Isle veterans advocates praise Kauai-born general


POSTED: Sunday, December 07, 2008

Hawaii veterans and U.S. senators cheered the choice of Kauai-born retired Gen. Eric Shinseki as Veterans Affairs secretary.

“;Shinseki is a great choice,”; U.S. Sen. Daniel Akaka, chairman of the Committee on Veterans Affairs, wrote in an e-mail. His committee will hold confirmation hearings on Shinseki after President-elect Barack Obama is sworn in on Jan. 20.

“;I am confident that he will use his wisdom and experience to ensure that our veterans receive the respect and care they have earned in defense of our nation,”; said Akaka, a World War II veteran.

As a U.S. representative, Akaka pinned Shinseki when he became a colonel and worked with him when Akaka was with the Committee on Armed Services.

“;I have always valued his judgment,”; Akaka wrote. “;I have long been impressed with him.”;

“;He was an extremely dedicated soldier who I had the privilege of nominating to West Point so many years ago. He served with distinction and was seriously wounded,”; said Sen. Daniel Inouye, a World War II veteran, in a written statement.

Inouye said Shinseki, who lost part of his right foot in Vietnam in 1970, understands the military and knows veterans' needs. He added, “;I am proud to support one of Hawaii's greatest heroes.”;

Local officials said Shinseki understands challenges for veterans in Hawaii, such as being isolated from the mainland or having facilities on separate islands.

“;Most of the veteran population here knows of him or served under him and wouldn't have a problem with him,”; said Fred Ballard, Department of Veterans Affairs spokesman in Hawaii. “;He'd be one of us.”;

Mark Moses, director of the state Office of Veterans Services, said the federal government has always been supportive of Hawaii.

“;I'm sure it might be helpful (to have a secretary from Hawaii), but I can only say that we have already received basically everything we've asked for here,”; he said.

But Moses added, “;It can't hurt and I'm sure Gen. Shinseki understands our needs here and will be more than helpful.”;

Born in Lihue, Shinseki graduated from Kauai High School, where he was student body president and married his high school sweetheart Patty, the homecoming queen at Waimea High School.

The Army Museum of Hawaii at Fort DeRussy has an exhibit on Shinseki's rise from a small town on Kauai to the first Asian-American Army Chief of Staff.

During his career, Shinseki served as a lieutenant with Hawaii's Tropic Lightning Division in Vietnam. During the war, Shinseki received two Purple Hearts and four Bronze Stars.

Shinseki currently serves on the boards of local companies First Hawaiian Bank and Grove Farms.