Those of us watching the recent episode of Hawaii Five-O last night were hard pressed not to notice the grassy hills and stoic marble buildings of the National Memorial Cemetery of the Pacific. Generous (and gorgeous) shots of the iconic Honolulu Memorial at Punchbowl served as a backdrop for the sibling reunion of Lt. Steve McGarrett and his little sister Mary Ann. How did Jack McGarrett get a plot in a completely full National Cemetery? Hollywood magic of course!

Even watching it on TV, I can never ignore the heart-clenching feeling I get when I catch a glimpse of that hallowed place. I have far too many relatives buried there. So, for all those who’ve never visited and even those who find themselves there annually, here’s a book recommendation for Punchbowl.

A History of Punchbowl: Arlington of the Pacific, National Memorial Cemetery of the Pacific is one of Mutual Publishing‘s Fall 2010, new releases. I’ve only ever found three books dedicated solely to the Cemetery of the Pacific, and this newer one is by far the most useful.

Part history book and part guidebook, A History of Punchbowl by Pierre Moulin has a preface written by Lt. Governor Duke Aiona. The color photographs and clear archive photos throughout its glossy pages show how the cemetery has changed over the decades and how it’s grown from conflict to conflict. From a religious site for the ancient Hawaiians to a Fort under Kamehameha the Great, Punchbowl was always a place of importance. Once the territory was annexed, Punchbowl remained as a fort for the U.S. Military. In fact the tunnels originally built for the large gun batteries are still visible and used today as storage facilities.

The history portion of the book is a bit brief and more attention is paid to the “guide book” section, although there are a lot of historical tidbits and facts there as well. The guide section takes you through the cemetery layout with details and history on different points of interest from the plaques along Memory Walk, or the location of dedicated trees, to a list with pictures and marker locations of all the Medal of Honor recipients and notable people buried there, like Ellison Onizuka. There’s extensive pictures of the Honolulu Memorial with history and descriptions of each of the Courts of the Missing, and write ups for every conflict in the Pacific (Battle of the Coral Sea to Okinawa) to match the photos of the beautiful wall mosaic maps that adorn the halls of the main building.

Overall the book is more utilitarian than anything else, the pictures are wonderful but it still does nothing to really capture the essence of visiting such a place. The different photo sizes and layout of the pictures in some sections made it look a bit messy but otherwise the book is great for any history buff. I especially like the chapter on special events at the Memorial and seeing the old pictures of the enormous crowds that would show up for Easter Sunday.

Although you won’t see the marker for “Jack McGarrett” anywhere on site, you will find my Grandpa… he’s on the grassy hill to the right of the Honolulu Memorial, up to the first tree and eleven stones across.

Click here to visit the official site for the Cemetery of the Pacific, and here for an interesting web-based virtual tour of Punchbowl.

*A copy of A History of Punchbowl by Pierre Moulin (ISBN Soft Cover: 0-9755210-0-4) was provided by the publisher in exchange for our honest review.