Death before dishonor. It seems to me that on Maui, we continue to dishonor our dead.
I live so close to the Maui Veterans Cemetery on Maui that when I have a free moment to go for a quick photography adventure I tend to gravitate towards the cemetery or the Hui No’eau Visual Arts Center, both located in the town of Makawao. To me, both locations are beautiful, peaceful, and have something that keeps drawing me back to them. In the case of the cemetery it is the untold stories of the men and women beneath the white headstones and bronze grave markers that keeps me coming back, time and time again. Their service and sacrifice to our nation is the reason I have the honor to walk among them and I never forget that.
Since I find myself at the Veterans Cemetery a few times every month, usually first thing in the morning, I tend to have the place to myself. I am, by nature, a very observant person, so I notice things most others do not. Today when I went to the cemetery I noticed the flag, which was flying at half-staff, is torn and tattered. It wasn’t my first concern, but when I got home I could not find any reason why the flag should have been flying at half staff. There were no special reasons for the state of Hawaii to be flying a flag at half-staff. Chief Justice Antonin Scalia died February 13th, which means the flag should have flown at half-staff for ten days. Former first lady Nancy Reagan died on March 6th, and she has been buried already, so it wasn’t for her. Whatever the case, I hope there was a reason for the flag to be flown at half-staff today.
Around this exact same time last year the Maui Veterans Cemetery got into some hot water when the local newspaper, the Maui News, reported that the flag and facilities were in serious disrepair (you can read that article by journalist Brian Perry here). That article last year prompted me to write an open letter to the Mayor of Maui County, the City Council Representative for upcountry, and the Director and Assistant Director of the Maui County Department of Parks and Recreation (to which I have gotten zero responses to date). I did however get a response from Congresswoman Tulsi Gabbard as well as journalist Brian Perry. You can read that blog here, or to summarize it, I offered the county my services to be used as general caretaker of the Veterans Cemetery for a nominal fee.
The sons and daughters of Maui who served our nation chose the Veterans Cemetery as their final resting place . I think the very least the County of Maui could do is to provide diligent upkeep of the grounds, accessibility for visitors, a water source to water decorative flowers, and an American flag that is fit to be flown above our fallen warriors.
The Veterans Cemetery has currently halted a six million dollar renovation, which began last summer, but where that money is being spent is lost on me. Not only was the American flag torn and tattered, but the main pavilion has paint bubbling up in very obvious areas, so I’m not sure what improvements have been done in the past year. Supposedly the headstones were going to be leveled and straightened, but from my earlier picture you can clearly see that has not been completed.
According to the State of Hawaii, Office of Veteran’s Services website, Maui Veterans Cemetery has no permanent staff assigned to it. That would explain the set-it-and-forget-it attitude when it comes to displaying the flag. The maintenance and grounds crew probably has to take care of a handful of sites every day and cannot afford to give the time and attention the Veterans Cemetery deserves. I had offered the County my services in my open letter, but seeing as they cannot even afford to read or respond to emails addressed directly to them, I doubt there is any money in the budget for a full-time caretaker.
My hope is that people read this blog and come to the realization that by doing nothing, we dishonor those who served our nation and protected our freedoms. My hope is that Maui County wakes up soon and does something positive and lasting to return the pride to Maui’s Veterans Cemetery. It has been a year since the county was under scrutiny for allowing the cemetery to fall into neglect and I just want someone in the government, who can make a difference, to know that some of us will never forget what it means to be a veteran.
And just to end this blog on a more positive note, here’s a few pictures I took just over a month ago towards the end of an amazing sunrise at the Veterans Cemetery.