Isle soldier is lauded as hometown hero
Henry Kahalewai Jr. dies after being hit by a bomb in Iraq
HILO » Family members remembered Army Sgt. Henry Kahalewai Jr. as a hometown hero who died serving his fourth tour in Iraq.
Kahalewai, born and raised in Hilo, died Friday at a hospital in Texas after being hit two weeks earlier by a roadside bomb in Iraq while on patrol with his unit's Stryker vehicle.
America has lost another good man, said Joseph Aguiar, Kahalewai's cousin.
"This is our hero," he said yesterday. "I want the people of Hawaii to know what they lost."
Kahalewai, 44, had served two tours of duty during and after the Desert Storm campaign to liberate Kuwait in 1991, then two more tours during the current war in Iraq.
"He went back when the president called. He was not a scarecrow. He jumped right back into it," Aguiar said.
Kahalewai's son, Aaron, said, "The military, the Army, that was his thing.
"He left Hilo when he was about 25. He served 19 in the military. He was about ready to retire."
As of yesterday the death had not been confirmed by the Pentagon.
Kahalewai was first treated in Germany and later transferred to Houston, where he died with his son and other relatives by his side.
Kahalewai had been assigned to tank duty, but a little more than two weeks ago, he was patrolling with a Stryker. He was on the vehicle rather than inside, Aguiar said. That was how the blast hit him, taking one leg and spraying his body with shrapnel.
The Army brought his father, siblings, son and daughters to see him. The doctors could not stop an infection that the wounds caused.
Now Aguiar waits for word on when Kahalewai's father will bring him home.
Kahalewai came from a family of responsible people, Aguiar said. Henry Sr. had driven the special truck that carried the mirror of the Subaru Telescope to the summit of Mauna Kea when it was under construction.
Henry Jr. remained emotionally close to his father. They would go diving in the ocean together as "Junior" did when he was a boy.
But when he graduated from Hilo High School, there was little work in Hilo.
Kahalewai married Debbie Ganagan and joined the Army. They lived in Tacoma, Wash., and raised three children, now grown, Aguiar said.
Kahalewai spent 19 years in the Army and was looking forward to completing 20 years so he could retire.
Now Debbie will be coming home to Hilo, too, Aguiar said, noting that with her children grown, she will have no reason to remain in Tacoma.
The Kahalewai family is huge, and Aguiar is getting repeated phone calls from members wanting information.
Henry Sr. calls home with some details, and each time information reaches the family, they start crying again, Aguiar said.