West Hawaiʻi Vietnam War Memorial to be dedicated on 50th anniversary of war’s end
A new Vietnam War Memorial at the West Hawaii Veterans Cemetery in Kona will be unveiled on March 29, as America recognizes the 50th anniversary of the war’s closure.
The public is invited to attend the ceremony, which starts at 11 a.m. on National Vietnam War Veterans Day. The day was designated in 2017 with the signing into law of the Vietnam War Veterans Recognition Act.
At the ceremony, representatives from veterans organizations, elected officials and community leaders will be on hand as a bell tolls to recognize the 15 service members of West Hawaiʻi who were killed in action during the Vietnam War and their Gold Star families.
The ceremony also will include a pule (prayer), posting of the national and state colors, and the singing of the national anthem.
The new memorial is the vision of a few Vietnam war veterans. The got together in 2021 to form what is now the West Hawaiʻi Vietnam Veterans War Memorial Association.
They wanted to build a memorial in West Hawaiʻi to stand as a symbol of honor for the ultimate sacrifice and service to our county by the men and women who lost their lives. The memorial’s purpose also is to promote healing and dignity to the surviving veterans of the Vietnam war.
The memorial’s highest honor focuses on the 15 local service members killed in action during the war, including Sgt. First Class Rodney Yano, the only Medal of Honor recipient from West Hawai’i.
The association also dedicates this new memorial to the devotion of duty of all those who answered the call to arms to serve during one of the most divisive wars in U.S. history.
“After many Honor Guard Ceremonies at the West Hawaiʻi Veterans Cemetery, it seemed like more and more Vietnam veterans were passing away,” said Mel Behasa, founder and chairman of the association. “We always assumed there must be plans to build a Vietnam Veteran War Memorial by the government. We later learned that it would take this dedicated group and the help of the community to make it happen.
“We hope that this memorial will inspire others to continue to build memorials at the West Hawaiʻi Veterans Cemetery.”
The group has plans to continue with additional war memorials and tributes at the cemetery.
The Vietnam War memorial, which stands 6 feet high and is 7 feet long, was built by noted cultural practitioner, master mason Billy Fields. He served as a Marine in the Vietnam War.
The stonework is crafted from basalt rock. The memorial facial is constructed with a marbled green hued granite reminiscent to the group of how Vietnam looked from the air.
A brass plaque set on the memorial is a silhouette design in black of soldiers and helicopters in a tropical setting with a gold background. Between the dates of the conflict, 1959 and 1975, are the Hawaiian words “Ku koa i ka makani makaha,” meaning to stand bravely in the fierce winds.
The memorial plaque continues to describe the bravery, soldiers equipment and includes a map of Vietnam. Mounted on the base of the Vietnam War Memorial are all the symbols of the U.S. Military Armed Forces.
Future plans include engraving the names, ranks, date of birth, date of death and hometowns of the 15 West Hawaiʻi Vietnam War soldiers killed in action.
The West Hawaiʻi Veterans Cemetery is located at 72-3245 Queen Kaʻahumanu Highway in Kailua-Kona.