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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Thursday, December 11, 2003

USNS Pililaau reflects gallantry

By William Cole
Advertiser Military Writer

Wai'anae native Herbert K. Pililaau was a quiet man of conviction who played the 'ukulele and wanted to be a police officer.

Edward Pililaau accepted a flag from the crew of the USNS Pililaau, a ship named after his brother Herbert, a Medal of Honor recipient. Other siblings on hand: Agnes Nani Kim, foreground; Mercy Garcia, left; and Bobby Paaluhi.

Bruce Asato • The Honolulu Advertiser

But "Heartbreak Ridge" in Korea in 1951 would hold a different fate.

The young Army private volunteered to cover for his withdrawing platoon, using all his ammunition and fighting hand-to-hand with a bayonet and his fists before being overwhelmed and killed.

He was awarded the Medal of Honor.

Pililaau's family yesterday celebrated his life while visiting the massive merchant marine ship named for him.

The USNS Pililaau, making its first stop in Hawai'i since its christening in 2000, is at Ford Island where it's being loaded for the 25th Infantry Division (Light) involvement in Iraq.

More than 20 OH-58D Kiowa Warrior helicopters, more than 15 heavily armored Humvees and 300 shipping containers will be loaded on the Navy Military Sealift Command ship.

Thirty-one members of Pililaau's family, most of whom live in Hawai'i, toured the vessel and were treated to lunch by its 30-member crew. The family drove onto one of the ship's decks in 13 automobiles for a windshield tour of the cargo storage area, which can hold the equivalent of 3,600 midsized cars.

"The ship, the crew, have been carrying on the tradition of Pfc. Herbert Pililaau, and we're doing it in good stead and with heads held high," said Capt. Frank Reed, the ship's master.

Reed presented the flag flown on the 950-foot ship as it entered Pearl Harbor to Edward Pililaau, 69, one of four remaining siblings out of nine brothers and five sisters in the family.

Edward Pililaau was in Korea with the 1st Marine Division, but didn't know about his 22-year-old brother's final battle on Sept. 17, 1951.

"He died and I went in right after," he said. "I didn't know until I came home."

Abigail Chase, 52, one of Herbert Pililaau's nieces, said it was amazing to see the big ship. Its seven decks have the equivalent of eight football fields of cargo capacity, and its height dwarfs even an aircraft carrier.

Chase also was at the christening in New Orleans. The ship is kept in Louisiana. It was called to active service last December.

"We had no idea how large it was. We thought maybe a little ship," said Chase, who also expressed her pride in her uncle and for Hawai'i.

Herbert Pililaau's Medal of Honor citation, presented to his parents by President Truman, cites him for "conspicuous gallantry and outstanding courage above and beyond the call of duty."

With its ammunition almost exhausted, Pililaau's platoon was ordered to withdraw. The citation states that Pililaau volunteered to remain behind and "fired his automatic weapon into the ranks of

assailants, threw all his hand grenades, and with ammunition exhausted, closed with the foe in hand-to-hand combat, courageously fighting with his trench knife and bare fists until finally overcome and mortally wounded."

When the position was retaken, more than 40 enemy dead were counted.

Chase said her uncle wasn't the flamboyant type.

In a convoy of 13 autos, the Pililaaus of Wai‘anae visit the USNS Pililaau, the cargo ship named after Korean War hero Herbert Pililaau, who died at Heartbreak Ridge and was awarded the Medal of Honor

Bruce Asato • The Honolulu Advertiser

"My uncle was a real quiet person. He studied music. ... But when the call came and they needed people to serve the country, he volunteered," she said.

Most of her uncles had served in the military. Herbert Pililaau wanted to be a police officer, and that's where Chase believes some of his conviction came from.

"To be a police officer, you have to have a lot of guts."

A live-fire range at Makua Military Reservation and a Wai'anae park are named after Pililaau. The Wai'anae Army Recreation Center will be renamed after him tomorrow.

The USNS Pililaau has made four round trips to the Persian Gulf, was in Kuwait on March 19 when the assault on Iraq began, and will be making its fifth trip to the region next week.

In addition to the helicopters, Humvees and shipping containers with items like tents, the Pililaau will carry bulldozers, scrapers, tractor trailers and several 5-ton trucks.

The Bob Hopeiclass ship is one of 20 Military Sealift Command-owned, civilian-contracted "roll-on and roll-off" ships and has the capability of carrying an entire Army armor or air assault battalion.

Reach William Cole at wcole@honoluluadvertiser.com or 525-5459.