VIDEO: Hundreds attended the dedication of Vietnam War Memorial in West Hawai‘i

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Vietnam Veteran Mel Behasa pays tribute to lost comrades at the new Vietnam War Memorial at the West Hawai‘i Veterans Cemetery on March 29, 2023. (Tiffany DeMasters/Big Island Now)

On Wednesday morning, hundreds of community members, leaders and veterans turned out for the unveiling of West Hawai‘i’s Vietnam War memorial — a solemn milestone in local history — at the West Hawai‘i Veterans Cemetery.

The memorial honors the 15 West Hawai’i soldiers killed in action. The day before the dedication, another soldier was identified from West Hawai’i and will be added to the memorial.

“Establishing a special memorial that honors local veterans who served in the Vietnam War has been long overdue,” Vietnam veteran Mel Behasa told the crowd. “We’re extremely grateful to all those who gave help to make today a reality.”

Video by Tiffany DeMasters/Big Island Now

The memorial was made a possible by a group of Vietnam veterans who formed the nonprofit West Hawai‘i Vietnam Veterans War Memorial Association. The group raised $75,000 in 17 months to construct the 6-foot-tall by 7-foot-long memorial, crafted in basalt rock.

The dedication took place on National Vietnam War Veterans Day, also the 50th anniversary of the end of the war.


Ililani Foree, Gov. Josh Green’s West Hawai‘i Liaison, said for those veterans who have served, the war comes home with them.

A Vietnam War Memorial was dedicated to West Hawai‘i soldiers killed in action on March 29, 2023, at the West Hawai‘i Veterans Cemetery. The pictures of the fallen heroes was on display for the public at the event. (Tiffany DeMasters/Big Island Now)

“Our Vietnam Veterans’ treatment when returning home was not received with a heroes welcome,” Foree said, adding they didn’t get the appreciation that they deserved.

“That’s why memorials are so important, to help with the healing process and reminds the community of our veterans’ sacrifices and to remember the ones we have lost.”

Vietnam War Memorial was dedicated at the West Hawai‘i Veterans Cemetery on March 29, 2023. (Tiffany DeMasters/Big Island Now)

Retired Command Sgt. Maj. James K. Hussey, Jr. served four combat tours in Vietnam. He gave the crowd a succinct history of the United States’ involvement with South Vietnam, which started in the 1950s when the government provided military advisors to help their forces “because we feared the spread of Communism in the region.”

“The early 1960s, our assistance increased substantially with the deployment of thousands of American troops to theater. There were volunteers and draftees,” Hussey explained.


He got emotional as he shared with the community and fellow veterans a memory of a mission during his last tour.

“We ended up in a fire fight where we suffered several casualties. We were trying to medavac our casualties when our medic came over and told me: ‘Sarg, we have a guy here who may not make it.'”

Hussey said he crawled toward the solider, who grabbed his hand and said: “Sarg, I’m cold and scared.”

Hussey said he tried to comfort him and reassured him everything would be fine. The veteran said the solider surprised him when he asked about two other other soldiers the dying man had just saved.

“I told him they were OK. He then looked up at me and the medic and calmly said: ‘Tell them I served, and I made a difference,’ and then slipped away.”


“Vietnam veterans here,” Hussey said, “Remember, you served and you made a difference.”

Among the West Hawai’i veterans who died in action is Rodney Yano, the lone Medal of Honor recipient.

Below are names of the Vietnam veterans listed on the memorial:


  • Rodney James Takashi Yano, SFC, U.S. Army, Dec. 1, 1943 – Jan. 1, 1969
  • Joseph William Gaa, Sr., Sgt. U.S. Army, May 2, 1950 – Jan. 15, 1971
  • Wayne Howard Hedemann, WO1, U.S. Army, Feb. 22, 1945 – May 13, 1970
  • Glenn Teugio Shibata, Cpl., U.S. Army, Sept. 15, 1947 – March 29, 1969


  • Steve Freddie Johnson, SSG, U.S. Army,Dec. 22, 1946 – Dec. 14, 1970
  • Momi Nuhi Kane, SSG, U.S. Army, March 27, 1935 – Nov. 18, 1967


  • John Waikane Cabrera, SPC4, U.S. Army, Dec. 8, 1940 – June 23, 1966
  • Randy Charley Paro, PFC, U.S. Marine Corps, Oct. 8, 1950 – May 1, 1969


  • Keith Jon Puhi, LCPL, U.S. Marine Corps, June 29, 1949 – March 6, 1969


  • Herman Halemanu Ban, Sgt., U.S. Army, July 16, 1947 – Jan. 4, 1970


  • Lukana Edward Loo, Jr., SFC, U.S. Army, Sept. 12, 1925 – April 1, 1969
  • Thomas Anthony Salvatore, PFC, U.S. Army, Dec. 8, 1949 – Sept. 6, 1969


  • John Ku‘ulei Kauhaihao, 1st Lt., U.S. Army, April 17, 1942 – Sept. 5, 1969


  • Ernest Seichi Sakai, SFC, U.S. Army, May 17, 1940 – June 19, 1968
  • Samuel Kanehailua Solomon, Jr., 1st Sgt., U.S. Army, April 13, 1928 – Nov. 3, 1966
Tiffany DeMasters
Tiffany DeMasters is a full-time reporter for Pacific Media Group. Tiffany worked as the cops and courts reporter for West Hawaii Today from 2017 to 2019. She also contributed stories to Ke Ola Magazine and Honolulu Civil Beat.

Tiffany can be reached at [email protected].
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