HONOLULU (Army News Service, June 1, 2009) - Standing in knee-deep waters among thousands at Ala Moana Beach Park, Amy Urbina's thoughts were as distant as the cruiseliners and boats dotting the horizon, during the evening of May 25.

In her mind's eye, she could only see two men: her deceased brother and her deployed husband, who was off in a faraway land, fighting a war.

Urbina longed to be with them at that moment - to hold them in her arms again, but was resigned to the fact that her fondest wishes would not happen anytime soon.

She settled for the next-best thing, writing each of them a personal message filled with love and hope, and then sending these words out into the waters before her.

"I thought I'd do this for my brother, Jimmy, who was 46 when he passed away last May 4," she said. "I also wanted to do this for my husband, Lt. Col. Luis Urbina, who is currently deployed to Iraq. For him, all I wrote was, 'Just come back safely.'"

"He's always on my mind," added Urbina of her husband of 10 years, "even though we're worlds apart."

For Capt. Ines Sanchez, Tripler Army Medical Center, remembering those who have passed on is always on her mind. And so she, along with her parents, Gabriel Sanchez and Teresa Espinoza of Ecuador, crafted their messages in their native tongue, Spanish, for several long-gone family members and friends.

"I feel like today has been good for me," explained Sanchez. "It has helped bring closure and allowed me to say goodbye to those people who I wasn't able to say it to."

Urbina and Sanchez were among the family members who rode in from Schofield Barracks to participate in the annual Lantern Floating Hawaii Ceremony, May 25.

The 10th annual event, themed "Many Rivers, One Ocean," saw record-level crowds lining the shoreline at the park and allowed residents and visitors to float more than 2,000 candlelit lanterns as a way of remembering loved ones.

For the Army leadership in Hawaii, the Lantern Floating Ceremony also represented an opportunity to help wounded warriors and family members heal.

"We are willing to try anything, to pursue any avenue that will help any Soldier in the recovery process," said Loran Doane, media relations chief, U.S. Army Garrison-Hawaii. "And if one Soldier walks away from here feeling better about himself, then it will all be worth it."

Col. Matthew Margotta, commander, USAG-HI, expressed gratitude to be representing the branch of the military that shares many of the same traditions as those espoused at the ceremony.

"I think it really shows the Army has become an integral and accepted part of the Hawaiian community," Margotta said. "We try to say that we're not separate and distinct from the Hawaiian community. We're all family members, and our Soldiers and our kids are all part of it.

Margotta also wrote tributes on a lantern to those currently serving in the armed forces as well as to a fallen comrade - best friend Maj. Andy Burris, who lost his life "in the Middle East a couple of years ago."

"To be invited this year to participate in what is essentially a Hawaiian tradition means an awful lot to those of us who wear the uniform."

(Bill Mossman works for U.S. Army Garrison-Hawaii Public Affairs.)

Page last updated Sat May 30th, 2009 at 18:30