Old Soldiers of Hawai`i
Time has marched on for these men, most noticeable perhaps in the shades of gray in their hair and in the slower, more deliberate pace of their walk.....they range in age from early forties to the late seventies.....their faces are older looking, wrinkled by the sun and sea and even more, perhaps, by the memories of war and pain and losses each of them has experienced. Call them the Band of Brothers or the Fraternity of Warriors........or, more appropriately, call them the “Old Soldiers of Hawaii” for that’s who they are!
To call the roll of the members of this Hui is to pronounce the names of men who have served their country under the most trying of conditions: in a time of War! Heroes, one and all, bound together by the rare camaraderie that is only gained under the baptism of fire! The pride in who they are and what they’ve done to help preserve freedom for all our people is evident in their eyes and in the dignified manner in which they act, react and interact in our community. They seldom speak of the many medals and citations they’ve been awarded for their often very heroic actions, preferring to say that they did what they were trained to do.
The Old Soldiers of Hawaii Reunion Hui is a social organization that was formed in 1990 through the efforts of the late (and greatly admired and respected) Command Sergeant Major Peter Cabral. CSM Cabral’s rationale was that there should be more opportunities for veterans of military service to meet together other than at funeral services. Since its formation, the Old Soldiers of Hawaii Reunions have been held annually at many different sites including Las Vegas/NV, Monterey/CA, the Big Island, Maui and Honolulu. The Reunions offer these veterans a chance to renew friendships, meet new members and to share in memories old and new! The current Old Soldiers of Hawaii membership includes veterans of World War II, Korea, Vietnam and the Gulf War.
The members and their wives of the committee planning the 2008 Old Soldiers of Hawai`i Reunion in Tacoma, WA
One of the key catalysts for the Old Soldiers of Hawaii Reunions is Brigadier General Irwin K Cockett, Jr (US Army Retired) who has been the longtime chairman for the Old Soldiers of Hawaii Reunions. General Cockett (Kamehameha ’48) is legendary among soldiers of Hawaii, a one-of-a-kind man whose exploits (heroic acts) have been “haina” (retold) time and again. I was in my first Vietnam tour when a fellow US Army officer asked me if I knew this “crazy Hawaiian officer named Cockett down in the Delta” who would fly his helicopter anywhere/anytime, without regard for his own personal safety, to help friendly forces. I did not know the General then but such is the stuff from which legends are born.....and General Irwin Cockett is, deservedly, a legend!
Gerna Manuia Benz (US Army Retired/originally from Kahului, Maui) was selected by General Cockett to lead the group planning the 19th Reunion (which is being held September 25-27, 2008 at the Emerald Queen Hotel & Casino in Tacoma, WA). General Cockett has since praised Gerna Benz for his “great leadership and innovative concepts” which have resulted in greatly reduced costs for the veterans and guests who will attend the 2008 Reunion. After retiring from the US Army in 1984, Gerna befriended many of the Native Americans in the Tacoma area. When he was assigned the task of planning the 2008 Reunion, Gerna approached his Native American friends, many of whom were among the Tribal Elders of the Puyallup Tribe, and requested their support. The Tribal Elders responded very positively to Gerna’s request, partly because of their friendship with Gerna but also as a way of expressing their gratitude for the time served, and sacrifices made, by the Old Soldiers of Hawaii members defending the freedom of our country! The Tribal Elders offered discounted rates for the group’s activities at the Puyallup Tribes’ Emerald Queen Hotel and Casino facilities.
Gerna Benz says the anticipated success of the Old Soldiers of Hawaii’s 2008 Annual Reunion would not be possible without the outstanding assistance provided by the other members of the Reunion Planning Committee (all either US Army or US Air Force veterans) including: Francis Kaheiki and Joe Manalisay who will be the Hospitality hosts; Earl Cerbana, Entertainment Coordinator; Warner Acebo, Local Excursions; Lawrence Pelekane, Transportation coordinator; Benjamin Palafox and William Silva, Golf Tournament; Donald Bissen, Foosball/Dart Tournament; Roman Cruz, LuauFund Raiser and Pete Lopez, Memorial Service coordinator .
They say that Old Soldiers never die....that they just fade away! Not true! Like the Old Soldiers of Hawaii, military veterans exchange the uniforms of war for “civies” and then they merge into the mainstream of our communities......working, playing, loving, laughing, sometimes even crying.....and raising their beloved ohana! They could be that old gentleman sitting next to you at a Hawaiian concert or perhaps that guy on stage playing his guitar and singing Hawaiian love songs.....maybe, just maybe it’s you??? Military veterans: wherever you are, mahalo nui loa!
Mahalo especially to all the “Old Soldiers of Hawaii” Reunion members.......
You Da Man!!!!
Until next time, be kind to each other......me ke Aloha pumehana.........Danny