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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Saturday, April 15, 2006

State honors fallen heroes

By William Cole
Advertiser Military Writer

Theresa Inouye, mother of Sgt. Deyson Cariaga, who was killed in Iraq last year, holds a Hawai'i Medal of Honor. The award recognizes Hawai'i-linked military personnel killed in Iraq and Afghanistan.

RICHARD AMBO | The Honolulu Advertiser

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Cpl. Kyle Grimes wanted to go to college and work for the FBI when he got out of the Marines.

The 21-year-old had a sense of humor. No matter what the situation in Iraq no matter how dangerous or stressful, he could crack everybody up.

Being in combat made the Kane'ohe Bay Marine realize how important family is, and he wondered if he would make it out to some day have his own.

It is because of those memories Marybeth LeVan has of her son, who died Jan. 26, 2005, and the Hawai'i State Legislature's desire to honor that sacrifice, that she's flying out from Baton Rouge, La., with five family members for a recognition ceremony on Tuesday.

About 200 people from Hawai'i, across the Mainland, Guam and Saipan are expected to attend the Hawai'i Medal of Honor presentation at the 10 a.m. joint session of the Legislature.

As of Feb. 28, 120 service members with Hawai'i ties had given their lives while serving in operations Iraqi Freedom and Enduring Freedom.

When LeVan received the invitation, she said there was no question she would go. She, her husband and daughter, her sister, brother-in-law and niece are spending about $2,000 apiece for airfare and the hotel stay.

"This is what we have left of (Kyle) ceremonies like this and remembrances, because memories are all, that's it, that's what we have," LeVan said.

She said the state's Medal of Honor is commendable. "I can't say enough what an honor it is, and what it means to us that other people want to remember our boys as we do," she said.

Theresa Inouye also will be there. Her son, Sgt. Deyson Cariaga, 20, of Kalihi was killed by a roadside bomb in Iraq on July 8 outside Logistics Support Area Anaconda north of Baghdad.

The 2002 Roosevelt High School graduate was the only Hawai'i-based casualty from the nearly yearlong Hawai'i National Guard and Reserve deployment to Iraq.

"It's nice to know that people still recognize the fact that the war is still going on out there," Inouye said yesterday. "My son won't be the last, but they are fighting for a cause. I don't want that cause to be forgotten."

Inouye said the nine months since her son's death have been a roller coaster of emotions with many lows. It doesn't get easier, she said. "There's just days you can't believe it happened, still," she said.

Inouye is thankful that the Legislature is recognizing her son's sacrifice. But it also brings back a hurt that remains very raw. "It's a double-edged sword," she said.

She tries to dwell on the things that Deyson liked, including going to the beach, a family vacation to Las Vegas, and regular Jamba Juice runs.

"Little things like that. It's the good things you try to remember," she said.

Recipients of the new medal include active duty, National Guard and Reserve forces who were residents of Hawai'i, went to school here, were stationed here, or were attached to Hawai'i units.

The silver and gold medal, with a circle of kalo leaves and maltese cross representing axes of the globe and Hawai'i as the crossroads of the Pacific, was approved by the Legislature in 2005.

A total of 48 families will be represented at the ceremony from inside and outside the state, officials said. The Medals of Honor that aren't given to families on Tuesday will be sent to home states for presentation.

The special joint session of the Legislature will be held in the House chambers. The public is invited to attend, but there will be no public parking at the Capitol.

Each fallen service member will be recognized by name, the toll of a bell, and presentation of a Koa-cased Hawai'i Medal of Honor to a family member.

The effort to identify those eligible for the medal took many months, said House vice speaker Rep. K. Mark Takai, D-34th (Pearl City, Newtown, Royal Summit).

"Working with all the branches of the military, we worked extremely hard to identify each service member who sacrificed their lives," he said.

Takai, a captain in the Hawai'i Army National Guard, served as the casualty assistance officer for Cariaga's family.

"We are truly grateful for the sacrifices that these families have made," Takai said. "This medal is just a small token of our utmost appreciation. It tells these families that we also grieve for their loss."

Whether future war dead will be honored with a Medal of Honor at a joint legislative session next year or in some other manner hasn't been decided.

Behind the names on the list are deaths and family tragedy that came singly, as with Cariaga, and in multifold loss, as with the crash Jan. 26, 2005, of a CH-53E Super Stallion helicopter in a sandstorm in western Iraq that claimed 31 lives.

The crash remains the single greatest loss of life from the Iraq War. Of the total, 26 Marines and a Navy corpsman were from Kane'ohe Bay. Grimes was one of those Marines.

The Hawai'i unit had lost eight Marines in a suicide car bombing on Oct. 30, 2004. More would die in house-to-house fighting in Fallujah in following months.

Kyle Grimes didn't want his mom to worry, but she learned from other family members what he was facing.

"He saw buddies get killed," LeVan said. "He saw the guy standing next to him lose an arm and a leg."

She has kept in touch by e-mail and phone with other families who lost Marines.

"It's very healing to get together and ceremonies like this (the Medal of Honor) also are very healing for us, knowing other people want to remember our sons," she said.

But like Inouye, she said it's still hard to believe her son is gone.

"I have to remind myself every day that it's really true. It doesn't get any easier. I just expect that's how it will be for the rest of my life, just a big, open wound," she said.

Two Army Reservists, Sgt. Wilgene T. Lieto, 28, and Spc. Derence W. Jack, 31, were killed on Oct. 31, 2005. Both men, from Saipan and assigned to the Hawai'i-based 100th Battalion, 442nd Infantry Regiment, were on patrol north of LSA Anaconda when a bomb exploded.

Cariaga was driving the third of seven Humvees in a convoy heading back to LSA Anaconda on a beat-up asphalt road the military calls Route Heather when a 155 mm artillery shell exploded.

He bore the brunt of the blast and was killed instantly. Two of three Air Force airmen in the Humvee suffered shrapnel injuries and broken ribs.

Theresa Inouye finds herself asking, "When will this all end for myself, and I think just the war in general. I wish ... this war was over with."

Reach William Cole at wcole@honoluluadvertiser.com.