June Batalona, second from right, and her daughter, Kristal, right, looked on yesterday as the American flag was draped on the casket of June's husband, Wesley, before the start of funeral services at Honokaa cemetery in Honokaa, Hawaii. Batalona was one of four civilian contractors killed in Fallujah, Iraq, on March 31.

Service honors man
killed in Iraq

Several isle dignitaries are on hand
to salute Wesley Batalona's life

HONOKAA, Hawaii >> The daughter of Wesley Batalona asked family and friends not to remember the way her father died, but the way he lived.

During a funeral service yesterday at a rural Mormon church on the Big Island, Kristal Batalona paid an upbeat tribute to her father, one of four American contractors brutally killed in Fallujah, Iraq, on March 31.

"I cry because I miss him, but I am happy because my dad has come home to the Lord," said Kristal, 22, a junior at Georgia Southern University. "My dad saw a lot of pain and suffering in Iraq but he doesn't see that anymore."

Gov. Linda Lingle, state Adjutant General Robert Lee, and U.S. Rep. Ed Case were among about 300 people who extended condolences to family -- including Batalona's wife, June -- at the Honokaa Ward Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, which Batalona attended as a child growing up in this tight-knit community on the Big Island's Hamakua Coast.

"He went to Iraq and gave his life for them, for us and for God. My dad did that and that's cool," said Kristal. "I didn't ever think I would say my dad is cool."

Batalona, 48, was killed when a vehicle he was in was hit by rocket-propelled grenades. He and the three other American victims were working for Moycock, N.C.-based Blackwater Security.

Their bodies were mutilated and burned and two were hung from the framework of a bridge.

But Batalona loved the Iraqi people and went to their country do service, said Bishop Thomas Heers of the Honokaa Ward Church.

"There are two kinds of heroes," Heers said. "A courageous hero. And a Saturday morning hero who gets up and makes breakfast for the family. Wesley was both kinds of hero. He was God's kind of hero."

Batalona was one of 10 children and joined the Army in 1974 after graduating from Honokaa High School, where he was student body president. He spent much of his career as an Army ranger stationed in Georgia.

Harold Vidinha, a cousin from Kauai and a fellow retired Army ranger, said he and Batalona left Hawaii together in October 2003 for Iraq, where they provided security for engineers trying to rebuild Iraq's infrastructure.

He said Batalona had trained for a possible rescue mission of the U.S. hostages in Iran and that his fallen cousin played an instrumental role in testing and selecting various equipment for rangers.

"He was always in the thick of things," said Vidinha, who plans to return to Iraq.

At the end of the ceremony, an Army honor guard from the 25th Infantry Division at Schofield Barracks carried the casket to a waiting hearse. Burial with full military honors followed at a nearby cemetery.

Kristal said she wrote a letter to her father advising the trivia enthusiast not to play trivia with the Lord. And she said her father would be repaid for his sacrifices.

"On March 31, 2004, he received the best reward anyone can imagine and he is there now," she said.


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