SAMOA: Home of America's bravest, the Toa O Samoa

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BLESSED: Amidst the vast Pacific Ocean, Samoa's treasured islands of Tutuila ma Manu'a.

***This month, Amerika Samoa celebrated 116 years since it became a part of the United States of America. American Samoa recorded the highest number of U.S. Army recruits out of all the Army recruiting stations in the world in 2014.

"The figures are in and the numbers definitely prove that American Samoa produces committed young men and women who are willing to die in defense of the freedoms we so richly enjoy," writer Blue Chen reported in the Samoa News Sept. 16, 2014. American Samoa's U.S. Army Recruiting Station topped "production out of the 885 Army recruiting stations and centers under the United States Army Recruiting Command (USAREC), which includes all regions representing the 50 US states, Puerto Rico, Guam, the Commonwealth of Northern Mariana Islands, the Federated States of Micronesia, Palau, the Republic of the Marshall Islands, Korea, Japan, and Europe," Chen noted.

U.S. Army Sgt. Raymond Sasa Seva'aetasi of Leone, American Samoa, is one of the many men and women from American Samoa who dedicate their lives to serving the U.S. in uniform. He was killed April 11, 2007 in Baghdad, Iraq. This article was published May 10, 2007 in the Samoa News in American Samoa. It has been re-printed on tautalatala.com by permission of Samoa News. This is a story of Samoa. This is a story of America. This is a story of our beloved Toa O Samoa. I went to school with Raymond, at ASCC in Mapusaga, American Samoa. Rest in love and peace Raymond. E le galo oe ma lau tautua. <3

TERRITORY MOURNS DEATH OF A SOLDIER; A SON SEEKS HIS DAD

(HONOLULU--TUESDAY, APRIL 19, 2016)--Seated beside an empty grave, two-year-old Talimaitalosaga Seva’aetasi stared at the line of soldiers as they waited to escort his father’s casket from the black hearse, dragging a purple stuffed animal around as aunties whispered his name.

“Tali,” one called softly. “Tali,” another called. “Tali,” a third called.

But the little boy did not respond. Instead, he sat and stared, stood up, walked around, long straight hair slick with sweat from the four-hour long service that preceded Sgt. Raymond Seva’aetasi’s burial. His eyes remained glued on the casket covered with the US flag that would later be presented to his mother Maugaosa’a Angel.

“Daddy,” he whispered to himself. “Daddy.”

Tali stayed close as reservists slowly carried his dad’s body to its final resting place beside his childhood home in Leone.

Tali watched as the soldiers methodically lifted and folded the US flag while his older sister Nakaysia, four, was held in the arms of a family member.

Three rifle shots pierced the Leone air, the playing of “Taps,” followed — telltale signs that a hero was finally home.

Yesterday, family and friends bid farewell to Raymond, 29, who was killed in Baghdad, Iraq April 11, the twelfth soldier of Samoan ancestry to be killed in the US-led war in Iraq. Raymond was the son of Tuala R. Seva’aetasi, a retired serviceman from Pago Pago and Leata S. Ameperosa of Leone.

Hundreds packed the Leone Congregational Christian Church of American Samoa chapel yesterday to honor the soldier who died during his second deployment to Iraq.

Family, childhood friends, and even a school principal remembered him as a humble, caring, friendly, loving, respectful person who made loyal friends wherever he went.

“He was my better half,” said twin sister Regina L. S. West who was born 15 minutes before Raymond on Aug. 10. 1977 at the Ft. Carson Army Hospital in Colorado.

Regina said “Raym” as she called him “brought me out of my despair” when she lost her firstborn child eight years ago. When he accompanied his twin to view her daughter Mya’s body for the first time since her passing Raymond used humor to mend his twin’s broken heart.

“Look sis, she has our lips,” he joked to Regina. Their full lips were something that many of their fellow classmates at Leone High School remembered about the pair.

Raymond’s weeping mother Leata said her son was “special,” quiet and always obedient even as a little boy.

“Although Raymond is sleeping soundly, I have not slept since I received the news,” she said. Funeral goers cried as his mother recalled how small he was as a newborn who weighed just four pounds and three ounces, and the kind of boy and young man he was.

Raymond grew up to make his mother, father, siblings, village and American Samoa proud. She said after his graduation from ASCC, her son told her of his wish to join the military.

“Son, you are my hero,” she said.

To little sister Mariah, Raymond was her “best friend” and one who “loved everyone around him.”

“He taught me everything...and I’m proud of who I am because of him,” she said. “Remember him in everything we do...he’s smiling because he’s with Heavenly Father and we’ll be with him someday.”

Leone High principal Lentoy Matagi recalled Raymond’s “big smile” as he was the first kid to give her an ula when she transferred to the school.
“It was the first smile I saw at Leone,” she said.

Raymond’s classmate Eucharist Elisara Reupena called him a “beloved brother, friend and hero.” The two served as student body officers in high school and at ASCC. As classmates, Reupena said they shared a special unique bond “that can never be broken.”

Many Leone students sang during the funeral while the Class of 1995 presented the family with a banner, wreath and monetary gift.

Raymond’s widow, Maugaosa’a, who is from Malaeloa, said she and her husband met in 2001 in Ft. Hood Texas and were in the “same unit, same platoon.”

“I was known as the problem soldier,” she admitted. “We were opposites. I was outspoken, difficult. He made me a better person.”

Governor Togiola, who presented Raymond’s wife and mother with meritorious and distinguished service medals, thanked Raymond for his great sacrifice.

“He served to give freedom to people he does not even know,” the governor said. “Someone else’s child gave his life so we can be free. I thank that soldier that gave his life and shed his blood so I can be free...I thank all the soldiers. He was a great Samoan and a great American.”

Raymond was posthumously awarded the Bronze Star Medal, a Purple Heart medallion and a Combat Action Badge. US Army Brig. Gen. Jennifer Napper presented the awards to Raymond’s widow and mother.

Napper said Raymond achieved “richness and fullness” during his “short” 29 years of life.

She described Raymond as an “outstanding soldier, strong, honorable” who upheld the Army values and exemplified the warrior ethos.

“He was one of the best non-commissioned officers...a big guy, with a big heart, big smile, passionate about his soldiers,” she said. “He was the kindest soldier. He gave his life in service to the country he loved...touched many lives in his nine years in the military. You will always be a part of us. I honor you with a salute.”

The sermon was led by Rev. Emau Petaia of the CCCAS in Leone, with hymns provided by the church choir and the Leone High School Swing Choir.
Rev. Petaia said, “Raymond, ia manuia lau malaga.”

Reach the reporter at tinamataafa@gmail.com