“Punchbowl” is the informal name for an old volcanic crater right in Honolulu, towering above the cityscape. Inside is what is officially designated the National Memorial Cemetery of the Pacific
. It is Hawaii
's equivalent to Arlington
, and as such a noteworthy destination for the dark tourist too.
>What there is to see
>Access and costs
>Combinations with other dark destinations
>Combinations with non-dark destinations
More background info: The crater known as “Punchbowl” today (its original Hawaiian name is “Puowaina”) was formed in an eruption that took place some 100,000 years ago during O'ahu's phase of secondary volcanic activity.
In ancient periods of old Hawaiian
culture it apparently was a sacred place which even functioned as an altar for human sacrifice. Later during the post-contact Hawaiian kingdoms a battery of cannons was installed up here, taking advantage of the vantage point above Honolulu harbour that the mountain provided. Just before and during WWII
the Punchbowl served military purposes for the USA
The slopes were settled in the late 19th century. And as early as the late 1890s first proposals for using the interior of the crater as a burial site were put forward, but were generally rejected.
Following WWII, veteran organizations campaigned for the creation of a burial site for the thousands and thousands of servicemen who had lost their lives in the Pacific and were still awaiting a proper burial. In 1948 it was approved that the Punchbowl would be turned into such a central burial site and construction work began shortly after.
The inauguration of the site with the first burials took place in early 1949. Amongst these was also that of Ernie Pyle, the highly acclaimed civilian war correspondent who had been killed in the battle of Okinawa
Initially the graves in the Punchbowl were marked with crosses or small Stars of David but from 1951 this was replaced by the policy of using uniform rectangular granite markers – as is the case in other American war cemeteries.
In addition to those who died in WWII
there are also graves for casualties from the Korean War
and, as of 1980, the Vietnam War
too. Veterans who died later have been buried here as well.
In 1964 the large central monument named simply “Honolulu Memorial” was erected with its big central statue (Lady Columbia) as the most prominent feature. Later the maps and battle descriptions that you find today were added.
The cemetery is still in use, even though by the 1990s its regular area space had reached its capacity of ca. 34,000 graves. There is, however, a columbarium where cremated remains can still be put to rest. Occasionally, coffin burials can still take place too, provided space has become available e.g. through disinterments.
A local Hawaiian hero, astronaut Ellison Onizuka, who perished in the “Challenger” space shuttle disaster in 1986, also has his grave here at the Punchbowl (see Onizuka Space Center
What there is to see: Apart from the plots filled with simple graves, the main sight here is the grand Honolulu Memorial at the rear end of the central drive from the main gate all the way through the middle of the circular area space of the Punchbowl.
It consists of wide stairs leading past marble blocks dedicated to the dead of the Pacific
Theater of WWII
, the Korean War
and the Vietnam War
and ending at a central wall, off which a tall statue hangs. This is “Lady Columbia”. At her feet a quote from Abraham Lincoln is engraved above a small water fountain.
On the marble blocks flanking the stairs are engraved the names of nearly 30,000 Americans who went missing in action and/or were lost at sea and whose “earthly resting place is only known to God” as the stone marker at the bottom of the stairs proclaims.
Behind the tall statue is the central chapel of the memorial cemetery. To its sides along the the top of angled colonnades, names of significant battles in the Pacific are engraved, including Pearl Harbor
, Wake, Midway, and so forth.
Inside the colonnades there are large maps on the walls that together with short explanatory texts summarize various battles and phases of the war, such as the campaign in the Coral Sea, the Marianas (with Tinian
), Iwo Jima, and Okinawa
Additional maps/text plaques also cover very briefly the European Theater of WWII
and there are slightly more elaborate accounts of the Korean War
and the Vietnam War
as well (although the narrative here is – perhaps predictably and maybe even understandably – rather biased and one-sided).
By the main gate next to the cemetery offices is an information centre
. Inside you find a small exhibition whose displays include items recovered from war plane crash sites around the Pacific
, such as helmets, rank insignia, shoes and pilot rings.
On the walls are photos from the Pacific Theatre of WWII, as well as information about those recipients of medals of honour who are interred at the Punchbowl. A scale model of the whole Punchbowl site gives a general impression of the layout of the cemetery and its surroundings.
In a corner a display cabinet has the US flag that was draped over the coffins of the first few who were buried here. A small plaque on the case has astronaut Ellison Onizuka's name on it (see above under background
and under Onizuka Space Center
If you want to locate any specific graves in the plots outside, the information centre provides two computer terminals that serve as “gravesite locators”. You can enter names or the number code for a specific grave and the result can be printed out on a small map that can then guide you to the exact spot.
All in all, I found the the Punchbowl to be a suitably solemn and sober place. Unless any big ceremonies are taking place, it is quiet and contemplative in atmosphere here. I also found the amount of patriotism expressed by the monuments or in the information centre much more restrained than, say, at Arlington
. And you can even learn a thing or two about the Pacific part of WWII (and to a lesser degree about the Korean and Vietnam wars as well). Primarily, though, this is just a plain cemetery. Still, definitely worth the detour when in Honolulu.
Just north-east of downtown Honolulu, O'ahu, Hawaii
, about a mile (1.6 km) from the capitol and ca. 3 miles (5 km) north-west of the heart of Waikiki. The official address is 2177 Puowaina Drive, Honolulu, HI 96813.
Google maps locators:
Access and costs: easy to get to by car, less so by public; free
Details: it is easiest to get there by (rental) car. From the main H1 Interstate take exit 21A (Pali Highway), if coming from the north-west, or exit 21B if coming from the south-east, and head north. Exit Pali Highway to the right onto South Kuakini Street then turn right again onto Lusitana Street. After about 0.2 miles (250m) take a sharp right turn onto Puowaina Drive, which from then on starts winding up the rear of the crater's outer flank. After about 0.7 miles (1.1 km) turn off right to stay on Puowaina Drive. This is now the access road that will take you straight to the cemetery gate.
Private cars can park on the few designated free parking spaces or simply by the road, provided the vehicle doesn't block anybody else's way.
In theory it should also be possible to get there by public transport, namely by bus line 15 which has a stop by the turn-off to the cemetery on Puowaina Drive (in downtown Honolulu this line departs from Alapai Transit Center towards Pacific Heights). The rest of the way you'd have to walk. (Check TheBus.org for timetables and connections.)
On a sunny day make sure to bring water and a sun hat, as many parts of the cemetery are quite exposed (even though there are also trees providing a bit of shade).
Opening times: daily from 8 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. (6:30 p.m. in summer)
Time required: not long for just the Honolulu Memorial and a look around the small information centre, perhaps 45 minutes to an hour for both. But add extra time if you want to stroll around the extensive grounds/burial plots.
Combinations with other dark destinations:
in general see under Hawaii
– Pearl Harbor
obviously makes the most natural combination, both thematically as well as geographically.
Combinations with non-dark destinations:
see under Hawaii
- Punchbowl 01 - seen from the air
- Punchbowl 02 - main memorial
- Punchbowl 03 - National Pacific War Memorial
- Punchbowl 04 - overview plan
- Punchbowl 05 - historical background
- Punchbowl 06 - summary of the victory in the Pacific
- Punchbowl 07 - Vietnam commemorated too
- Punchbowl 08 - Vietnam War, but not the full story
- Punchbowl 09 - rows of war graves
- Punchbowl 10 - strange trees
- Punchbowl 11 - small exhibition
- Punchbowl 12 - model
- Punchbowl 13 - grave finder
- Punchbowl 14 - useful to locate specific spots
- Punchbowl 15 - view over the city from the crest
- Punchbowl 16 - Honolulu skyline to the east