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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Thursday, May 13, 2004

Schofield bids aloha to sergeant killed in Iraq

By Mike Gordon
Advertiser Staff Writer

Honor and duty guided the young soldier's hands as she folded the flag — slowly, reverently, as if she held the very remains of U.S. Army Staff Sgt. Oscar "Big Daddy" Medina.

Beate Medina, left, wife of Staff Sgt. Oscar Medina, yesterday received comfort from Vicki Olson, wife of Maj. Gen. Eric T. Olson, Commanding General of the 25th Infantry Division (Light), at yesterday's funeral.

Bruce Asato • The Honolulu Advertiser

Rows of soldiers stood nearby, salutes held crisp, eyes forward, sad and stoic as they bid farewell yesterday to a fallen comrade. Medina had been one of them but his death May 1 during an Iraqi ambush raised the Schofield Barracks sergeant to another plane.

Medina's funeral at the National Memorial Cemetery of the Pacific drew more than 100 relatives, friends and members of the 25th Infantry Divison (Light) and U.S. Army, Hawai'i. He was the first casualty buried here since the Schofield Barracks troops deployed this year to Iraq and Afghanistan.

They gave him a Bronze Star, a Purple Heart and a 21-gun salute. And with the air in Punchbowl still smelling slightly of gunpowder, they gave his widow, and then his mother, folded U.S. flags.

Beate Medina married Oscar four years ago. They met when he was stationed in Germany. She knew the Army was his life, but nothing prepared her for his death or for the sober face of Brig. Gen. Robert Davis handing her a flag and whispering words only she could hear.

Her face had lost all color and her eyelids were heavy from tears shed somewhere else. She pressed the flag against her broken heart amid the hush of Punchbowl. The only sound was the wind rustling through the trees.

Staff Sgt. Oscar "Big Daddy" Medina died May 1 during an Iraqi ambush.
Oscar Medina was born in Colombia, and raised in Chicago. He joined the Army a year after graduating from Roberto Clemente High School, where he played football and swam.

After 12 years of military service, he found himself at Schofield Barracks, assigned to the division's 84th Engineer Battalion.

In Al Amarah, Iraq, his convoy was attacked by members of the al-Mahdi militia. In the fusillade of rocket-propelled grenades and small arms fire, he and Spc. Ramon Ojeda were killed. Ojeda also was from Schofield Barracks.

Medina was 32.

Army Sgt. Ron Nekula flew from Kansas to eulogize Medina, a man he called his brother.

"Although Oscar seemed hard and never shared a lot of emotions, he had a soft heart," Nekula said. "He was the most unselfish and giving person I know. We are proud of you Oscar and you will be in our hearts always."

Sgt. Ron Nekula, who was the best friend of Staff Sgt. Oscar Medina, yesterday carried the urn holding Medina's ashes to the columbarium at the National Memorial Cemetery of the Pacific. Medina's wife, Beate, placed the urn privately in a niche in the columbarium.

Bruce Asato • The Honolulu Advertiser

Medina's ashes were placed privately in a niche in Punchbowl's new columbarium by his wife. Under his name on the niche cover are inscribed the words "Love Is Eternal."

Afterward, in the wake of all that had been said and felt, Medina's friends did their best to remember the good times they had shared with "Big Daddy."

Many, including R.J. "Cowboy" Dieken, shared Medina's passion for motorcycles. Dieken, a 24-year-old former military academy chaplain, often rode with Medina.

Medina was an easy man to like, a man you could trust.

"I guess we never thought about this kind of thing," said Dieken, a heavy man with a boyish face. "He was a soldier. This is the way soldiers get laid to rest."

Motorcycle shop owner Ted Davis was also there, standing around uncomfortably after the funeral. He brought Medina's motorcycle — a Kawasaki 750 ZX7R — to honor his friend.

The black and yellow motorcycle was something Medina had labored on for hours, customizing and polishing.

"He was worried about this last mission," Dieken said. "I told him, 'You take it easy and be careful, those guys have nothing to lose.' He said, 'If I'm going out, I'm taking a bunch of them with me.'"

Davis shook his head when he remembered that.

"I told him that wasn't funny," he said. "Now we're here."

Reach Mike Gordon at mgordon@honoluluadvertiser.com or 525-8012.