Wednesday, September 11, 2002
LINDA SPILLERS / ASSOCIATED PRESS
Police officer and K-9 handler Isaac Hoopii worked with his dog, Marko, to check a contractor's truck entering a Pentagon parking area. Hoopii was one of the first on the scene after the Sept. 11 attack on the Pentagon and was instrumental in helping the inujred and saving lives.
Isaac Hoopii has been honored for bravery many ways since becoming a hero on Sept. 11, 2001: He was awarded the Congressional Medal of Valor, the highest honor this country bestows upon a citizen. He carried the Olympic torch on its journey to the Salt Lake City Winter Games in February. Hoopii risked his life to pull victim after victim out of the burning Pentagon after terrorists crashed a hijacked American Airlines plane into the building. Some of the victims were alive, some were dead. Those he couldn't carry out himself, he tried to guide out, using his voice.
The Pentagon Officer
"One time my daughter said to me, 'Dad, how can you be a hero? You can't be a hero, you're my daddy!' I said to her, 'Honey, you're right. Heroes are a dime a dozen; being your father is being a real man."
As told to Rod Antone / Star-Bulletin
Hoopii, born and raised in Waianae, remains a police officer at the Pentagon. He spoke recently about how life has changed in the last year.
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Question: Since Sept. 11 you've been interviewed by CNN, the "Today Show," the Washington Post, U.S. News and World Report, and who else?
Answer: Well, the Star-Bulletin was first, of course. And in August, I was in Good Housekeeping.
Q: Thanks. (Pause) Wait a minute, did you say Good Housekeeping?
A: Yeah, (chuckles) my wife liked that one. Halle Berry is on the cover. It's a small article.
Q: Ha, OK, well, besides all the media attention, is anything different? The first time we talked, you said you couldn't stop hearing the voices and seeing the smoke from that day. Do you still go through that?
A: No. I kind of came to terms with that when I met Wayne. (Pentagon worker Wayne Sinclair and Hoopii became friends after it was discovered that it was Hoopii's voice that led Sinclair and other survivors out of the burning rubble.) Wayne proved to me that what I did wasn't in vain, and that was like a big burden off my back. But there were other changes that I didn't notice, but my wife did.
Q: What kind of changes?
A: I didn't play the guitar for seven months. When my wife said that, I was kind of surprised. Then one day I just picked it up and started playing for like three hours, and she started crying.
Q: Wow. What else?
A: I would go to work four hours early, which meant I was getting like two or three hours' sleep. And that's with the 12-hour shifts that we were working already after Sept. 11. In my mind I told myself I was going early to make sure everyone else got enough rest. Some police officers quit the next day, and some of them are still suffering from post-traumatic stress. ... To this day, I still think about it all the time, especially since there are certain areas in that building that the walls are caved in, and I think, "I was right there." It must have been by the grace of God that I'm still around. I could have easily been a casualty. So now, I just take it one day at a time, I don't stress about little things.
Q: Do you still have trouble sleeping?
A: No, that was just for the first three or four months. But I almost did not coach my daughter's softball team this year.
Q: You said "almost," so you did coach, then?
A: Yeah, it was the best thing for me, really. Being around all those kids who are so innocent and weren't going through what the rest of us were going through. One time, my daughter (10-year-old Kukana) was playing with the ball and said to me, "Dad, how can you be a hero? You can't be a hero, you're my daddy!" I said to her, "Honey, you're right. Heroes are a dime a dozen; being your father is being a real man."
The only good thing was, every night I would see my daughter sleeping before I went to work, and I thought, "Thank God this house is peaceful and comfortable." It made me feel better about what I was doing. I want America safe for my kids and my kids' kids. It's all about friends, family and community.
Q: You said some of your fellow police officers needed therapy and counseling after everything they went through after the attacks. How about you?
A: Well, I tell you, I don't know what I'd do if I didn't have Vito. He knows all my secrets. He just wags his tail and listens to me. (Vito was Hoopii's partner as part of the Pentagon's K-9 Division. The bomb-sniffing German Shepherd retired in April and now lives the civilian life at home with Hoopii.)
Q: You talked to your dog? How often? Did you do it before Sept. 11?
A: Oh, yeah, I used to talk to him before, but just to command him, to tell him to sniff this or come here or do this or that. But after Sept. 11, I talked to him every day. I'd say stuff like, "Hey Vito, can you believe these *bleep* *bleep* people took these planes and flew into buildings?" Then I'd step back and think, "Man, I'm talking to my dog."
But it was soothing. He'd wag his tail and lick my face, and that was that ... because there were certain things that I wanted to keep at work. I didn't want my family to worry about it. I just wanted to try and relax with them.
Q: You talk to your new dog now?
A: Marko? Nah, he's just a puppy. That's OK, Vito's at home, and I know he'll keep it all to himself.
Q: Anything else you want people to know?
A: Just that I'm proud to be local, proud to be Hawaiian and proud to represent the people and our state. ... I live up here, and I can play the mainland game when I have to because that's how it is sometimes, but I remember when my family and I used to sit on newspapers in our house when it was time to eat because we didn't have anything. I remember where I came from, and I'm just trying to make them proud.
MICHAEL W. PENDERGRASS / U.S. NAVY
Firefighters and rescue workers flew a large American flag from the Pentagon on Sept. 13, 2001.