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Howard Coop | Remember and be grateful for freedom

 Wednesday, July 14, 1976 was a solemnly impressive day that will forever be remembered.

With the Koolau Mountains behind us and rows of monkey pod trees around us, we stood in Punch Bowl crater, known to the Hawaiian people as Puowaina, a name that means “the Hill of Sacrifice.” “Court of the Missing” — a massive series of stairways with eight marble walls that contain the names of 18,093 American service men and women who are missing in action — stood beside us. We looked across Punch Bowl Cemetery at what appeared to be a sea of white crosses, Arlington of the Pacific. About 53,000 World War I, World War II, and Vietnam War veterans and their descendants, including 22 recipients of the Medal of Honor, have been buried there.

After a few well-chosen words spoken in hushed tones by our guide, there was total silence…and a few tears. Then, after a moment, the guide lead us to the edge of that sea of crosses and pointed out two of them. The first was a serviceman killed on December 7, 1942 during the infamous attack on Pearl Harbor, the second, Ernie Pyle, was the famed Pulitzer Prize-winning news correspondent of World War II who was killed by enemy fire on April 18, 1945 during the Battle of Okinawa. From the standpoint of weather, it was a beautiful day in Hawaii, but for a group of American tourists, it was a sad and gloomy day.

Where will you be, and what will you be doing on Veterans Day? It may be a day of leisure for you, so you probably won’t be in Arlington Cemetery, Punch Bowl Crater, or any other cemetery. But wherever you are, you can stop for a moment and remember…

Remember the freedom you enjoy. It is precious, but it is not free. It cost dearly. Many servicemen and women made it possible. Some of them walk by our side every day.

But in countless cemeteries around the world, others, many others, have white crosses marking their graves. Remember and be grateful.