Hōkūleʻa Captain Honors Lacy Veach ’62

Rachel Breitweser ’03

April 20, 2016

Nainoa Thompson ’72, president of the Polynesian Voyaging Society, commemorated “friend and hero,” the late astronaut Charles Lacy Veach ’62, during a special ceremony April 6, 2016. Thompson acknowledges Veach for planting the seed which inspired the Worldwide Voyage.


The event took place aboard the Hōkūleʻa docked near the Kennedy Space Center, Titusville, Florida, as part of its first visit to the East Coast. The ceremony also paid tribute to Ellison Onizuka, another astronaut from Hawai‘i, who died in the 1986 Challenger shuttle disaster. The ceremony was part of Hōkūleʻa’s stop in Florida that included a tour of the Space Center.

Thompson was joined by members of the Veach family and the Hōkūleʻa crew, including two Punahou faculty, Starr Johnson '98, Academy Social Studies faculty and Kaniela Lyman-Mersereau '05, Junior School PE and Outdoor Education faculty, who are participating in the 19th leg of the canoe’s worldwide voyage.

Speaking to the audience, Thompson remarked: “Today is the day we celebrate and remember. Lacy’s story is so important, not just for the children, but for humanity. He is a man of courage, a man of loyalty, and he was a best friend. We celebrate, but we also miss him.”

The Worldwide Voyage seed was planted back in 1992 during a conversation Thompson overheard between Veach and Thompson’s father, Myron “Pinky” Thompson ’43. “Lacy started to talk about the earth as being an island in the ocean of space: fragile, beautiful, infinitely complex,” Thompson explained. The two navigators, Pinky and Veach, came up with an exciting plan to sail Hōkūleʻa around the world. That same year, during the second of his two space shuttle missions, Veach connected with Hōkūleʻa from space, enthralling Hawai‘i schoolchildren included in the historic conversation.

Thompson reminisced about Veach’s first sail aboard Hōkūleʻa: “I got the crew together and I told them, today is a really special day, my hero is coming. Put on a T-shirt, wear something on your feet and speak good English.” And then Veach showed up with no shirt and ripped shorts. “We were common people meeting the uncommon astronaut. He turned to us and said, ‘Thank you so much for letting me come to sail with you because today is the day that I will learn what the power of exploration really is.’

“I made a promise right there. Much of the reason why we are on a worldwide voyage is because he is correct. You can’t protect what you don’t understand, and if you leave the canoe tied to the dock, you do nothing to make contributions to anything,” said Thompson.

Thompson has shared previously that we have a key sense of responsibility to our home, to children and to the community thanks, in part, to Veach, who succumbed to cancer in 1995. “The country needs to know that he, as a great explorer, stated who we are, where we’re going and what we value.”

“When Lacy passed, I used to say I need a sign, I need to know that you’re ok, and I never got a sign, until today,” said Veach’s widow, Alice Veach. “I really feel his spirit here with us. He and Nainoa shared a friendship that I’d never seen before. I used to say that they were soul mates in an old wisdom type of way.”

The camaraderie between Thompson and Veach – one an explorer of oceans and ancestors, the other an explorer of outer space and future – helped inspire Punahou’s annual Astronaut Lacy Veach Day of Discovery, at which Thompson has been a keynote speaker.

Veach and Thompson often discussed the idea of combining the power of technology and science with the wisdom and values of a culture as grounded in a sense of place as Hawai‘i’s. Their notion of navigating the future with this ancestral wisdom is memorialized in the Mamiya Science Center’s star compass mosaic, a photo of which was presented to the Veach family during the special ceremony.

Photos by Kathleen Connelly.


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