NATIONAL MEMORIAL CEMETERY OF THE PACIFIC, Hawaii — Veterans Day serves as a time to celebrate and honor American veterans for their patriotism, love of country, and willingness to serve and sacrifice for the preservation and protection of the nation. For some veterans, taking time to honor and remember those who served is a way of life.
Chris Farley, a Navy veteran and a caretaker at the National Memorial Cemetery of the Pacific here in Honolulu, helps commemorate the memory of the fallen that are interred or memorialized at the NMCP. He is responsible for the maintenance of the 112.5 acres of land that make up the cemetery, the 56,971 gravesites of those who are interred in-ground or in-columbarium, and the 28,788 fallen who are memorialized in the courts of the missing.
As he performs his daily tasks, Farley said he keeps in mind the significance of the responsibility to honor and preserve the memories of those who served before him.
"As a duty to our veterans that served our country and paid the ultimate sacrifice, it's an honor to do it for us as a nation," Farley said. "Our country appreciates that we remember our fallen in this way. It's an honor to take care of the veterans."
Farley's responsibilities at the cemetery include ensuring the upkeep of the grounds and supporting events such as burials, disinterment and interment ceremonies. Another inherent part of his job is representing what the cemetery stands for on a daily basis when interacting with visitors.
"I get a lot of satisfaction when I see the response of the visitors and the families of those that we are doing this service for," Farley said. "I've done a little bit of cemetery rep work where we bring the family up to the ceremony and then bring them down to the gravesite. It's a very personal moment, of course, for them and to be involved with that I want to make sure that we're doing the best job that we can do and honor their memory for their loved ones."
James Horton, director of the NMCP and a retired Air Force colonel, said the work Farley and other veteran employees do day to day is essential for the success of the cemetery.
Keeping the Cemetery Beautiful
"They are responsible for mowing smaller areas, the trimming of the markers and trees, and they are the ones who make sure that everything is looking as beautiful as it can," Horton said. "They're actually face to face with folks who are here visiting so they become the faces of the cemetery themselves and they are very proud of that."
Horton said that Farley has a personal investment when working at the cemetery. For Farley, working on the grounds brings him closer to family.
Farley's late father, Bob Farley, served in the U.S. Marine Corps as an aviator and reached the rank of colonel. He was a major influence in Chris's life and it was because of his father's character that Chris decided to join the U.S. Navy in 1982 as an air traffic controller.
"My parents are both buried here and a lot of my father's friends and my friend's parents are buried here," Farley said. "I've always enjoyed aviation and he was a pilot so I looked into joining the service. I enjoyed being in the Navy. It teaches you discipline, how to take care of yourself, and I learned a trade, one that brought me closer to my father in particular because he was a pilot. That was good for our relationship."
Farley often finds himself visiting his parent's gravesite as he fulfills his daily duties.
"I do it almost every day," he said. "I look it over and read it again and again. It brings back memories for me and pride in my family. On holidays and birthdays, Father's Day and Mother's Day, I try to be the regular average visitor who comes up here to pay respects to their family. I miss them a lot."
Hard Work, Compassion
Horton said Farley has distinguished himself at the cemetery due to his hard work and compassion towards the NMCP's goals.
"He is a great success story," Horton said. "He was hired on as a temporary lower wage grade and made it through that period and competed and won a higher grade position. He has worked his way very quickly in just over a year and a half up to a very high level caretaker position here at the cemetery because of his work ethic and because of his dedication to the mission."
Twenty veteran staff members at the NMCP work as cemetery caretakers and five veterans work as part of the administrative staff to help ensure that those who rest here are remembered and honored throughout time.