Jan 04, 2018
Honolulu, Hawaii, United States
Dick Stenbakken’s dream of placing a memorial to honor chaplains from the Army, Air Force, Navy, and Marines, past and present, at the National Memorial Cemetery of the Pacific, became a reality on December 13, 2017, in Honolulu, Hawaii.
What began as a dream years before became a journey full of miracles. On a sunny Hawaiian day, Chaplain (Colonel) Richard “Dick” Stenbakken, United States Army, retired, saw the conclusion of two years of earnest phone calls and piles of paperwork, making this memorial a reality.
The first time Stenbakken visited the National Memorial Cemetery located in Punchbowl Crater, was in November of 1970. “I was struck by the serene beauty and profoundly majestic silence of the grounds. It was a breath of fresh air for the soul,” he recalls. The neat rows of markers well reflect the crisp orderliness of the military members commemorated on these grounds.
“To me, the contrasts between the stately serenity here and the cacophony of Vietnam were vast,” says Stenbakken, “Looking across the meticulously manicured grounds, I saw fresh scars in the grass. Those scars were a vivid reminder that after a brief ‘R & R’ in Hawaii, I had another 100 days ‘in country’ to fulfill my tour in Vietnam.”
Thinking back to the 1970 stroll in the Punchbowl Cemetery, Stenbakken describes how, “seeing those very fresh graves caused me to ponder how many of ‘my troops’ were here, or might yet be here. Not as visitors, like myself, embraced by the warm Hawaiian sun and caressed by the soft trade-winds, but as names etched in snow-white marble glistening in the sun, watered by the tears of family and friends. Those thoughts uniquely encouraged, and deepened my commitment to ministry as an Army Chaplain.
“And, yes — there was the thought that my name could be on one of those white marble markers too. The thought was both chilling, and energizing. Chilling because I still had 100 days to go in Vietnam, and life is never sure in a combat zone. Energizing, because I still had time to provide meaningful ministry to my troops.
“I cherish the reflections of that day, and my experiences in Vietnam. They helped me focus on both the unspeakable beauty, and the utter fragility of life. They helped me look eye to eye at my own mortality more deeply than ever before,” he reminisced.