief Petty Officer Kraig M. Vickers, who was killed Aug. 6 in Afghanistan.

A spokeswoman for the administration said the governor’s reasons for ordering flags lowered are explained in press releases and ceremonial proclamations.

In the case of Vickers, 36, he was a 1992 Maui High School graduate.

“We honor Senior Chief Petty Officer Vickers and all of those who have paid the ultimate sacrifice as a result of their duty to the nation and fellow soldiers,” Abercrombie stated in a press release.

The proclamation for Nakama emphasizes his swimming career:

[Nakama’s] most famous accomplishment is becoming the first person to swim completely across the 27-mile Kaiwi Channel from Mokolai to Oahu; Former Hawaii State Representative Keo Nakama completed the accomplishment in 15.5 hours at the age of 41 in 1961.

The proclamation is signed by Abercrombie and Lt. Gov. Brian Schatz.

Abercrombie Contemporaries

The governor, 73, has lived in Hawaii since just after statehood, and he knows, has known or known of an awful lot of people.

Most of the people for whom flags were lowered were in their senior years when they passed. Nakama, for example, was born in 1920, Miho in 1922 and Naito in 1934.

Abercrombie recognizes accomplishments that enriched the lives of many.

Former legislator Hiroshi Kato (born 1922) served with the 442nd Regimental Combat Team in World War II, helped found the William S. Richardson School of Law at the University of Hawaii and rendered “equitable and fair decisions” as a Circuit Court judge.

Kato, Naito and Nakama were Democrats. So was Yamashiro. Same for former Big Isle Mayor Herbert Matayoshi, who Abercrombie — a Democrat — also honored.

Of course, there are many more Democrats in Hawaii than Republicans. And the governor honored Republicans Miho and King.

Since taking office, Abercrombie has issued 14 ceremonial proclamations for the recently departed. Nine had flags lowered in their honor, and all were either veterans, elected officials or judges — sometimes all three.

(Others honored by the governor with a ceremonial proclamation — but not a flag lowering — include a kumu hula, a kahu, a Maori monarch, a public radio executive and “the first Filipino-American to be elected as a Democrat in the United States”.)

Abercrombie also ordered flags lowered for Peace Officers Memorial Day and Police Week in May; for the Tucson, Ariz., shooting of Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords in January; and on the passing of the last surviving U.S. veteran of World War I in March.

All three orders came from President Barack Obama.

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