Tile Artwork Tells Sea Stories of Pacific War Dead


I went on vacation to Oahu, Hawaii a few months ago. I had not been there in over 30 years, since the early 1980s when my ship stopped in Pearl Harbor. This time around I didn’t spend all my time laying in the sun at the beach or running around to bars at night.

Punchbowl Cemetary

National Memorial Cemetery of the Pacific at Punchbowl Crater in Honolulu, on the island of Oahu in Hawaii

This time I made it a point to visit the National Memorial Cemetery of the Pacific, also known as Punchbowl Crater Cemetery.  I was very impressed with the memorials, especially the maps and the tile artwork. At the top of the big memorial, there is a series of maps (all made with brilliant color tile mosaics) depicting the major Pacific battles of WWII, Korea and Vietnam.

WWII Memorial - Sea Stories

Looking up the Memorial steps, along both sides are granite columns with the names of those who died but did not return. Up at the top, all along on the right and left side there are shady alcoves where the tile mosaic maps are located. The maps illustrate many of the battles that took place across the Pacific during WWII, Korean War and the Vietnam War.

WWII Sea Stories, Oahu Hawaii

Looking back down the steps and across the center of the crater.


What I found fascinating was to walk slowly along, pausing and reading the stories of the battles in the Pacific during WWII. What caught my attention was the small nautical pictures along the borders of the maps. To those who enjoy a good sea story, the colorful bits along the margin are sometimes the best parts of the tale.

WWII Maps and Sea Stories

There any many of these maps at the top of the Memorial. It was interesting to walk slowly along and read them one by one. The history of violent warfare between the US and Japan, Korea and Vietnam comes to life. The realization that we are at peace and have positive relationships with Japan and Vietnam today is profound.  Today (5/28/18) there is a possibility of making peace with North Korea.


All along the borders of the big maps that illustrate the major battles, you can see these little pictures of ships, sailors and sea creatures. They reminded me of the gallery of maps in the Vatican.

WWII Sea Stories

At the Battle of Midway forces from Japan and the US collided in the middle of the vast Pacific Ocean. Like most people, I want to see a map with the dates and the names of the places spelled out. I want to see the battle lines and the precise locations where the conflicts took place. But I want something else too, I want the human side of the story.


WWII dead tell their sea stories in the mosaic tile art at Oahu graveyard.

The day before going to Punchbowl, we went snorkeling and saw so many colorful fish.  This tile artwork made me think about how amazing the sea-life must have been back in the 1940s.  I knew that Marines and sailors had downtime on those tiny atolls.  I wondered if they went snorkeling, even though there was a war going on.  I’m sure they did.


Sea Stories of the WWII Dead

I thought it was cool that someone had the vision to take the time and raise the money to commission this artwork. It just seemed perfect somehow. It’s one thing to pay tribute to the dead soldiers, sailors and airmen with stark granite and marble columns, but it’s another to memorialize them by telling their stories with these amazing tile mosaics.


WWII Scuba Divers

These little bits of art made me remember when I took the PADI scuba diving certification class in Subic Bay in the Philippines back in the 80s when I was there on shore leave. We dove on Japanese barges that were sunk by the Americans when they took back the Philippines. It made me think of how tough those UDT Seals were back in WWII, with their primitive diving equipment. They must have been brave to go on those underwater attack missions against Japanese positions.


Sea Stories of the Dead, WWII in the Pacific

As you walk along and study the maps there’s a peacefulness to it. You are studying these maps and reading the stories of these massive, violent battles. You can here the explosions, imagine the men dying. Yet you are in the most calm idea place in the world – you are inside the crater of an extinct volcano. The birds are chirping. The sun is shining. And then you see this Octopus with big eyes, and he’s tangled up in a ships wheel. Somehow it makes you realize that all those men who died, they were guys. Smart, funny, handsome, young. Tough, yet loving guys who were probably joking around with each other shortly before they died serving their country.


WWII Sea Stories

Storming the beaches. There’s only green fatigues and air between your skin and Japanese bullets.

Pacific War WWII Sea Stories

They fought and died together, and now they sleep side by side.

Sea Story Divider

If you have never been to the Island of Oahu, Hawaii, you should add it to your bucket list. It’s worth the trip. There are sunny beaches, great restaurants, beautiful people and war memorials. This particular memorial, Punchbowl Crater, is worth an afternoon walking around and reflecting on history. Be thankful for the sacrifice made by the brave soldiers, airman and sailors across the Pacific during WWI, the Korean War, and Vietnam. We owe them our freedom.

Malcolm Torres – Memorial Day, May 28, 2018

Sea Story Divider

If you enjoy a good sea story, here are two free on all eReaders.

Amazon Kindle,  Apple iBooks,  Barnes & Noble Nook,  Smashwords

Two Sea Stories Free on All eReaders

Sea Story Divider

Malcolm Torres is the author of original Sea Stories and Nautical Novels.

For more information surf over to the Ships & Sailors Blog

This entry was posted in Nautical Art, Sea Stories and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *