Locals call it Punchbowl, but ancient Hawaiians named this punchbowl-shaped volcanic crater Puowaina, Hill of Sacrifice. Sacrifices—as in human sacrifices to appease the gods of old. With its beautiful panoramic views of Honolulu and Diamond Head, matched with its powerful symbolism, Punchbowl National Cemetery attracts more visitors than almost anywhere else in Hawaii.
Since World War II, the historic landmark has come to signify another sort of sacrifice—selfless sacrifice for one’s country. After the war, the extinct crater known simply as Punchbowl became home to The National Memorial Cemetery of the Pacific.
Previous to World War II, Punchbowl was a public park, best known perhaps as a popular gathering place for folks celebrating Easter sunrise services, dating back to the early 1900s. The panoramic views from Punchbowl’s hillsides include the Koolau Mountains, Diamond Head, Waikiki, Honolulu and the Waianae Mountain Range. Visitors can also glimpse Pearl Harbor, which became internationally famous after the Dec. 7, 1941, attack by Japan.
In the aftermath of the war, Punchbowl was selected as the ideal site for a national cemetery to honor the dead. In 1949, the cemetery held its first services for four members of the military and for Ernie Pyle, one of America’s best-known war correspondents. Other key sites include the eight Courts of the Missing, honoring nearly 30,000 Americans who never made it home.
Among the other notable persons commemorated here are Charles Lacey Veach, an engineer at Houston’s Johnson Space Center, who served as a mission specialist on two space shuttle flights in the early 1990s, and astronaut Ellison Shoji Onizuka, one of the seven crew members aboard the space shuttle Challenger when it exploded during liftoff on Jan. 28, 1986. Islanders are especially proud of Onizuka, who grew up on the Island of Hawaii and was graduated from Konawaena High School in 1964.
Admission to Punchbowl is free, with ample parking for those who want to stroll up to the lookout with its peaceful, panoramic views. It’s the perfect spot to reflect on the sacrifices others have made for our freedom today.