West Hawaii Veterans Cemetery is more than a place to gather with others who lost loved ones for Lt. Col. Eric Schwedo, commander of Pohakuloa Training Area. He came to these peaceful, beautifully landscaped grounds Monday to fondly remember his next door neighbor at Fort Benning, Ga. — Maj. Tom Bostick.
“He was the guy that would come over for beers and oyster roasts, the guy I would laugh with, and the guy that I would trade pranks with,” Schwedo said. “I knew he was a great soldier then, but he was also a guy that showed me how to be a father and husband while trying to balance the military and a family. He, in my opinion, was what I wanted to be.”
At the annual Memorial Day ceremony, Schwedo, the keynote speaker, was overcome with emotion as he recalled Bostick’s final act of service. Bostick, a commander in the 173rd Airborne Brigade, was deployed near Saret Koleh, Afghanistan, when his unit came under heavy attack.
“Maj. Bostick, while in command of B Troop, 1st Squadron, 91st Cavalry, without regard to his own personal safety, placed himself in front of an overwhelming enemy force to provide covering fire to enable the paratroopers in his command post to displace to more defensible terrain,” Schwedo said. “His actions provided his small element those precious few seconds necessary to gain their footing and negotiate the steep terrain in order to seek cover and survive the attack. He willingly sacrificed his life so they could live. He was awarded the silver star for his actions that day, and that in itself was noteworthy, but like many of you with your memories of your loved ones, those are not the memories that I have of him.”
Schwedo was among hundreds of people who gathered for the somber ceremony under the relentless afternoon sun to pay their respects and share memories of those who died in military service. His remarks got a standing ovation.
“Tom was my friend, and I want you to know him by me telling you about him. I want you to know who he was, and by his actions, know his character. By doing this, I honor him, his sacrifice for the nation and his fellow soldiers,” he said. “To me, and I am sure many others here, this is what Memorial Day is all about. A time to mourn and remember those that are gone, but more importantly, it is a time to celebrate their lives, and hopefully get past the mourning. It is to remember them as they were, how they lived life with their family, friends and those they influenced. It is about remembering shared sacrifices and shared joys.”
At the hourlong ceremony, attendees often reflected silently on the lives lost, usually while holding their hands gently over their heart, in salutes or by holding each other. The names of more than 40 West Hawaii veterans were called, deeply affecting several who heard the honor roll. Their families were also recognized.
Wreaths, lei and flags were placed throughout the cemetery. Prayers said. There was the disciplined rhythm of veterans, military groups and service organizations, as well as the playing and singing of patriotic songs, with every note resonating through observers’ bodies, forcing them to think about the commitment, duty and sacrifices made. The piercing booms of a 21-gun salute and the lonely rendition of taps echoed in the silence, which were at times interrupted by tearful sniffling.
Missing was the anonymous man who has stood for years alone on the hill mauka of the cemetery, holding his American flag. Organizers said his absence was because he can longer physically make it to the top.
During the blessings portion, local religious leaders reminded the public of the importance of Memorial Day, saying the holiday is an opportunity to “acknowledge in a profound way our sincere gratitude for the valiant few” and “the deaths will mean what you make them.”
In his closing remarks, Schwedo encouraged the public to share stories about beloved veterans with others and invite them to visit these fallen warriors’ graves. “In this way, we honor who they were and their memory,” he added.