Hilo veteran puts Hawaii in spotlight at GOP convention


TAMPA, Fla. — Hawaii got a moment in the spotlight at the Republican National Convention on Thursday when a military veteran from Hilo led the audience of thousands in the Pledge of Allegiance.

Introduced by House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, Dylan Nonaka strode out from backstage and to the podium at the Tampa Bay Times Forum shortly after 7:30 p.m., local time, wearing a suit and a maile lei. After reciting the pledge, Nonaka said “mahalo and semper fi.”

“They didn’t tell me I could say anything but I just did it anyway. What were they going to do? Fire me?” a smiling Nonaka said afterwards of his ad lib.

After his turn onstage, as Nonaka returned to his seat among other Hawaii delegates, a Minnesota delegate asked to have their picture taken together.

Another conventiongoer called over while walking by.

“Hey brother, mahalo and semper fi, loved it, bro’, it was awesome, man,” he said.

Nonaka, 31, the former executive director of the state Republican Party and a U.S. Marine, who served in Operation Iraqi Freedom, was the only representative of Hawaii to appear onstage at the GOP convention this week.

Nonaka spent almost the entire day preparing for his convention role. He showed up in the convention hall for rehearsal at 11:30 a.m., but had to wait around while carpenters finished preparing the stage for the night’s convention-capping speech by Mitt Romney.

Finishing rehearsal at 2 p.m., he was driven back to his hotel to change and returned to the hall at 4 p.m., for makeup and to go over his presentation with a speech coach who was reviewing the remarks of all speakers.

The maile lei was a conversation-starter, Nonaka said.

“I just wanted to represent Hawaii, represent the homeland,” he said of the adornment. “It was cool being backstage because everybody asked about it. This is big for our state.”