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Guest Blogger J.M. Levi is half-Samoan or afatasi and grew up in Missouri. We are pleased to feature her thoughts on Samoans who serve in the military in honor of Memorial Day. Complete biography below the blog.
In 1872, Samoa agreed to allow the United States of America to build naval bases at Pago Pago, Tutuila in return for Military protection. (American Samoa became a Territory of the United States in 1900.) Later, during World War II, males 14 years and older trained for the opportunity to serve in the US Armed Forces. My grandpa, Atonio Fuimaono, served in WWII and was stationed at Wake Island in Hawai’i on the island of O’ahu.
Although my grandpa did not die during his time of service, I still find myself thinking about him as Memorial Day approaches. Memorial Day is a day set aside to remember and honor those who died while serving in the United States Armed Forces; whereas, Veteran’s Day is the day set aside to remember all Veterans.
My grandpa died a veteran. He was able to come home and continue his life. But, I find myself wondering how he came to serve—was it something his parents put him up to or did he enlist on his own accord? And what if he had died while serving? Would he have been surrounded by friends and loved ones as he was when he passed away at home? Or would he have been in a strange land surrounded by strange people?
Pieces of this make-believe scenario are unanswerable, but after talking with a friend and co-worker at the Polynesian Cultural Center, Chance Meredith, I know my grandpa would have been surrounded by friends and loved ones no matter where he died. The Samoan culture provides a natural brother-/sisterhood among those who are willing to accept their love and friendship regardless of ethnicity.
When I picture a Military Base, I picture strict rules and punishments and only enough energy to eat and train. It has always felt like a recipe for loneliness, to me.
However, Meredith, who serves in the US Army Reserves, tells me that while in service of the military, the bonds strengthen as Samoans and other Polynesians reminisce about their upbringings. He says that they talk about “how they overcame the odds and how they suffered to get to where [they’re] at. And it makes them [appreciate] what they have become, unifies them, and makes them fight for the same cause.”
Unity within the ranks is an important factor to success, as well as a load off of the leaders. It also helps to ease the sense of isolation for those serving. To emphasize the idea of unity and family when there are no blood relatives around, Meredith states, “We get together as families when [we’re] off duty. [That’s] all we got when [we’re] off the clock, we usually all get together, play volleyball, and have bbq.”
Although serving in the US Armed Forces is not all fun and games, it’s comforting to know that time exists where they can reflect, connect, and reminisce. As we concluded our conversation, Meredith says, “We all know how Samoans run our families so we run all of our families together so we [don’t] miss home as much, [‘cause] we still need to be there to fight for freedom [and] get gain for our families back home.”
Even though Samoa is only a territory of the US, the patriotism of Samoan Nationals is as strong as any American. In an article for the Samoa News, Aumua Amata says, “Sadly, we have suffered disproportionately greater combat casualties than any other U.S. State or Territory but although I do not have statistics to prove it, I believe American Samoa also provides a disproportionate number of Army enlisted leaders as well.”
Toa o Samoa means “Warriors/Heroes of Samoa.” The Samoans serving in the US Armed Forces welcome all their fellow soldiers into their circle. As long as there are Samoans (and other Polynesians) serving, others serving will have a brother/sister for life. Your loved ones did not die alone, and those serving are not alone.
Thus, I understand that whether my grandpa died during service or not, he would have been surrounded by people who loved him and would have mourned his death. Sure, he would have missed home and his family, but his enlisted family would have been close. And he would have known he was loved. He would not have been isolated because they would not have allowed it—comes with the Samoan and Polynesian culture, I suppose.
So, as we remember those who’ve given their lives in service for the freedom of the US, remember also that they were likely surrounded by friends and loved ones. We are still free in the US—their deaths have not been in vain. Let us honor their sacrifice by making the most of our days we have right now. Tomorrow is not promised, but thanks to our brothers and sisters in service, we have our freedom today.
Fa’afetai tele lava lo’u aiga Milikeli. Thank you very much my Military family.
J. M. Levi
Aumua Amata’s full article: http://www.samoanews.com/?q=node/74936#sthash.ugVLTroB.dpuf
More on American Samoa Military Bases: http://amsamoa.net/military-bases
Samoans, WWII, and Military Work: http://scholarspace.manoa.hawaii.edu/bitstream/handle/10125/15564/OP36-173-179.pdf?sequence=1
Respect to a few of our fallen Toa o Samoa:
U.S. Army 1st Lt. Jason Asotama Atuatasi Togi: http://www.samoanews.com/node/77650
U.S. Air Force Staff Sgt. Robert ‘Danny’ Hollister: http://www.samoanews.com/content/en/fallen-toa-o-samoa-staff-sgt-hollister-honored
My name is Jerrica M. Levi and I am married to Mark Levi, who is training to be a supervisor at Subway in Laie. I am Afakasi (half-Samoan) and a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints from Missouri. I originally came to Laie to help my sister, Shyla Lafaele, babysit, but I stayed because I fell in love with the Aloha Spirit and refused to part from it. Eventually, I attended Brigham Young University-Hawaii. I excel in English reading, writing, and analyzing. Up until a few months ago, I was a Shift Manager at Pizza Hut Laie and a Student Manager at the Brigham Young University-Hawaii Reading Writing Center. In April 2014, I received a Bachelor of Arts degree in English, minor in Psychology. Now, my professional title is a Part-Time Instructor for the English Department at Brigham Young University-Hawaii teaching English 101.
My hobbies and interests include singing, dancing, and writing. I am drawn to and passionate about charitable organizations, such as Locks of Love and Radiating Hope. Activities that include the outdoors, spending time with children, using my creativity, and/or helping those in need are activities of which I am honored to participate. I also enjoy playing various games, watching Anime, and experiencing other such adventures with my husband. Someday, we will have children of our own, but until that time, I value opportunities I receive to spend time with children and help them grow and learn. My ultimate teaching goal is to teach in a Middle School because that is when I feel creativity blossoms the most. My ultimate writing goal is to write something that will influence or change at least one person’s life for the better. I suffer from Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) and hope to become a strong and professional beacon for others who struggle with likewise symptoms. Life is tough, but bit by bit, we can make it through. Keep your head high and do not be ashamed of your healing tears.
-Graduated with a 3.6 GPA -2014 Woman of the Year for National Association of Professional Women
-Initiated member of the Sigma Tau Delta: International English Honor Society (Alpha Beta Delta Chapter) -Nationally Certified Level 3 CRLA English Tutor
“How It Feels to be Artistic Me.” Kula Manu. (2014): 10-12. Brigham Young University-Hawaii. Print. “Locks of Love.” Kula Manu. (2014): 60-66. Brigham Young University-Hawaii. Print. “Valentine? Gimme a Break.” Ke Alaka’i. 106.6 (2014): 18. Brigham Young University-Hawaii. Print. “For What It’s Worth.” Kula Manu. (2013): 88-90. Brigham Young University-Hawaii. Print.