BY REP. K. MARK TAKAI – This year marks the 70th anniversary of the attack of Pearl Harbor, the event that led to America’s entry into World War II.
Ten years ago, another attack in New York, Washington, D.C. and Pennsylvania again brought our nation to its knees.
Each of us can recall vividly the events in the early morning on Sept. 11, 2001. What happened on that fateful day would shake the foundation of our country and change the future for our children.
As a newly commissioned officer in the Hawaii Army National Guard, I knew that my life would forever be changed on that day. The question was no longer if we would go, but when we would go. So when the 29th Brigade Combat Team and the 100 Battalion were deployed in 2004 for the first time since the Vietnam War, we needed to do something. And we did.
In 2005, the Legislature passed Act 21, establishing the Hawaii Medal of Honor. I recall thinking how we as a state and as the state Legislature needed to support the families of our fallen heroes. The Hawaii Medal of Honor was our way of expressing our deepest appreciation to these brave service men and women.
The magnitude of our decision to create the Hawaii Medal of Honor didn’t hit home until I received a call in July 2005 summoning me to the National Guard Headquarters to be the casualty assistance officer for the family of Sgt. Deyson Cariaga, who at a very young age of 20 was killed when an improvised explosive device detonated near the Humvee he was driving during a patrol near Balad, Iraq.
As introducer of the bill that created the medal, I don’t think I fully understood the profound meaning of this medal until I met with Sgt. Cariaga’s family. The Hawaii Medal of Honor was not just a medal, but it represents a fallen hero and a family shattered by events half a world away.
The Hawaii Medal of Honor is bestowed on those who have touched our islands and have felt the touch of our people. The medal symbolizes our aloha to those we have lost.
Following our lead, Alaska and New Hampshire both present similar awards to their fallen heroes.
It has been more than eight years since the wars on terrorism began. Between March 29, 2003, and Dec. 31, 2010, we in Hawaii have lost 284 service members.
This year, we formally induct 16 service members into the roll for the Hawaii Medal of Honor. All 16 gave their lives for our freedoms in 2010.
The Hawaii Medal of Honor will be awarded to family representatives of these fine men and women at a ceremony held during a joint session of the Legislature on Tuesday at 2 p.m. in the Senate chambers. Families will be invited from towns like Bowling Green, Ky.; Decatur, Ind.; Jonesboro, La.; and Palmyra, N.J.
In offering the medal to those who will gather here, in memory of those who have fallen, we recognize that they are part of us, part of our ohana. The medal guarantees that they will never be forgotten.
I hope that the children of these heroes will one day appreciate the sacrifices that their fathers and their mothers made on behalf of all of us.
While this medal can’t take away the pain of losing a loved one, it shows that Hawaii will never forget them. Wherever each of these medals finds its final home, a piece of our hearts goes with it. We truly appreciate what they did for us as Americans so our way of life can continue.