Honoring the legacies of those who served

  • JOHN BURNETT/Tribune-Herald A color guard from the Hawaii National Guard Youth Challenge Academy posts colors for the Veterans Day ceremony Monday at Hawaii Veterans Cemetery No. 1 in Hilo.
  • JOHN BURNETT/Tribune-Herald Ohkeum Kwan, second from right, Republic of Korea Deputy Consul General, presents a plaque and commemorative medal to the family of Army Cpl. Wilfred K. Hussey Jr., who was reported missing in action Dec. 2, 1950, during fighting in Korea, and whose remains were identified earlier this year.

  • JOHN BURNETT/Tribune-Herald Lt. Col. Heather M.C. Leite, commander of the Hawaii National Guard’s 291st Communications Squadron in Hilo, delivers the keynote address at the Veterans Day ceremony Monday at Hawaii Veterans Cemetery No. 1 in Hilo.

  • JOHN BURNETT/Tribune-Herald Mayor Harry Kim, right, shakes hands with Korean War veteran Zack Abregano, at the Veterans Day ceremony Monday at Hawaii Veterans Cemetery No. 1 in Hilo.

The ranking full-time National Guard member on Hawaii Island told about 100 people during a Veterans Day ceremony Monday in Hilo that leaders have an obligation to honor with dignity the legacies of those who served, both living and dead.

“Our responsibility is to ensure that your honor, integrity, courage and commitment carries on for times to come,” Lt. Col Heather M.C. Leite of the Hawaii Air National Guard, commander of the 291st Combat Communications Squad in Hilo, told those gathered at Hawaii Veterans Cemetery No. 1. “… To teach and explain to the current military service members, as well as the next generation … what you did, what you gave, what you endured in order for me to serve today.”

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Leite, who volunteered for honor guards 23 of her 26 years of military service, said at each funeral she “learned a piece of history.”

“I learned of sacrifices, of achievements. I learned of leaders and heroes of all ranks. I learned of losses. … I learned of fear, of love, of pain and of joy,” Leite said. “I even learned of a father, who on Dec. 7, took his baby girl who had just passed a few days before, her ashes, and boarded the (USS) Arizona. … And I learned later … of the twin to that daughter and … I got to see them lay him to rest with that first twin.”

Leite told the audience of mostly veterans, current military and their families it is “humbling to be among so many veterans in a community that supports us in so many ways, much more than it has been in the past.”

“Our military lives have its own difficulties today,” she said. “But if it wasn’t for each and every one of you, each of those across the nation who have served us, and all of your sacrifices — if it wasn’t for your legacy, the traditions you carry on, especially as I go to my (Veterans of Foreign Wars) and I hear the pledge being said and ‘God Bless America’ being sung, those things, those traditions that sometimes seem lost — you carry it on.”

The program, with military pomp and circumstance, including taps and marches performed by the Hawaii County Band, was sponsored by the Korean War Veterans Association Big Island Chapter No. 231, which earlier this year unveiled a Korean War Memorial at Wailoa River State Recreation Area.

One of 52 Hawaii service members killed in action in the so-called “Forgotten War” was honored Monday.

Abilene Akim Seu, sister of Army Cpl. Wilfred Kalei Hussey Jr. of Hilo, received a commemorative plaque and medal from Ohkeum Kwon, Republic of Korea Deputy Consul General. Akim Seu was accompanied by her husband, Earl Akim Seu, and children, Lisa and Russell Akim Seu.

When the Korean War Memorial was dedicated June 22, Hussey, a member of the 31st Infantry Regiment, Co. A, 3rd Battalion, was listed as missing in action on Dec. 2, 1950, during the Battle of Chosin Reservoir in North Korea, fought in the brutal cold.

His remains were identified Sept. 10.

Kwon said her grandmother was a single mother with three sons. The eldest was exempt from military service during the Korean War because of family obligations. The second son was killed in action. His body was never recovered. The youngest, Kwon’s father, was wounded but survived.

“My grandmother stood strong, took care of her remaining sons and carried on,” Kwon said.

“Korea has risen from the ashes of the war thanks to the freedom and democracy protected by the Korean War veterans,” she continued. “Before this ceremony, I went to see the memorial dedicated to some of those veterans. There were 52 names of (Hawaii) men and women who sacrificed their lives and youth. … I would like to extend my utmost gratitude to those Korean War veterans and their family members.”

Several local dignitaries were present, including state Sen. Kai Kahele, a Hawaii Air National Guard pilot who attended in uniform, and County Councilwoman Valerie Poindexter, who sang the national anthem, “Hawaii Pono‘i” and “God Bless America.”

Mayor Harry Kim, an Army medic during the Vietnam War, said Rex Weigel, a Hilo chiropractor and Marine veteran who lost a leg during the war, told him he saw more Marines die at Naval Hospital Guam than on the battlefield.

“You wonder, ‘How could that be?’ And it’s because of the lack of resources that should’ve been there to take care of the wounded, mentally and physically,” Kim said. “The stench of the place because of the lack of resources to clean and doctors to care. I’ve said since … that it’s my responsibility to address every group of what he said. Because it is our responsibility when we send these beautiful people out to war for us that we do everything we can within the powers we have to make sure we have the best resources possible and the best training possible. And if they are lucky enough to come back and unfortunate enough to have suffered wounds, physically or mentally, we should be there to provide them all the help that they need and deserve.”

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At that point, Kim received a hearty round of applause, for which he thanked the audience and added, “Unfortunately, we have not, and that’s why it’s sad.”

Email John Burnett at jburnett@hawaiitribune-herald.com.

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