Sgt. 1st Class Kelly Bolor of Lahaina was killed November 15, 2003 when his helicopter crashed near Mosul, Iraq. He was 37. Spc. Jay Cajimat of Lahaina was killed April 6, 2007 by a roadside bomb in Baghdad. He was 20. Pvt. Eugene D.M. Kanakaole, a graduate of Maui High was killed June 11, 2008 in a “non-combat” incident in Balad, Iraq. He was 19. Spc. Christopher Sweet of Kahului died February 6, 2009 in a “non-combat” incident in Kirkush, Iraq. He was 28.
On Friday, March 13, the County of Maui honored these men by adding their names to the memorial wall at War Memorial Gymnasium in Kahului. A gathering of family members, veterans and local politicians came together to pay tribute to these fallen soldiers. Their names were added to the memorial under the heading “Gulf War,” joining Sgt. Damon Kanuha, who was killed in Kuwait in 1991.
These men died because our country is at war, a war that is one of the most divisive in our nation’s history. Some feel it’s justified and necessary to preserve the freedoms we hold dear. County Councilmember Danny Mateo expressed this sentiment in a lofty, moving speech.
“These brave warriors paid the ultimate sacrifice to ensure that, as Americans, our freedom is protected,” said Mateo. “The cost of freedom is without a doubt a heavy burden. So let it be shouted from every mountaintop and through every valley—let freedom ring, let freedom ring, let freedom ring.”
Other people believe the war is an unjust and senseless waste of American lives. Vice President of Vietnam Veterans of Maui County Michael Covich voiced this sentiment following the ceremony.
“Putting aside the hunt for Bin Laden, this whole war is a bunch of bullshit and we shouldn’t have had to sacrifice one person like we threw guys away for nothing in Vietnam,” said Covich.
But despite their opposing views on the war in Iraq, both Mateo and Covich agreed the most important thing was remembering the fallen soldiers and supporting the families who have lost their loved ones.
Covich reached out to family members, handing out cards and offering support for “veterans, active military and families in distress.”
“These families deserve the respect that goes with the plaques we gave them, and the men deserve the respect of being on that wall and having this ceremony today,” Covich said.
Mateo also emphasized the significance of the memorial. “Of all the tragedies of war, the greatest injustice is the act of forgetting,” he said.
No matter what your views on the war, it was impossible not to be moved by this gathering. It was a solemn day, marked most by the sense of family, of ohana. It wasn’t contrived or forced in any way. There was simply a palpable emotion among the people in attendance. Veterans, politicians and citizens who live and work together on this tiny island opened their arms to the families of the fallen.
“You are now all a part of our extended ohana,” said master of ceremonies Paul Laub of the Maui Veterans Council.
Mayor Charmaine Tavares signed an official proclamation marking March 13 “day of the fallen warriors” and presented each of the families with a certificate marking the date. Representatives from Hawaii’s congressional delegates read statements from Sens. Daniel Inouye and Daniel Akaka and Rep. Mazie Hirono.
Behind the ceremony and formality of governmental recognition, there were some very profound images. Kyle Bolor, rambunctious as any 9-year-old, sitting attentive as his father’s picture, draped in leis, leaned at the base of the memorial. A 21-gun-salute, so loud it startled the birds, as well as some onlookers—a reminder of the sheer volume of war and what many of the fallen may have heard in their final moments on Earth.
Perhaps one of the most moving parts of the day was the arrival of Lilibeth Cajimat, mother of Jay. Showing up after some of the presentations had already been made, Laub stopped the proceedings and each plaque, lei and certificate was presented to Cajimat one by one as she wept. A round of applause followed and it was as if each clap from each person took the place of a warm embrace for the grieving mother.
For the relatives of these men, the day was special for many reasons. Conrad Bolor Sr., Kelley Bolor’s twin brother, said Maui veterans had formed a close-knit family.
“It’s awesome all the support from the veterans, they really look out for each other,” said Bolor. “The whole west side supported us, especially when Jay passed away, we all had ties. We give credit to the West Maui Veterans who got the ball rolling on this. It means a lot for us—it’s a wall of honor.”
Following a stirring rendition of taps played before a solitary helmet resting on a bayonet between a pair of combat boots, the Baldwin High School Junior ROTC preformed drills, marching and tossing rifles with expert precision. The unit also acted as color guard throughout the ceremony.
Baldwin junior Laura Okita was one of the cadets who participated in the event.
“It was very touching for me. I have uncles who have fought and have passed away,” she said.
Okita, like all her fellow ROTC cadets, enrolled in the program as an elective at Baldwin. She said she hopes to attend the Air Force Academy after graduation. When asked if attending a memorial for fallen soldiers gave her second thoughts about joining the military she answered unwaveringly: “No, it never does.”
There are four new names added to the wall of honor. But no plaque, certificate or wall will bring these young men back. They left their home here in paradise, never to return. For many, this war is a disconnected event that plays out on 24-hour news networks and on the pages of newspapers, battling for attention with meaningless celebrity scandals and our ailing economy.
But for some Americans, this war has meant loss and heartache. These men were brothers. They were sons. They were fathers. And whether the war that took their lives is being waged for freedom and democracy or for greed and oil, the fact remains that every day young men and women are dying because our nation is at war. MTW