Monday, May 27, 2002

Lt. Col. Kenrock Higa posed Saturday alongside the new headstone for his granduncle, Pfc. John Rupert Rowe.

Soldier receives
belated tribute

A ceremony today will honor the
first isle man killed in World War I

By Gregg K. Kakesako

In a ceremony today, Pfc. John Rupert Rowe will finally get the recognition his family and others say he deserves more than 80 years after he was killed on a battlefield in France.

"He was the private that no one knew anything about," said Hawaii Army National Guard Lt. Col. Kenrock Higa, a grandnephew and commander of the 29th Infantry Brigade's 2nd Battalion.

From the battlefield Rowe wrote these words to his mother:

"Don't worry, mother dear. We have a got to win this war. If I fail do not mourn for me as I will have done only my duty. All of us won't come back. I hope I shall. However, if I do not. Always remember me as having done my duty for my country."

A few days later, on July 31, 1918, a day after his 26th birthday, Rowe became the first Hawaiian killed in World War I.

Through the decades his family believes he never got the recognition other veterans received.

"All his grave marker at Oahu Cemetery bore was his name, his rank and his unit," said Higa, 45.

Last year, Theola Silva, a niece, took her family's concerns to U.S. Sen. Daniel Akaka, D-Hawaii, seeking his help for an appropriate recognition of Rowe's service and sacrifice.

The family also sought the advice of Prince Perrera, past commander of American Legion Post 17, which is named after Rowe.

Akaka told Higa that "this sounds like a case of a forgotten Hawaiian" and forwarded the matter to the Department of Veterans Affairs, which manages the nation's military cemeteries.

Gene Castagnetti, director of the National Cemetery of the Pacific at Punchbowl, noted that Rowe was buried at a private cemetery long before the VA was created in 1932 and before the Punchbowl veterans cemetery was established in 1949.

He said the law does allow the VA to provide headstones for veterans buried in private cemeteries.

This morning, a new marble headstone will be unveiled for Rowe, a member of Company H, 34th Infantry Regiment, 4th Division, who was killed by an enemy shell during an advance on the Vesle River in Chery Chartreuse, France. It will bear the inscription "First World War I combat casualty from Hawaii."

Akaka, in prepared Memorial Day remarks, noted that "since annexation, Hawaii has sent her sons to fight in every one of America's wars. Today we honor the service and sacrifices made by ordinary men and women who lost their lives in defense of freedom and democracy. Their heroism and patriotism reminds us of the fundamental truth our nation has understood since the Revolutionary War, and which holds great relevance for us today: The freedom, liberty, and peace we cherish carries a dear price."

Akaka recalled that Rowe left the islands more than 80 years ago with a Hawaiian singing group to seek his fortune as a musician and an entertainer.

During a stop in Texas, Rowe enlisted in the Army and by mid-1918 was in France. He was killed just four months before the Armistice was signed on Nov. 11, 1918, which was also his mother's 50th birthday.

"When Pvt. Rowe was laid to rest here in 1921," Akaka said, "the people of Hawaii were reminded of his sense of honor and duty to country."

Akaka added: "Today, few Americans recall the horrible events or heroes of World War I, with the exception of families, generations removed, who lost a loved one in that war over 80 years ago; historians; and our nation's veterans service organizations. Today's ceremony honoring Pvt. Rowe is also a remembrance of the sacrifices made by hundreds of Hawaii's sons and daughters. Our freedom has been preserved, strengthened and consecrated because of their great sacrifices, and on Memorial Day we remember each of them with respect and gratitude.

"On this Memorial Day, we honor all of the men and women who have paid the ultimate price of freedom and security throughout our country's history, Americans who helped change the course of history and helped preserve a world in which freedom and democracy could flourish. Let us also remember that today, as we honor our nation's fallen heroes, we have called upon our armed forces to stand alert to the new challenges that threaten our freedom and security in the war against terrorism."

Higa said he is extremely grateful for the efforts of Akaka, Castagnetti and Harold Lewis, director of Oahu Cemetery.

"Thanks to their leadership, our family has finally gotten closure and recognition."

In his remarks, Akaka noted that it is most fitting that Rowe's last admonition to his mother in the event that he not return -- "I have done my full duty for my country" -- is inscribed on the back of his new marble grave marker as "an enduring reminder of his quiet courage."

One hundred two men from Hawaii were killed in World War I.

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