July 10, 2008 - Lt. Col. Max A. Galea'i, the highest ranking Samoan military serviceman to lose his life in the war in Iraq, will be laid to rest today at his home in Leone village.
Galea'i, 42, who served more than two decades in the U.S. Marines, returned home yesterday onboard a military aircraft, accompanied by his wife, Evelyn and their four children, Marine Lt. Col. N. Nastase and Congressman Faleomavaega Eni.
The Marine was killed on June 26 in Iraq.
Some 250 people, including Gov. Togiola Tulafono, cabinet members, lawmakers, traditional and religious leaders greeted the fallen hero at the airport, where a short service was held before a funeral procession, led by police officers on motorcycles, took him on a last drive to his village of Leone.
As the procession neared the Leone Catholic Church, where Galea'i's funeral service was held, the aumaga of the village stood guard.
Monsignor Etuale Lealofi, who led the service, told the crowded church that it may be a vision of some young man and woman to make the ultimate sacrifice.
He added: "We know that we have to do all we can to do away with terror, so that people may have the freedom ... to build their own lives."
But, he said, in the face of death "we can only do so much" and we must rely on God for His Grace.
A "Toa o Samoa has come home", declared Togiola in his address. He recalled the first time he met Galea'i. It was in 1997 when he was lieutenant governor and Galea'i was stationed at the time at Camp Smith, Hawai'i.
Togiola said there was an event held at Camp Smith and he witnessed how impressive Galea'i was - the Marine carried out his duties well, and spoke with elegance, confidence and compassion.
He said he later told a delegation that traveled with him that, "I think this young man is going to be one of the first Samoans to bear a Star" and to become a general. "He was smart and he was confident."
Togiola said he kept track of Galea'i's military career and he was proud of him and considered the Marine his younger brother. He said last year, he met with Galea'i briefly when he was in town for the funeral of his cousin, Alex Galea'i. He said he told the Marine that he was very proud of him.
He said Galea'i gave his life in the defense of "our democratic ideas"... " of peace and the preservation of freedom" not only in American Samoa, but the United States and everywhere in the world.
To Galea'i's wife Evelyn and their children, and the entire family, Togiola expressed his deepest condolences on behalf of the government and people of American Samoa.
He added that he hopes that everyone's prayers will send the grace of God to comfort and heal them for their loss.
Togiola then presented the American Samoa Service Medal and the American Samoa flag - honoring Galea'i's distinguished service - each to Evelyn and Galea'i's mother, Kalala Galea'i.
Lt. Col. Duffy White, who is with the 3rd Marine Regiment in Kaneohe, Hawai'i, told the crowd that early this week a military service was held in Kaneohe for Galea'i. He said part of the service was in Samoan and he described it as a "moving beautiful ceremony" carried out by Galea'i's relatives and those who traveled from the mainland.
He said the Marine service paid tribute to Galea'i's "two decades of dedicated and superior service" to his country.
"His service and devotion sets a sterling example for all Marines and he will never be forgotten," said White, who added that Galea'i held "true to the principles of our courage and commitment" of the Marines.
"He truly was one of the best of the best" and he proved that a number of times, including being commander and leader of his battalion, which sports the nickname "Island Warriors", White said.
He described Galea'i as a true Samoan warrior and said the Marine's personal bravery sets an example for the men in his battalion, who are fighting in Iraq.
He said he visited Galea'i in Iraq recently and "saw first-hand that he (Galea'i) was making a huge difference" in the lives of the tens of thousands of people in Iraq.
White said the Marines also acknowledged the support from Evelyn, her children and family during the course of Galea'i's career in the military, serving 10 different duty stations around the world including his "heroic service in the Gulf War."
White also highlighted for the gathering some of Galea'i's achievements made throughout his career.
Lt. Col. N. Nastase, who escorted Galea'i's body home, said it was his unit that was replaced by Galea'i's unit in February. While in Iraq, the two met and discussed a number of issues including meetings with Iraqi leaders to make them aware that even though there is a change of guard, they will be "left in the good hands" of Galea'i and his battalion.
Nastase introduced Galea'i to Iraqi leaders and told them that "Max is not only a great leader but he is my next door neighbor in Hawaii" and their families know each other and spend time together.
When he heard the news that Galea'i had died, Nastase said he "was shocked" and felt a "tremendous loss in my heart."
Another military official who spoke yesterday was Maj. Mat McBroom, who told the gathering that Galea'i was killed while talking with Iraqi leaders about check point security and the importance of local leaders taking control of their own destiny.
Galea'i "was helping the helpless when he died," he added.
Speaking for Max and Evelyn and their families were Taileifi Amosa Galea'i and military Air Force retiree Nuutai Sonny Thompson.
Galea'i's final funeral service will be held at the Leone Catholic church before he is laid to rest at his family home today.