Veterans’ Welcome Home Banquet draws more than venue can fit

The Maui News

A tremendous amount of interest has been generated for the Vietnam Veterans’ 50th Commemorative Welcome Home Banquet on Saturday evening at the Kahili Golf Course’s Nahele Banquet Room in Waikapu.

There’s so much demand for seats, in fact, that there are not enough for everyone who wants to attend, according to Michelle Almeida, co-chairwoman of the event and a veteran of the war in Afghanistan.

Responding to questions about whether the event had been “overbooked,” Almeida said that was not the case but that the number of people who want to attend the event exceeds available space.

The Nahele Banquet Room has 180 seats and, because of the high demand, another 100 seats were added to the Nahele Terrace, bringing the total to 280 seats, said Almeida, vice president of Na Koa Kahiko Wahine. However, there’s been more than 500 requests to attend the banquet, she said.

“We’re not overwhelmed,” she said. “We’re advancing in a different direction.”

Because of the interest in Saturday’s event, organizers are coordinating another recognition ceremony on April 30 at War Memorial Gymnasium in Wailuku. It’s tentatively set to begin at 5 p.m., before a Vietnam veteran candlelight ceremony, she said.

A Nov. 3 story published in The Maui News has helped generate a lot of interest in Saturday’s banquet, Almeida said.

“It’s been tremendous and a little unexpected,” she added. “It’s breathtaking that we’ve gotten such a response.”

U.S. Rep. Tulsi Gabbard, an Iraq War veteran, will present each veteran a lapel pin designed for the Congressional Commemoration of the 50th anniversary of the Vietnam War. Her itinerary says she’ll also deliver a keynote address at 6:45 p.m.

Longtime Maui veterans counselor and Vietnam veteran Bill Staton said it was a boost to the event to have Gabbard there for the lapel-pinning ceremony. “I don’t think anybody of her stature has come to do a pinning ceremony,” he said. “It’s a special tie-in to acknowledge our reaching across the different conflicts.”

Staton said community members have been generous in donating money to help provide free meals for Vietnam veterans and guests.

“We had no idea we’d have this many people interested in coming to a Veterans Day event,” he said.

At 4:30 p.m. Saturday, Gabbard will host a “Congress On Your Corner” event at the Queen Ka’ahumanu Center to visit with residents and hear from constituents. They are welcome to share their concerns and request help from Gabbard’s office with federal issues such as veterans, Social Security and Internal Revenue services.

The 50th anniversary is being memorialized over several years, ending Nov. 11, 2025. The period of time being recognized for veterans in active-duty service at any location during Vietnam is from Nov. 1, 1955, to May 15, 1975.