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The Honolulu Advertiser

Posted on: Friday, May 23, 2003

Soldier says it's sweet to be home

By Timothy Hurley
Advertiser Maui County Bureau

U.S. Army Sgt. Felipe Omar Burgos, who served in the war in Iraq, arrived at Kahului Airport in Maui yesterday to a welcoming crowd of family and friends. The wounded soldier was flown home courtesy of the Maui Republican Party.

Timothy Hurley • The Honolulu Advertiser

KAHULUI, Maui — There was a part of injured U.S. Army Sgt. Felipe Omar Burgos that didn't want to come home, that didn't want to experience the luxury that others in his platoon couldn't.

"There are 18 other brothers still in Iraq, and it just didn't feel right," Burgos said.

But those feelings were overwhelmed yesterday when nearly 70 family, friends and supporters greeted him at Kahului Airport. They waved welcome-home banners and sang "God Bless America" as the 24-year-old soldier and his wife, Sherene, who is from the Big Island, arrived from the Mainland.

"If I could describe one feeling it would be: sweet," said Burgos, with a stack of lei covering his Army uniform.

The 1997 Maui High School graduate is recovering from extensive surgery following a gunshot wound that collapsed his left lung. The bullet is lodged in a stomach muscle and will stay there unless it creates problems for him.

He was wounded nearly two months into his Iraq assignment on the evening of April 4 while his 82nd Airborne Division unit was trying to secure a town south of Baghdad. He spent a part of his recovery in Spain before being sent back to Fort Bragg, N.C.

Burgos said he's proud of his role in Iraq, proud of the fact that Americans are helping to liberate an oppressed people.

He paused to tell those greeting him that their support meant a great deal to him. "We wouldn't be able to do what we are doing without your support," he said.

Burgos and his wife were flown to Maui by the Republican Party of Maui, which paid for his airfare and received donations for other events during his visit, including a hotel stay and lu'au tickets.

GOP officials said Jessica Lynch and other prisoners of war were being invited to Maui, so they decided to make a similar offer to the wounded Burgos.

"He's a hero, and he's from Maui," said John Henry, a party official who arranged the trip.

Burgos said he hopes to spend the next month with his parents, Felipe and Linda Burgos of Pukalani, and visiting friends. His mobility is still limited, so he plans to sit on the beach quite a bit.

"I have a terrible golf game I'd like to work on," he said.

Burgos' dad couldn't help but smile. The retired Army sergeant of 20 years and a Vietnam combat veteran said he never received this type of reception when he came home from war.

"This is very, very good for him," said Felipe Burgos, 52. "For me, it closes a chapter in my life."

Reach Timothy Hurley at (808) 244-4880 or e-mail at thurley@honoluluadvertiser.com.