Wesley J. Batalona: Relatives say he wanted to help Iraqi kids

Tragedy in Iraq
shakes community
on Big Isle

Wesley Batalona's family and
friends recall their "hero"

HONOKAA, Hawaii >> Wesley J. Batalona believed the Iraqi people could live a better life and was willing to sacrifice his own to try to help them.

"He thought the people over there were good people," his sister-in-law, Darla Baquiring, said yesterday. "That's why he was over there. To help the children."

Now Batalona's family awaits the return of his remains after learning late Thursday that the former Army Ranger was one of four American civilians killed in a brutal attack last week in Fallujah.

Batalona, 48; Jerko "Jerry" Zovko, 32; Michael Teague, 38, and Scott Helvenston, 38, were killed in an ambush Wednesday, their charred bodies mutilated and dragged through the streets filled with cheering Iraqis. The contractors were working for Blackwater Security Consulting when their vehicle was hit by rocket-propelled grenades.

Batalona's death and the aftermath has infuriated, shaken and saddened this tight-knit rural community on the Big Island's Hamakua Coast-- and Americans across the nation.

"They dragged his body, hanged it and cut it into pieces -- that's crazy," Batalona's friend, Alfred Lorenzo of Honokaa, said, referring to the two corpses that were hung from a Fallujah bridge.

"He was dead already," Lorenzo said. "Why did they do that?"

Nemecio Yarte, a friend of the Batalona family, said Honokaa residents are in shock over Batalona's death.

"He wasn't military personnel like us," said Yarte, a sergeant in the Hawaii National Guard. "He was a civilian helping out the people and the people killed him. Why? He was trying to help."

Baquiring called the mutilation of the American bodies "disgusting and sickening."

The deaths have also renewed debate on whether the United States should remain in Iraq, or whether President Bush should have ever declared war.

"I would like to see Americans get out of there," said Baquiring, who lives across from the Batalona home in the small rural town of Paauilo. "They don't want us there. It's all twisted. Just get out already.

"You can put a plate in front of somebody, but you can't make them eat it. They don't want us there -- get out."

Richard Carvalho, who has known Batalona for decades, asked why are Americans trying to help Iraqis if they don't want it.

"They are killing the people that are trying to help them," he said.

Batalona's family remembered him as always speaking highly about the Iraqis.

"That's why it's so hard to swallow when we read about what they did to him," Baquiring said. "He was trying to help. I think it's really dirty. Dirty and ungodly."

Batalona's 18-year-old niece, Sheena Baquiring, recalled a discussion he had with him.

"I asked him, 'How are the people up there?' and he told me, 'Don't believe what you see on TV or read in the newspaper because it's not true. They're really nice people and they are hard workers,"' she said.

Batalona's widow, June, spent yesterday inside her plantation-style home, grieving with family members and friends.

June Batalona said she hasn't slept since her husband's identity was released Thursday. She lost her high-school sweetheart.

"I'm drained," she said.

Darla Baquiring said she and other family members had a gut feeling Batalona was involved in the civilian attack when she first read about it.

"There was something about that article, it reached out to me unlike anything I read about over there," she said. "But I didn't want to believe it was him. I thought they wouldn't do that to him. Especially with a man like Wes, with the intentions he had."

After retiring from the Army, Batalona had worked security at the Hilton Waikoloa Village before going to Iraq this year.

Batalona was one of 10 children and he joined the Army in 1974 after graduating from Honokaa High School, where he was student body president.

Batalona was stationed for much of his career in Georgia, where his daughter, Krystal Batalona, 22, now goes to college with aspirations of becoming a lawyer.

Friends and family say Batalona was a smart man, who loved to fish, browse the Internet and tell stories. He was also very proud of his native Hawaiian heritage.

Earl Ventura, a neighbor and a sergeant in the Hawaii National Guard, said the community respected Batalona for his military service and for his commitment to try to help Iraqis.

"This a tight-knit plantation community," Ventura said. "Not everybody gets to be a ranger. He was probably the only one that made it. He was a hero to us."

His sister-in-law agreed.

"I admired him because for a local boy, he has such high hopes and dreams," Baquiring said. "And with him being over there, it shows he followed through with them."


Investigators try to identify
those who mutilated
four Americans’ bodies

BAGHDAD, Iraq >> A senior U.S. official said investigators were studying videotape of Iraqis mutilating the bodies of four American contract workers killed Wednesday in Fallujah, trying to identify participants.

The charred remains of the Americans, including the body of Big Island native Wesley Batalona, were dragged through the streets for hours after insurgents ambushed their vehicles. Two corpses were hung from a bridge.

There was no sign of any U.S. military activity in the Fallujah area to suggest retaliatory action was imminent. U.S. administrator L. Paul Bremer has said those who killed the four civilians and burned their bodies "will not go unpunished."

Meanwhile, two U.S. Marines have been killed in Iraq's western Anbar province "as a result of enemy action," the military said in a statement today.

One of the two died yesterday following an incident, while the other died today after a separate incident yesterday, the statement said. Both of the troops were assigned to the 1st Marine Division.

And in the latest assault on Iraq's U.S.-trained security forces, gunmen killed four people in two separate attacks on police south of Baghdad yesterday.

In the first attack on police yesterday, the department chief of Mahmoudiya, 20 miles south of Baghdad, was driving from the capital to his home when gunmen killed him and his driver, police Lt. Ala'a Hussein said.

Not long afterward, six attackers shot at a four-man police patrol in Mahmoudiya, killing one and wounding three, police officer Khaldoon al-Gurairi said. A 60-year-old bystander was also killed.

Guerrillas often target police because they view them as collaborators with the U.S.-led occupation. Also they make easier targets because they are less well-armed and protected than the U.S. troops.

More than 350 policemen have been killed by shootings and suicide bombings since the ouster of Saddam Hussein's regime last year, and some Iraqi officials put the toll much higher. On March 24, nine police recruits were killed when gunmen shot up their vehicle in southern Babil province.


E-mail to City Desk


Text Site Directory:
[News] [Business] [Features] [Sports] [Editorial] [Do It Electric!]
[Classified Ads] [Search] [Subscribe] [Info] [Letter to Editor]
© 2004 Honolulu Star-Bulletin --