Northeast of downtown Honolulu is a bowl-shaped crater, nicknamed the Punchbowl, formed by a long-extinct volcano. Hawaiians called the crater Puowaina (‘hill of human sacrifices’). It’s believed that at an ancient heiau (temple) here, the slain bodies of kapu (taboo) breakers were ceremonially cremated upon an altar. Today, the remains of ancient Hawaiians sacrificed to appease the gods share the crater floor with the bodies of well over 50,000 soldiers.
The remains of Ernie Pyle, the distinguished war correspondent who was killed in Okinawa during the final days of WWII, lie in section D, grave 109. Five stones to the left, at grave D-1, is the marker for Ellison Onizuka, the Hawaiʻi (Big Island) astronaut who perished in the 1986 Challenger space shuttle disaster. Other notables buried here include longtime US senator and WWII vet Daniel K Inouye. Screens at the visitors center at the cemetery entrance let you look up the location of any gravesite.
Even without the war sights, Punchbowl would be worth the drive up for the plum views of the city and Diamond Head. After entering the cemetery, bear left and go to the top of the hill, where there’s a sweeping ocean-view lookout. Special events held at the cemetery include Memorial Day ceremonies to honor veterans and a traditional Easter sunrise Christian service. Note the iconic 30ft-tall statue Columbia on the central tower, which features in the opening credits of both the old and new Hawaii Five-0.