Six Big Island Vietnam War veterans will lead the 17th annual Kailua-Kona Independence Day Parade this evening giving residents and visitors alike a chance to celebrate their service and sacrifice amid the war’s 50th anniversary.
The six men were chosen to represent each of the U.S. military’s branches, the Army, Marine Corps, Navy, Air Force and Coast Guard, and the Hawaii Army National Guard, for their service during the Vietnam War from 1962-73, said Cliff Kopp, who coordinated the grand marshals for the parade.
Among the men selected to honor their branches are Army Staff Sgt. Daniel Yoshida, Marine Corps Sgt. Minoru Hanato, retired Navy Chief Petty Officer Harry B. Pasco, retired Air Force Capt. David Carlson, Coast Guard Petty Officer Second Class Doug Allen, and Arthur Mahi of the Hawaii Army National Guard. All served during the Vietnam War.
Yoshida, a 68-year-old Kealakekua resident who served about a year in Vietnam, said he initially did not want to be a grand marshal, but said he did so after his son reminded him of those lost in the war and his grandchildren. He served during 1969-70.
“I am doing it only for my comrades, especially those who have fallen, and my grandchildren,” he said. “I didn’t do it for me, but to honor the people who fought the war with me and died for the country.”
The Independence Day Parade begins at 5:30 p.m. at Kona Community Aquatic Center, located off Kuakini Highway. The parade’s 70 floats will proceed south on the highway, past West Hawaii Today to Palani Road onto Alii Drive, and then to Walua Road, just past Coconut Grove Marketplace.
More than 58,000 U.S. troops died during the conflict, which began for the U.S. with a combat mission in January 1962 and ended in March 1973.
Billie Gabriel, Hawaii liaison for the national Vietnam Veterans Memorial Fund’s Call for Photos campaign, said more than 16,580 people from the state of Hawaii fought in the war. Of that number, 312 did not return home, Gabriel said, noting the campaign is still looking for photos of those men, especially from Big Island residents.
The Commemoration of the 50th Anniversary of the Vietnam War is a 13-year program to honor and give thanks to a generation of Americans who saw the country through one of the most challenging missions it has ever faced.
President Barack Obama kicked off the multiyear celebration on May 28.
“As we observe the 50th anniversary of the Vietnam War, we reflect with solemn reverence upon the valor of a generation that served with honor. We pay tribute to the more than 3 million servicemen and women who left their families to serve bravely, a world away from everything they knew and everyone they loved,” reads Obama’s proclamation.
Hawaii Pyrotechnics and Explosives will ignite a fireworks show over Kailua Bay around 8 p.m. or about 40 minutes after the parade concludes.
The fireworks are sponsored by local businesses, donors and the county, which is providing funds from its fireworks sales fees.
For more information on the parade and fireworks, visit paradesinkona.com. For more information on the Call for Photos campaign, visit vvmf.org/hawaii_cfp or call Gabriel 497-7264.