Thursday, March 27, 2008

Hawaii's fallen heroes honored in more ways than one

The House and Senate honored 31 military service members with Hawaii ties who were killed while on duty in Iraq, Afghanistan and Kuwait this past year. The families and friends of 20 servicemen accepted the Hawaii Medal of Honor at the State Capitol Tuesday. Army, Navy and Marine servicemen and women joined the standing-room-only crowd in the House Chamber to pay tribute to their heroic comrades.

Each day our fallen heroes' memories are honored by friends and family through different ways, including visiting the burial sites, flipping through photo albums and reading old letters.

As the first war during the Internet age, remembering our lost servicemen and women has changed.

On websites like Myspace, the memories of many of them will live on forever in self-made memorials with snapshots and blog posts that capture the person they wanted the world to see - the person behind the uniform.

Several of the Hawaii Medal of Honor recipients still have Myspace profiles. Friends and family post comments daily reminding the ghost behind the screen of how much they are missed.

"Hey Garrett. Not a day goes by where I don't think of you. I miss you so much man. I know you're in a better place taking care of [Army Staff] SGT [Richwell A.] Doria and [Army 1st] LT [Frank B.] Walkup for us. I'll never forget you. I'll see you again someday," wrote Army Sgt. Adam Gillespie, a friend and comrade of Sgt. Garrett I. McLead, 23, on McLead's Myspace profile comment box.

With more than three-fourths of the war dead being younger than 30 and many of them having registered for online networking websites, the number of online memorials have increased.

Fallen soldiers have left behind their last words that will live on in time.

Twenty days before his return home to Hawaii, Army Sgt. Alexander U. Gagalac, 28, a Leilehua High School graduate, wrote this on his Myspace page:

"Finally!, I'll be home for good.....This is very rare that [I] write a blog. For the past 13 months I have been living in the a place that time forgot, "Iraq". Now it is finally coming to an end with a few weeks to go. I can't wait to be back home with family and friends. This has been a long time coming and it['s] gonna feel a lot longer as it comes to those last hours that I'm here. The taste of freedom is going to be sweet. To let you in on a secret, the expected date for my arrival is the 24th of September. I'll keep my fingers cross[ed]. I hope to see you all when I get back."

The Internet has been a useful tool for friends and family to remember their loved ones, but it has even compelled those who did not know the military service member personally to express their sorrow and gratitude.

"Thank you for your sacrifice for giving us the freedom that we continue to have today. Because of you and all the other men and women serving our country we thank you for all that you stand for and give. My prayers goes out to your family. Thank you, thank you, thank you....," wrote Myspace user "Mafi & Rod" in response to Sgt. Gagalac's final blog post.

Medal of Honor Recipients:

Air Force Senior Airman William N. Newman
Air Force Airman 1st Class Carl Jerome Ware Jr.
Army Sgt. Forrest D. Cauthorn
Army Pfc. Jay S. Cajimat
Army Cpl. Casey P. Zylman
Army 1st Lt. Keith N. Heidtman
Army Chief Warrant Officer 2 Theodore U. Church
Army Sgt. Richard V. Correa
Army Spc. Farid Elazzouzi
Army Sgt. Derek T. Roberts
Army Spc. Val J. Borm
Army 1st Lt. Frank B. Walkup IV
Army Sgt. Michael J. Montpetit
Army Spc. Tyler R. Seideman
Army Spc. Jessy G. Pollard
Army Spc. Michael A. Hook
Army Cpl. Nathan C. Hubbard
Army Cpl. Joshua S. Harmon
Army Cpl. Phillip J. Brodnick
Army Cpl. Jeremy P. Bouffard
Army. Sgt. Garrett I. McLead
Army Staff Sgt. Jason L. Paton
Army Capt. Derek A. Dobogai
Army Sgt. Alexander U. Gagalac
Army Pfc. Casey P. Mason
Army Spc. Jon M. Schoolcraft III
Marine Corps Lance Cpl. Robert A. Lynch
Marine Corps Maj. Douglas A. Zembiec
Navy Lt. Cmdr. Morgan C. Tulang
Navy Hospital Corpsman 3rd Class Mark R. Cannon
Navy Petty Officer 1st Class Victor W. Jeffries

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