BY REP. K. MARK TAKAI – In 2005, the Legislature passed Act 21, establishing the Hawaii Medal of Honor. I recall thinking how we as a state and as the Hawaii 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. We offer this honor as a small token that can never in itself repay the honor that has been given us. An honor borne of courage, driven by duty, and paid for in loss.
The Hawaii Medal of Honor is reserved for those who have touched our islands, and have felt the touch of our people. These medals symbolize our aloha; our farewell to those we have lost. But also our love for those who have lived among us, touched us, and sacrificed for us. And our enduring welcome for all represented here today, the fallen and their families, who will be counted among us forever.
And in offering it to those that will gather here, in memory of those who have fallen, we recognize that they are a part of us. Wherever each of these medals finds its final home, a piece of our hearts goes with it. They will always be a part of our ohana, our family, because they have brought us honor, and allowed us to share these lives. While this medal can’t take away the pain of losing a loved one, it shows that Hawaii will never forget them.
A grateful state best honors and remembers the sacrifices of those who have served our nation by living our lives in deepest appreciation of our freedom. That is what they defended. That is what they fought and died for.
It has been almost nine years since the Wars on Terrorism began. Between March 29, 2003 and December 31, 2011, we in Hawaii have lost 308 service members. We lost a 24 service members this past year.
Here are some of their stories:
Kraig Vickers, a 1992 graduate of Maui High School and a Maui Interscholastic League defense football player of the year, was among 30 Americans who died in a U.S. military helicopter shot down during fighting in Afghanistan on August 6, 2011. Vickers was 36 years old. He was the husband to Nani Vickers and father of two young children and one that was about to be born. But he was there, in country, part of a Navy Bomb Disposal Team. He was one of the twenty of the Navy SEALS killed that were part of the naval Special Warfare Development Group. Their deaths are believed to be the greatest single loss of life ever suffered by the U.S. special operations community in the 24-year history of the U.S. Special Operations Command.
Tied to this story is the fact that the Chinook helicopter that went down was part of the replacement unit for the Hawaii National Guard’s B Company whose members reunited with family and friends at the Wheeler Army Airfield on August 10, 2011. Had the soldiers with B Company, 1st Battalion, 171st Aviation Regiment stayed in Afghanistan just weeks longer, the ill-fated mission to deliver those Navy SEALs and others troops would likely have been theirs.
Four soldiers assigned to the 2nd Battalion, 27th Infantry Regiment, 3rd Brigade Combat Team, 25th Infantry Division from Schofield Barracks, Hawaii died on May 23, 2011 in Nari District, Kunar Province, Afghanistan, of wounds suffered when enemy forces attacked his unit with an improvised explosive device. They were Staff Sergeant Kristofferson B. Lorenzo, Specialist William S. Blevins, Private First Class Andrew M. Krippner and Private First Class Thomas C. Allers. These four brothers, forever tied in death, paid the ultimate sacrifice in defense of their country.
Army Staff Sergeant Joseph J. Altmann was killed in action of Christmas Day – December 25, 2011 – when insurgents attacked his unit with small arms fire. He was 27.
One issue that we still have unresolved is whether or not to honor those who death is the result of self-inflicted action or suicide. Since the inception of this medal, eleven service members died while in country because of self-inflicted wounds or unspecified reasons. Over the past year, there have been three deaths some would feel were unnecessary. All were in support of Operation Enduring Freedom.
Marine Corps Lance Corporal Harry Lew of Santa Clara, California died on April 3, 2011. He was 21. Army Specialist Brian D. Riley Jr. of Longwood, Florida died on May 15, 2011. He was 24. Army Specialist Jinsu Lee of Chatsworth, California died on August 5, 2011. He was 34.
Their stories vary but the result are the same. For this reason, the remaining question lingers – would they have died in they were not in that there at that time and in those circumstances and condition of war?
By this concurrent resolution, Mr. Speaker, this year’s 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 Wednesday, March 28, 2012 at 2 p.m. in this Chamber. Families will be invited from far-off towns like Blairstown, New Jersey and Rosemount, Minnesota to as close as Kailua-Kona on the Big Island and Kokomo on Maui to attend this ceremony.
We honor the family, friends and colleagues of the fallen who have sacrificed, who have themselves paid a price, and who helped make this year’s honorees the brave, strong individuals that we called on and counted on to serve our nation.
2012 HAWAII MEDAL OF HONOR RECIPIENTS
- United States Army Corporal Andrew C. Wilfahrt
- United States Army Staff Sergeant Mark C. Wells
- United States Army Sergeant Kevin W. White
- United States Army Private First Class Thomas C. Allers
- United States Army Specialist William S. Blevins
- United States Army Private First Class Andrew M. Krippner
- United States Army Staff Sergeant Kristofferson B. Lorenzo
- United States Marine Corps Private First Class Josue Ibarra
- United States Army Private First Class Joshua L. Jetton
- United States Army Specialist Levi E. Nuncio
- United States Army First Lieutenant Dimitri A. Del Castillo
- United States Army Staff Sergeant Nigel D. Kelly
- United States Army Specialist Kevin J. Hilaman
- United States Marine Corps Lance Corporal Christopher L. Camero
- United States Army Staff Sergeant James M. Christen
- United States Army Sergeant Jacob Molina
- United States Army Sergeant William B. Gross Paniagua
- United States Navy Senior Chief Petty Officer Kraig M. Vickers
- United States Marine Corps Corporal Nicholas S. Ott
- United States Army Sergeant First Class Houston M. Taylor
- United States Army Staff Sergeant Christopher R. Newman
- United States Army Sergeant Christopher L. Muniz
- United States Army Specialist Ronald Wildrick
- United States Army Staff Sergeant Joseph J. Altmann
This list was compiled by the Office of Rep. K. Mark Takai and is current as of December 31, 2012. The order of listing is by date of death.
EDITOR’S NOTE: These are the Floor Remarks on HCR 35 made on February 1, 2012 by Hawaii state Representative K. Mark Takai in favor of the measure.