“It’s right there,” he said, pointing to the small break in the tree line, hard to tell from this far away. “See it?”
She squinted, put her hand over her eyes to shade them from the sun. “Uh uh,” she said. “No, I don’t see it.”
“There,” he said, pointing again, this time leaning in and extending my arm at it right in front of her face. “Follow my arm,” he said.
She ran her eyes along his forearm, hand, and index finger, her view soaring out over Pauoa Valley and up to the edge of Papakōlea where the entrance to the National Memorial Cemetery of the Pacific sits.
“Oh yeah. Yeah,” she said, “I do see it. Thank you.”
From her accent he guessed she was maybe from Arkansas, fortyish.
“My grandfather served in the Pacific. This is the first time I’ve ever been here to visit his grave. Of course I never actually met him.”
“It’s a beautiful place to be buried,” he said. “My dad’s wish was to be buried up there.”
“Did he die in the war?” she asked.
“No,” he half smiled. “He died in a nursing home at the ripe old age of eighty-nine. He served in Europe though. He was a paratrooper with the 82nd Airborne Division, 504th Parachute Infantry Regiment.”
“Wow,” she said. “That’s amazing. Jumping out of airplanes back then. I don’t think the parachutes were really very good yet. It must have been tough.”
“I think so,” he said. “I know it was hard on his spine. Lots of hairline fractures. Even though he had only ten total combat jumps, they made them practice jumping over and over again. His orthopedist thought that he must have experienced one of those fractures, or more, each time he jumped. He had back pain the rest of his life.”
“Oh that’s a shame,” woman said.
“It was a dream of his to be buried in Punchbowl,” he continued. “Sometimes I think he bought this house so he could see it every day across the valley, picture himself being buried there.”
“Wow,” she said, “that sounds kind of sad but real nice at the same time.”
He nodded. “Yeah,” I said, “kind of bittersweet.”
Watching her drive away, and he remembered the day he went to visit his dad in the nursing home, when his dad was still lucid enough to talk about grave choices. He told his father that Punchbowl could no longer accommodate burial, only cremations. He asked him if he wanted to be cremated.
He shook his head adamantly. “No, no,” he said. “I don’t want to be cremated.”
“Then you’ll have to be buried in the newer Kāne‘ohe Veterans’ Cemetery,” the son said. “It that okay?”
It looked almost as if he would cry. “I guess so,” he said. “If that’s the way it has to be, then that’s the way it has to be. I guess I lived just too damn long.”
He watched the woman from Arkansas turn her car around and head back down the hill. She waved goodbye as she passed him on the way down.
It didn’t hurt to tell her that about his dad, about his dream. And every time a tourist stopped by looking for Punchbowl Cemetery, he told them the same thing, how his dad’s dream had always been to be buried there. How he felt he’d earned it with his blood. He never explained that his father was actually buried in Kāne‘ohe in the end.