Hilo native describes ‘surreal’ experience carrying casket of President George H.W. Bush


After days of tributes and celebrations, President George H.W. Bush was finally laid to rest in his home state of Texas.

A local boy from Hilo was selected as one of his pallbearers.

U.S. Navy Airman Keola Waiau was tasked with carrying the casket of the 41st president during memorial services in Houston. He says it’s been a whirlwind week.

“It’s hard to be put into words, to be honest,” said Waiau from Washington D.C., where he is currently stationed. “I don’t even know if it’s hit me just yet the magnitude of how large an event this was. It probably won’t hit me for a few more weeks or months even when I’m able to look back and reflect at how fortunate I was to be part of this.”

A member of the Navy’s elite Ceremonial Guard, Waiau reflects on a moment inside the funeral service inside St. Martin’s Episcopal Church.

“You could hear people obviously crying in the pews, people with hands over their hearts, trying to touch the casket as you pass by. It was just such a surreal feeling walking past all those people, all those important people, because it was an invite-only funeral with 1,500 people selected,” he explained.

A 2011 graduate of Kamehameha Schools-Hawaii, Waiau was born and raised in Hilo. Though he was born a few months after Bush’s term ended, he says he understands the dedication and impact made to the country.

Waiau credits the honor of carrying the president’s casket as the result of hard work as he moves up the ranks.

“I’m just trying my best to represent Hilo well, and make the people back home proud, and show them that people from Hilo, we might be a small town, but that doesn’t mean we can’t do big things,” he said.

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