Family man, proud soldier dies peacefully of leukemia
By William Cole
Advertiser Military Writer
When the end came on April 6, Army Spc. Presley Tagaloa was home in Hawai'i, at peace, and with family and friends, relatives said.
When it all began 15 months earlier, the Army Reservist with the 100th Battalion, 442nd Infantry was on a deployment to Kuwait and had been providing security for convoys heading into southern Iraq.
The Farrington High School graduate, air-evacuated to Germany and then the United States, was diagnosed with leukemia. He died four days after returning to Hawai'i on April 2 following complications from a bone marrow transplant, his family said.
The 23-year-old will be buried tomorrow at the Hawai'i State Veterans Cemetery in Kāne'ohe.
A fundraiser is scheduled for Friday at Tiki's Grill & Bar in Waikīkī for Tagaloa's wife, Reva, and their two daughters, ages 2 and 3.
The Hawai'i man found a job he liked in the Army, the respect of fellow soldiers and a way to support his family, and those aspects of his life are being remembered.
"Family was everything to him," said the soldier's mother, Christine Feagaimaalii.
Sgt. 1st Class Alika Naluai, Tagaloa's platoon sergeant, remembers how hard Tagaloa worked despite starting to feel ill.
"He never complained and we didn't realize how bad it was until our last mission with him," Naluai said.
When D Company's 1st Platoon returned to base and started putting its weapons away, Tagaloa fainted, falling into fellow soldiers who caught him before he hit the floor, Naluai said.
"He came to and he was like, 'What's going on?' We told him, 'You fainted,' and he said, 'I'm OK, I'm OK,' " Naluai said.
"He knew what he needed to do (for the mission) and he was going to do it."
A checkup with a doctor led to further testing and a diagnosis of leukemia.
More than 1,700 Hawai'i National Guard and Army Reserve soldiers — the 100th Battalion among them — deployed to Kuwait in late 2008 and returned in the summer of 2009.
Tagaloa joined the Army Reserve unit knowing a deployment was coming up, according to relatives.
"At first, I think he had mixed feelings about it, but it was something that he thought he had to do to take care of his family," his mother said.
But after boot camp and training for the Kuwait and Iraq duty, Tagaloa e-mailed to family how proud he was to be in the Army.
TURN FOR WORSE
Tagaloa's wife, Reva, 22, said when her husband came home on rest and recuperation leave he had lost weight and didn't really eat.
"We thought he was thin because he was in Kuwait," she said.
Naluai, his platoon sergeant, thought the same thing.
By late January, Tagaloa had been diagnosed with leukemia, a form of cancer that starts in the tissue that forms blood.
Tagaloa was transferred to a hospital in Germany, then Walter Reed Army Medical Center in Washington, D.C., and finally the National Institutes of Health in Bethesda, Md.
The soldier had a bone marrow transplant from his brother, who "was a 100 percent match," his wife said.
But his immune system couldn't catch up and his health worsened, she said.
Tagaloa had asked for months to return to Hawai'i. On April 2, the Army flew him to Tripler Army Medical Center, and he died four days later.
"When I brought my son home, he saw his family and friends and I knew my son made peace with God and he came to accept" that the end was coming, Christine Feagaimaalii said.
When Tagaloa died, "he was fine," Reva Tagaloa said. "He passed away in his sleep. They gave him medicine and he was strong. I'm OK because I know he's not in pain."
She said their two young daughters still ask for their dad, and when they see another soldier in uniform, they think he is their father.
Naluai said Tagaloa was laid-back and mature beyond his years.
"He was a soldier I never had to worry about," Naluai said. "He was a hard worker; humble and very patient with regards to any changes in situation ... that would normally rile up most soldiers. He was real calm about it."
Friends are organizing Friday's fundraiser at Tiki's, which is providing a percentage of that night's sales to the Tagaloa family.
"I want to celebrate his life with everyone," said Reva Tagaloa. "Just share."