National Memorial Cemetery of the Pacific

Cemetery in Honolulu

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 nearly 50,000 soldiers, many of whom were killed in the Pacific during WWII.

The remains of Ernie Pyle, the distinguished war correspondent who was hit by machine-gun fire on Ie-shima 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 astronaut Ellison Onizuka, the Hawaiʻi (Big Island) astronaut who perished in the 1986 Challenger space-shuttle disaster.

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.


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