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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Sunday, May 14, 2006

Hilo soldier buried in hometown

Associated Press

HILO, Hawai'i Family, friends and Army comrades bid farewell to Sgt. Steve Makoto Sakoda yesterday in an emotional military burial for the first Hilo man killed in Iraq.

"Thank you to everyone, because I know he touched a lot of people," his sister, Stella Yuki Sakoda Hottendorf, said at the Hawai'i Veterans Cemetery.

Sakoda died on April 29 after a roadside bomb exploded near his Humvee during a patrol in Baghdad. The 29-year-old was serving with the 1st Squadron, 75th Cavalry Regiment, 2nd Brigade Combat Team, 101st Airborne Division (Air Assault), based at Fort Campbell, Ky.

Before yesterday's service, his widow, Michelle Castillo Sakoda, and Hottendorf drove around town and to the beaches with the soldier's ashes, to revisit the places where he loved to go.

An urn containing Sgt. Sakoda's ashes was borne to a table that was flanked by two folded flags and his medals earned in service. Sakoda's military portrait was set on the ground, near his combat boots and helmet.

"We are gathered here on this day to honor and tribute the life of Sgt. Steve Sakoda, a husband, a brother, a son, a grandson, a friend, a comrade at arms and a soldier," said Capt. Clint Black, a chaplain from Schofield Barracks.

Staff Sgt. Ha Chi, who recently returned from Iraq with the National Guard's 2nd Battalion, 299th Infantry Regiment, remembered when Sakoda was in the scout platoon. "When there was work to be done, he was a hard worker. If there was something that needed to be done, he'd do it," Chi said.

Sakoda was born and raised in Hilo. He graduated from the University of Hawai'i-Hilo with a bachelor's degree in communications in 2002.

Sakoda joined the Marine Corps Reserve a few months after graduating from Waiakea High School and received an honorable discharge eight years later.

Gerard Lee Loy, a Hilo attorney, was Sakoda's canoe coach in 2000 and 2001. He said Sakoda threw a big party on the beach in 2003 for the state canoe championships. "He had the music and some speakers, all at his own expense," Lee Loy said.

Lee Loy also recounted: "The 9/11 attacks really affected him because he didn't want to go to Afghanistan to kill people. He wanted to help them out."