I remember as if it were just yesterday, hearing the news of my cousin killed in action on August 6, 2011, while conducting combat operations in Afghanistan. Formerly from Kailua, Senior Chief EOD Technician Kraig M.K. Vickers, a local boy from Hawai’i served his home and country in one of the most dangerous places in the world since Vietnam. The family later moved to upcountry Maui where he spent most of his life. Kraig was your typical rascal, funny, sports playing, and well-liked boy. He was very loved, respected, and a decorated soldier who loved his family, island home, and country. It was an overwhelming tribute as we didn’t realize how selfless and admired Kraig was. A few of his buddies shared at the funeral of the secretive missions they conducted not knowing if they would make it out alive. But somehow Kraig made sure that everyone else did even if he wasn’t sure he would. We laughed as they told stories of the typical Kraig we knew him to be – the thrill-seeking, kept you guessing [guy] but also the one who made you feel safe and included. They honored him well that day – not a dry eye whether from crying or laughing nor an empty seat in the MAC Center, standing room only in and outside. After the ceremony, a convoy of what seemed like all of Maui drove through Kahului and Pa’ia town on the road to Hana to continue his tribute which included a complete military ceremony, and a flyover with the assistance of US Navy.
Since 1868 we’ve been honoring our fallen soldiers and those serving in all branches of the military with a national holiday. Originating after the Civil war and known as Decoration Day, Congress later declared it a national holiday in 1971 and renamed it Memorial Day. Commander in Chief John A Logan established a day to lay flowers or decorate the graves [hence Decoration Day] of fallen soldiers who died defending their country during the Civil War. A woman’s association in Mississippi decorated the graves of fallen soldiers from both the Confederate and Union as Logan described the horrific moment with bodies lying in every city, village, and churchyard. It was a moment in history that was most defining for our country and all Americans.
When the federal law changed the observance of the holiday to the last Monday in May, it also extended it to honor all those who died in American wars.
The first national celebration took place on May 30, 1868, at Arlington National Cemetery. It still takes place there with a wreath placed at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier and small American flags decorating each grave. Hawai’i adds our own special mahalo with Hawaiian lei for our local fallen soldiers.
There are many ways we’ve come to honor our fallen soldiers from the Mayor’s morning service at Punchbowl Cemetery or later at the Governor’s ceremony in Kaneohe at the Hawai’i State Veterans Cemetery. Or with bbq picnics amongst family and friends, unique social media posts, texts or phone calls to families who’ve lost a soldier, or a thank you to those who are still here with us. However you choose to celebrate it, I know one thing is sure, your heart is full of gratitude for the sacrifice they made.
Kraig’s family started an honor run/walk to promote awareness for the Military service members from our community who have served and continue to serve for our freedoms. Held in August on Maui, this year will mark the seventh year for the run as well as Kraig meeting his Lord and Savior in heaven.
Another Kailua resident and fifteen-year veteran, Lieutenant Duane T. Zitta of the 14th Coast Guard District in Hawai’i chose to honor his fellow servicemen by participating in the Coast Guard Foundation’s Run to Remember. Lieutenant Zitta is an avid runner, health enthusiast, and decorated serviceman with assignments taking him all around the world protecting and defending our freedom. Started in 2011, to honor fallen Coast Guardsmen the 100-mile Run to Remember provided a time to reflect but also brought awareness to fallen Coast Guardsmen and their families. Thousands of participants around the world partake in road races, memorial walks, and other types of fitness events to raise money for the Fallen Heroes Fund.
Lieutenant Zitta not only enjoys running and challenging himself with these races but also attending and organizing them. It’s his opportunity to speak with and recognize families for their sacrifice. He will also be competing in 15 ultra-endurance events throughout Hawai’i including the Honolulu Marathon, the Tinman Olympic Triathlon and the HURT trail series to raise money and awareness for the Coast Guard Foundation’s Fallen Heroes Fund. Mr. Zitta set a goal of $10,000 this year and has raised over $6,000 so far. If you wish to donate to Lieutenant Zitta’s fundraising goal visit coastguardfoundation.org/racesforheroes
While writing this story, I’ve noticed similarities between the two men and one that continues to strike me over and over is how selfless they are. It is true that they signed up for this, and it comes with a price, but both Kraig and Duane have gone beyond with honoring their fellow servicemen and women in all they do. With Memorial Day approaching, we honor and celebrate ALL servicemen, and women [and families] – past, present, and future for their ultimate sacrifice. My family alone has seen its share of servicemen and women from the Army to Navy, Marines, Coast Guard, and National Guard with tours to Afghanistan, Vietnam, and World War II. I hope you take time to hug a friend or family member a little tighter and feel blessed knowing you have another day to enjoy. But most importantly, say a prayer for the families and thank a hero (whatever time of the year) as I’m sure all of you know someone who has served or continues to serve and protect our freedoms. I know I will!
If you would like to honor our fallen soldiers, string a lei or donate flowers to the Mayor’s office as the Boy Scouts decorate the many graves for Memorial Day. Or stop by one of the services honoring our soldiers. Or, plan on joining the Vickers ‘ohana on August 5th for the seventh Honor Run for Kraig M.K. Vickers. Check out Kraig Vickers Honor Run on FB for information and race updates.