National Memorial Cemetery of the Pacific at Punchbowl Crater

By Hawaii.com Team
Punchbowl Crater Memorial Day celebration

Photo: Star-Advertiser

The National Memorial Cemetery of the Pacific is a picturesque setting in the middle of Honolulu that is the official resting place of more than 25,000 veterans who bravely fought for our country in the armed forces.

This solemn and inspiring location offers a perfect opportunity to pay your respects while soaking in the natural beauty and views of Oahu from this 112-acre cemetery, which was built in the basin of an extinct volcanic tuff cone. Its official name is Puowaina Crater, though it is most commonly known as Punchbowl Crater.

The History of Punchbowl Crater

The creation of this natural “punchbowl” dates back some 75,000 to 100,000 years and is the result of an infusion of molten hot lava erupting through cracks within the area’s old coral reefs. In fact, those reefs once stretched all the way to the base of Oahu’s Ko’olau Mountain Range!

The word “Puowaina” is Hawaiian for “Hill of Sacrifice” or “Consecrated Hill,” and the historic site proudly honors those American citizens who gave their lives in service within either World War II, the Korean War, or the Vietnam War.

Resting Place of Our Soldiers

Gravestone for unknown individuals who died on the USS Oklahoma

Photo: Star-Advertiser

Officially opened to the public on July 19, 1949, the cemetery is home to the remains of numerous American war heroes who lie in state here, many of whom lost their lives on on Dec. 7, 1941, during the attack on Pearl Harbor.

Prior to the National Memorial Cemetery of the Pacific’s official opening in 1949, the remains of soldiers from Guam, Wake Island and Japanese POW camps were transported to Oahu for internment at Punchbowl Crater.

Monument to Astronaut Ellison Onizuka

A monument to Hawaii astronaut Ellison Onizuka, who died aboard the Space Shuttle Challenger in 1986, is also found on the cemetery grounds, along with The Courts of the Missing — white stone tablets that bear the names of WWII soldiers missing in action. Onizuka, who was from Kealakekua on the Big Island of Hawaii, was a flight test engineer and test pilot in the Air Force prior to his career at NASA. He flew into space aboard the Space Shuttle Discovery in 1985.

Annual Memorial Day Remembrance

The Mayor’s Memorial Day Ceremony takes place each year at the National Memorial Cemetery of the Pacific. School children all across Hawaii fashion handmade flower lei, which are then placed upon every single grave at Punchbowl, serving as a sign of respect, as well as a deeply grateful mahalo (thank you) to the brave soldiers buried therein. These

The cemetery is located at 2177 Puowaina Drive and is open to the public (and accessible by car) from 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. each day. For more information, including specific holiday and operating hours, call 532-3720 or visit https://www.cem.va.gov/cems/nchp/nmcp.asp.

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