Friday, May 11, 2001


Bronze Star
finally ends Vietnam
for Hawaii Marine

Joseph Kamaka earns the medal
for saving his platoon leader

By Gregg K. Kakesako

After 34 years, the specter of Vietnam ended today for one Marine veteran.

Maui resident Joseph Kamaka believes he will finally find closure to his military life when the Marine Corps awards him the Bronze Star at a Kaneohe Bay ceremony for saving his platoon leader's life.

Kamaka, 54, already holds two Purple Hearts earned in 25 operations during the Vietnam War with the Fifth Marines before he was nearly paralyzed in 1967. He would have gotten two more, but rejected the third Purple Heart award since it would have meant he would have had to leave Vietnam.

"The Marine Corps had a rule back then," the 1966 Baldwin High School graduate said, "that when you got your third Purple Heart, they shipped you home. I didn't want that to happen. I didn't want to leave my friends, so I rejected it."

Kamaka said there was never any doubt he would enlist back in 1966, even during the height of the antiwar movement.

"I come from four generations of Marines," he said. "My grandfather was a Marine. My father was in the 5th Marines in World War II. There's me and my son, who was wounded as a Marine in Panama in Operation Just Cause."

On Sept. 6, 1966, during "Operation Swift" in Que Son Valley, Kamaka was ordered to try to help a rifle company that was pinned down by North Vietnamese regulars.

By dusk, steady fire from a machine gun had wounded and pinned down his platoon commander, Lt. David Blizzard, and several other Marines.

"The machine gun must have been at least 375 yards away from us. He was using the lieutenant as bait. Every time someone would try to rescue him, they would get cut down." Kamaka volunteered to try to rescue Blizzard and, with two other Marines, crawled through the rice paddies trying to get a good shot with his M-79 grenade launcher.

"We moved from one dike to another, trying to get a good position. I tried to get a shot off from the prone position and that didn't work, so I finally had to stand up in the open. There were bullets flying over me, around me ... everywhere, but that grenade landed right between the legs of the tripod that held the machine gun and blew the nest away."

But Kamaka said the regiment of North Vietnamese soldiers kept him pinned down, cut off from the rest of his company. "Sometime during the night, a 82mm mortar round landed near me and blew me at least 10 feet into the air. All of my legs were filled with shrapnel. I spent the night crawling, looking for help."

At one point, Kamaka said, he came across Blizzard, who also was badly wounded. Before they separated, "he told me: 'Pineapple, when I get back and knowing what you did today, I want to make sure you get a medal for this.'"

Kamaka said he never saw Blizzard again and had assumed that he had been killed and that his promise of a medal had died with him.

Kamaka's dreams of a military career also died with his wounds. After hospitalization, Kamaka returned to Maui in 1969 and changed his name from Joseph Momoa to Joseph Kamaka at the request of his stepfather, Herbert Kamaka, who had raised him. That change screwed up his military records.

"He wanted my children to carry his name," Kamaka said.

It was not until a year ago, when he read a copy of the book "Honor Thy Warrior" -- the story of the Fifth Marines -- that he realized Blizzard was still alive. "The entire battle is described in the book," Kamaka said.

Five months ago, Kamaka said, he called Blizzard in North Carolina, where he had retired as a colonel. "He just choked up when he heard my voice. He cried. I cried. He thought I had been killed in the battle, and I thought he had been killed. He just couldn't believe that I was still alive."

Kamaka said Blizzard followed up on his promise and recommended the Bronze Star medal.

"This (medal) will finally bring everything to a close," Kamaka said.

Gregg K. Kakesako can be reached by phone at 294-4075
or by e-mail at

E-mail to City Desk

Text Site Directory:
[News] [Business] [Features] [Sports] [Editorial] [Do It Electric!]
[Classified Ads] [Search] [Subscribe] [Info] [Letter to Editor]

© 2001 Honolulu Star-Bulletin