We buried my beloved grandmother last week.
My five-year-old daughter and I along with hundreds of other relatives and friends gathered at Veteran’s Cemetery in Hilo, Hawaii, to pay tribute to an unbelievably remarkable woman whose life will never be forgotten.
It had been almost 11 years to the day since I attended a burial at Veteran’s Cemetery. The last time we gathered en masse was to say good-bye to my grandfather. My fiercely proud Japanese-American grandfather, who risked his life to serve the United States in World War II, while some of his family members were forced to reside at internment camps in California.
On that cloudless day in 1999, I stood on a dirt-strewn patch of grass under the blazing hot Hawaiian sun in solemn silence, as soldiers executed a 21-gun salute to my war veteran grandpa. Taps was played, the American flag was folded 13 times and placed in my grandmother’s arms; there was pomp and circumstance, and my grandfather would not have been more proud. Not because all of it was in his honor, but because he was such a stalwart believer in the United States Armed Forces and the tenets of American democracy.
Some day I will provide all the details to my young daughter about her great-grandfather’s life as a member of the highly decorated 100th Infantry Battalion, 442nd Regimental Combat Team. My grandfather’s army unit is the most highly decorated regiment in the history of the United States Armed Forces, including 21 Medal of Honor recipients.
My grandpa, along with his unit composed mostly of Japanese Americans, traveled from Hawaii to Italy, southern France, and Germany, following the bombing of Pearl Harbor. The young soldiers from Hawaii entered some of the most dangerous situations known to man in order to rescue another U.S. Army regiment that was trapped by the Germans. Despite the fact that their families and friends were wrongfully imprisoned back in the United States just because they were of Japanese descent, the members of the 442nd 100 Battalion defended their fellow countrymen with honor, dignity and without prejudice.
Even if you don’t have a family member or friend who has served, or is currently serving our country, use today as a teachable moment for your children. Explain to them the real reason they don’t have school today. Memorial Day may not have special meaning to them right now, but you can change that by reading to them about decorated service men and women, visiting a Veteran’s Cemetery or sharing fun facts about military rituals.
Here’s one to get you started: Did you know that at military funerals, the 21-gun salute represents the sum of the numbers in the year 1776?
Do you know why the American flag is folded 13 times before being presented to a fallen soldier’s loved one? You probably thought it was to symbolize the original 13 colonies, but it’s not.
Click here to find out the real meaning behind the 13 folds.
Happy Memorial Day to the millions of veterans and current service men and women, who proudly defend our freedoms, and especially to my beloved grandfather, who taught me how important it is to educate future generations about the past.