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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Sunday, April 18, 2004

Ex-Ranger led way, at war and at home

By Kevin Dayton
Advertiser Big Island Bureau

HONOKA'A, Hawai'i — Friends and family buried Wesley John Kealoha Batalona yesterday, laying to rest a professional soldier who was born and raised on the Big Island, and died in an ambush in Fallujah, Iraq, while working for a civilian contractor.

Batalona, a retired U.S. Army Ranger, was a veteran of the Panama invasion in 1989 and the first war with Iraq in 1991. He was buried with full military honors, with an honor guard provided by the 25th Infantry Division (Light) at Schofield Barracks.

Batalona's daughter, Kristal, 22, told the funeral gathering of about 300: "My dad is fine. It's going to take a while for us to be fine with what happened, but please, don't remember him for the way he died. Remember him for the way he lived."

Bishop Thomas Heers of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints said Batalona was not only a military hero but was also a hero in his personal life. He described Batalona as a "Saturday morning hero," the type who wakes up in the morning to cook for his family, and a man who took loving care of his wife and daughter.

Hawai'i Gov. Linda Lingle and U.S. Rep. Ed Case, D-Hawai'i, attended the funeral at the church's Honoka'a Ward to pay respects to family members, including Batalona's widow, June; his daughter, Kristal; and his father, Joseph Batalona Sr.

Batalona, 48, retired from the Army in 1994 and returned to the Big Island in 2000. He traveled to Iraq in 2003 to work for a private company, and was working for Blackwater Security Consulting when he died in an ambush on March 31.

Three other Americans died in the ambush, and members of an Iraqi crowd that gathered after the attack beat the bodies and hung two of the burned corpses from a bridge.

Blackwater is a North Carolina company that hires former military people and others to provide security training and guard services. The company had a contract with the Pentagon to provide security for convoys that delivered food in the Fallujah area.

June Batalona, left, with her daughter, Kristal, holds the American flag that draped the casket of her husband, Wesley Batalona. Batalona, died in an ambush last month in Iraq.

Tim Wright • Associated Press

Picture collages on display at Batalona's funeral service yesterday showed him on his wedding day in 1975, with his wife and daughter on the Mainland, and in more playful settings such as reclining on the family couch in full command of the television remote.

Guests were invited to write their memories of Batalona on a poster board at the entrance to the church hall. Kristal Batalona wrote that her father was her hero, and advised him to "hold down that patrol base in the sky."

"I cry because I miss him, but I'm happy, too," Kristal Batalona said during the service. "There is nothing for us to be sad about because my dad is home with the Lord, and that's where he wanted to be from Day 1.

"If he was standing here right now, he would scold us all for crying," she said.

Harold Vidinha, who served with Batalona in the 1st and 3rd Ranger battalions, said Batalona "made June, Kristal and the Lord his priorities in life."

Vidinha, also spent time with his old comrade in Iraq last year when they both worked for private companies providing security for the rebuilding operations, and said Batalona was very concerned with the children he saw in Iraq.

"Wesley would buy little things, and when we came out he would give the kids," Vidinha said. When he returned home for a break from duty, "his plan was to buy slippers, and clothes; little things for little kids because, infants to toddlers, they're barefooted in raggedy clothes. That was Wes. He was right out there in the middle of everything."

Hawai'i National Guard Staff Sgt. Keith Enanoria, 54, remembered Batalona from his days growing up in Honoka'a, where Batalona was student-body president at Honoka'a High School. He also remembered the time years ago when Batalona evaluated Enanoria's unit as the soldiers navigated an infantry training course in Fort Lewis, Wash.

"He was strack, very strack," Enanoria said, using a military expression for a soldier who is extremely capable and professional. "He was a Ranger, always pushing for perfection. He set the example."

Reach Kevin Dayton at kdayton@honoluluadvertiser.com or (808) 935-3916.