Reflecting on Veterans Day, Hawaii’s long legacy of courage, service before self, and honor must challenge us to keep these islands worthy of the lives that defended our nation.

It is no exaggeration to say that Hawaii is for heroes. At the National Memorial Cemetery of the Pacific, the palladium Lady Columbia towers over the flower bulb-shaped Punchbowl crater, offering in eternal marble prose an invocation: “The solemn pride that must be yours to have laid so costly a sacrifice upon the altar of freedom.”

Like pollen from a flower, Columbia invites us to take with us the stories of those who lived and died by a code, and to make it a part of our collective consciousness, empowering us all to bring the bloom of liberty and excellence everywhere we go.

We would do well to consider the souls that have graced Hawaii with their lives and the spirits that have departed this vale of tears in our service. Hawaii is not a place where the fainthearted are born or live, nor a realm where inaction or indifference has precedent.

US Flags on floral arrangement at the Hawaii State Veteran's Cemetery in Kaneohe on October 2, 2014
U.S. flags and flowers at the Hawaii State Veterans Cemetery in Kaneohe in 2014. PF Bentley/Civil Beat

All of us who live in Hawaii, and especially those who serve the public – both in and out of uniform – have a responsibility to catch the mantle of our heroes and learn from their devotion. Hawaii has no shortage of examples to look up to.

Men like Dorie Miller, a Mess Attendant 3rd Class aboard the USS West Virginia, who in the swirling chaos of the Pearl Harbor attack, commandeered an anti-aircraft gun and stood as a human wall against enemy bombs, teaches us that initiative saves lives.

Men like Herbert K. Pililaau, a rifleman who volunteered to stay behind at the Battle of Heartbreak Ridge against waves of North Korean soldiers and fought to the last breath on Hill 931 with only rocks and a knife, inspires us to remember devotion makes us champions.

Men like the legendary Ellison Onizuka, the first astronaut from Hawaii and the first Asian-American in space who tragically perished aboard the Space Shuttle Challenger, remind us that these islands have birthed pioneers unafraid to take stellar risks in the pursuit of knowledge.

Speaking of Onizuka and his crew, then-President Ronald Reagan would eulogize, “We remember Ellison Onizuka, who, as a child running barefoot through the coffee fields and macadamia groves of Hawaii, dreamed of someday traveling to the moon … Sometimes, when we reach for the stars, we fall short. But we must pick ourselves up again and press on, despite the pain. Our nation is indeed fortunate that we can still draw on immense reservoirs of courage, character and fortitude – that we are still blessed with heroes like those of the Space Shuttle Challenger.”

Perhaps it is only fitting that Veterans Day follows Election Day, because our political choices always have human consequences. Being sensitive to this fact, our newly elected federal and state officials should consider the gravity of what it means to represent free men and women in the State of Hawaii.

To wear the lapel pin of the Seal of the State of Hawaii or the flag of the United States of America costs politicians nothing, but these symbols represent the highest virtues of a heroic society. It is for this reason that as we form our government and prepare our policies for 2019, that we do so with a re-dedication to duty, honor, country, and service before self.

The residents and citizens of Hawaii are a good and noble people who truly believe that the life of the land is perpetuated in righteous deeds, not just righteous talk. Although at times the people have not been present en masse to testify before committees, plead before boards and commissions, or even vote at the polls, those who serve in government have a holy responsibility to honor the people of these islands and their long-traditions of excellence.

Many of our local heroes have lived and died by a creed that, “I will never forget that I am an American fighting man, responsible for my actions, and dedicated to the principles which made my country free. I will trust in my God, and in the United States of America.”

“I will not lie, cheat, or steal, or tolerate those among me who do,” is another oath that Hawaii heroes know well.  Even outside of military and law enforcement service, many Hawaii residents agree wholeheartedly in these words and expect and demand our government abide by them as well.

A long, gray line of heroic spirits are watching us, even now. Was Veterans Day just another day off for Hawaii government? Or will our elected officials say, “Today, I will serve, I will do my very best, and I will stand and be counted for the future of Hawaii”?

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