Gold Star Family license plates given for those “killed in action”
Families of two reservists from American Samoa killed in the Iraq war and three local police officers killed in the line of duty were recognized Wednesday night with the Gold Star Family license plate, issued by the ASG Office of Motor Vehicles and not subject to renewal fees.
The nationwide Gold Star Family program is for any member of the immediate family of a person who died in a combat zone while serving in any branch of the armed forces. The program is in place in all 50 states and American Samoa has now joined.
It should be noted that Samoa News received a phone call from Tanielu Unutoa, a still grieving father of a fallen Toa o Samoa, who said not all families of fallen soldiers are being recognized, as the governor said in his speech on Wednesday night.
Unutoa’s daughter, Sgt. Victoria Unutoa died in 2006 from wounds sustained in the Iraq War, six months after she was injured.
Unutoa said he called the Governor’s Office to find out if his daughter was going to be recognized, and was told by the Governor’s Chief of Staff, Pati Faiai that her name wasn’t on the list, because only soldiers who were “killed in action” or died in a combat zone are recognized. Those who were wounded during combat duty, and then later died from those injuries are not included. Unutoa said, “I don’t see the difference… she died from wounds she got in the Iraq War… she was my youngest.”
Speaking at the Territorial Christmas Program that opened Wednesday night, Gov. Togiola Tulafono said this is an important program, in that it recognizes families of fallen soldiers. Included in the local program are local police officers who died in the line of duty.
Togiola said he has directed that these license plates be registered with OMV free of charge every year, adding that this is just a small contribution from American Samoa to honor these fallen heroes.
He noted that each family will get only one of these license plates, although the family may have more than one vehicle in their possession.
On Wednesday night, families of two reservists from American Samoa killed in the Iraq war and three local police officers killed in the line of duty were recognized:
• Army Sgt. Tina Time, 22, was killed Dec. 13, 2004 in a head-on crash in Cedar, Iraq. Time, the first and only Samoan female to die in the Iraq war, was assigned to the 208th Transportation Company based in Tucson, Arizona.
• Army Staff Sgt. Frank Tiai, 45, was killed July 17, 2005 in Baghdad, Iraq, when an improvised explosive device (IED) detonated near his position. He was the first locally-based reservist to die in the war. Tiai was part of the Army Reserve’s 100th Battalion, 442nd Infantry from Fort Shafter, Hawai’i.
• Sa Fuimaono, 31, died in June 1998 when he drowned while rescuing an intoxicated man who was trying to commit suicide by drowning himself. The man made it back to shore and survived.
• Pati Ta’ase, who, according to Togiola, died when he was attacked while trying to stop an incident.
• Lt. Liusila Brown, 44, died July 22, 2010, when he was allegedly shot point-blank by Siaumau Siaumau Jr., in front of the temporary High Court Building in Fagatogo. Brown was part of the extra police security at the court house and the suspect is currently charged with first degree murder.
A separate ceremony will be held tonight during the Christmas program to recognize families of the fallen Toa o Samoa who were on active duty when they were killed.
Prior to making the Gold Star Family license plate presentations, Togiola delivered his annual Christmas address, urging residents to remember God’s blessings for American Samoa over the last twelve months.
“As we gather here to celebrate this special occasion, our faith in our God is being challenged rather seriously,” he said, adding that “our nation is slowly moving away from what made America the greatest and the most powerful nation— its foundation in our God.”
“From its beginning, our nation’s forefathers were not afraid to declare their undivided faith in God. They declared publicly and in all things that serve witness to that fact, that it is in ‘God We Trust’,” he told the audience.
“Lately, however, the changes emanating from our leaders, changing the name of Christmas to something else and dropping the word Christ from Christmas and replacing it with ‘holiday’ worries me. And it should worry all of us,” he said. “Because this is, after all, what’s guiding the principles and the policies, in which we live our lives.”
He said this move by leaders is close to the banning of prayers in school or banning public references to God.
“Our leaders are afraid to declare their faith in God for fear of losing votes. I say to them — God is watching you and God is listening,” he said. “American Samoa, our young generations are reading and watching these things and will no doubt be influenced substantially.”
Togiola said he is particularly worried since he believes “that one of the things that stood out in their minds and their hearts, is the fact that the United States was a God fearing country with leaders who professed their faith and belief in God as our protector.”
“Jesus has been our salvation and our strength. God has been good to our country — let us not forsake God in our lives. That’s why, in this celebration, it’s just that much more significant today, so we can rejoice, and give praise and thanks for God’s gift to us, in reconciliation with Him,” the governor said.
In conclusion, Togiola — on behalf of Lt. Gov. Faoa and his wife Elisapeta and their children and First Lady Mary Ann Tulafono and their family — wished all families in American Samoa a Merry Christmas.
The governor also extended a special Merry Christmas and Happy New Year to our Toa o Samoa serving around the world.