Among the Tombstones

Unearthing the infamous past of Schofield’s cemetery.

A soldier is laid to rest on the grounds of the Schofield Barracks Post Cemetery, date unknown.

Photos: Courtesy Tropic Lightning Museum

Going down Lyman road at Schofield Barracks, all is quiet. Along this stretch sits the post cemetery. Built in 1912, it is one of 11 post cemeteries in the nation—such sites are found exclusively on military installations. During World War II, many soldiers killed in the South Pacific were buried at Schofield, though many were relocated after the war to their hometowns or to the National Memorial Cemetery of the Pacific at Punchbowl, and the cemetery’s size reduced significantly.

The front of the Schofield Barracks Post Cemetery.

There are currently 2,700 gravesites, far eclipsed by the 34,000 at Punchbowl. The cemetery is not filled to capacity, but all the graves are obligated for burial. “The cemetery is closed to all but active duty military personnel, their authorized dependents and those on the retired list,” explains Kathleen Ramsden, of the Tropic Lightning Museum. By a quirk of history, though, there are a few mysterious exceptions.

In the cemetery’s northwestern corner sits a row of headstones, hidden behind a long hedge of mock orange. Flags of red, white and green mark the burial sites of four Italian prisoners of war. While it’s unclear why these men were interred here, it wasn’t uncommon to find enemy soldiers in Hawaii. “Many POWs were housed in prison camps on Sand Island during World War II,” says historian Ken Hays. “There were no roads to Sand Island at the time. You could only get there by boat.”

Elsewhere are the graves of seven American soldiers executed for “crimes of mutiny and murder,” according to a Schofield Barracks tour guide booklet. Some of the remains were flown in from as far away as India, but three of the men were tried and subsequently executed on Hawaii soil.

  • Army Pvt. Cornelius Thomas shot a Puunene dairy camp worker to death during a botched home invasion. What ensued was one of “Maui’s greatest manhunts,” according to the Honolulu Star-Bulletin. Thomas was found after a monthlong search. The trial to convict him lasted just 2 ½ days. He was executed on Aug. 1, 1945.
  • Pfc. Jesse D. Boston joined the Army after previous stints in prison on the Mainland, but, even in the far reaches of Hawaii, trouble always seemed close behind. He was convicted of killing a Wailuku housewife and was sentenced to death by musketry, a first in Hawaii. Boston was executed the same day as Thomas, Aug. 1, 1945.
  • The most infamous tale belongs perhaps to Garlon Mickles, a soldier accused of assaulting a female War Department employee on Guam. He escaped from the Schofield Stockade and was later found under a drainage ditch on Vineyard Boulevard, carrying a bundle of women’s clothing. Mickles was hanged on April 22, 1947, in one of the last reported military executions in Hawaii. He was 19.

For whatever paths of war and violence these men have traced, all have come to settle in this site. Only the sound of golfers teeing off at the nearby Kalakaua Golf Course punctuates the silence.