War hero's nephew learns of citation


POSTED: Thursday, April 30, 2009

The memories were just too much for Ewa Beach resident Fred Maluenda when he opened his Honolulu Star-Bulletin this week and saw a picture of his nephew who braved Viet Cong fire to deliver badly needed ammunition to an Army unit 43 years ago.

“;I was just heartbroken when I saw his photo,”; said Maluenda, who saw Robert “;Sonny”; Caliboso's picture and read his citation in the Star-Bulletin on Tuesday at a high school golf tournament. “;He and I were very close. He was my best friend and was my coach as I grew up on Molokai.”;

Capt. Robert Caliboso was killed on March 5, 1966, while piloting a UH-1D helicopter that had delivered ammunition to soldiers of the 28th Infantry pinned down by the Viet Cong at Lai Khe in Binh Duong province.

Caliboso, a 1955 Saint Louis School graduate, was awarded the Distinguished Service Cross, which is just below the Medal of Honor. He will be inducted into the U.S. Army Museum's Gallery of Heroes with six other soldiers at Fort DeRussy in Waikiki at 1 p.m. today.

“;He was a real star when he played football at Saint Louis,”; Maluenda said.

Maluenda said Caliboso attended the University of Dayton, where he met his wife. After graduation, Caliboso attended officer candidate school and was accepted into flight school. He served a tour in Germany and then was sent to Vietnam.

“;He called around 12:45 at night from the airport on his way to Vietnam,”; Maluenda added. “;Two weeks later I got word that he got shot down.”;

Vicki Olson, executive director of the museum, said until this week she was unable to find any of Caliboso's relatives.

“;This is fabulous. It is so exciting,”; she said.

Earlier this week, the same Star-Bulletin story also caught the attention of reader Patrick Viela, who didn't know the museum was honoring Sgt. Douglas Factora, a father he never met.

Caliboso's citation said he was assigned to Company B, 1st Aviation Battalion, 1st Infantry Division, and volunteered to fly 1,500 pounds of ammunition to a besieged Army unit.

On the approach to the landing zone, the helicopter piloted by Caliboso was hit time and time again by heavy machine gun and small arms fire, the citation said. After unloading all the needed ammunition, Caliboso's helicopter was shot down, killing all aboard.

Retired Master Sgt. James Vaught witnessed Caliboso from the ground where, he said, his unit of 350 soldiers was pinned down by 1,100 to 1,200 Viet Cong.

“;It was part of Operation Coco Beach,”; Vaught said by phone from his home in Myrtle Beach, S.C. “;I was down to only a few magazines. We could hear the rounds hitting the helicopter. We were in awe in what he was doing. It was a suicide mission. I was surprised he made it. The firing was so heavy and loud, you couldn't hear anyone talking unless you yelled.”;

Maluenda said there is a memorial in Kaunakakai where Caliboso's name is inscribed.

“;He was well known on Molokai,”; said Maluenda. “;When he was at Saint Louis, he would come home every summer to work in the pineapple fields and coach Little League.”;