16 June 2009

A son of Palau honored

U.S. honor guards carry the coffin of Sgt. Jasper Obakrairur during a funeral at the Palau Capitol building. Photo: Itsuo Inouye / Associated Press.

Many say their patriotism is inspired by the U.S. servicemen who fought and died here during World War II. Others maintain it is the potential of US citizenship, which may be another way of saying the same thing. Whatever the reason, hundreds of young citizens of far-flung Pacific islands such as Guam, the Northern Marianas, Micronesia and Palau have joined the U.S. military in recent years. Since 2003, 32 men and women have been killed in the line of duty - a staggering fatality rate given their small populations.

U.S. Army Maj. Gen. Donald J. Goldhorn, who spoke at the service, said before the ceremony that many small islands in the region had suffered high losses.

"But it will not deter people from this incredibly patriotic part of the world," he said. "These soldiers are not only dying for our nation, but for others as we fight the spread of terrorism."

Raphael Ngirmang, a stocky, white-haired Marine Corps veteran who is now one of Palau's top two tribal chiefs, said Palau owes a debt to the U.S.

"We're out here on an island in the middle of nowhere," said Ngirmang, a 27-year veteran who served in Vietnam. "The U.S. is responsible for our national defense. So we reciprocate. We may be a small island, but we've got a big heart."

Sgt. Jasper Obakrairur, known as Jazz by island friends, and as Sgt. OB by fellow soldiers, was killed by an IED in Nerkh, Afghanistan on June 1 while serving with the 2nd Battalion, 87th Infantry Regiment, 3rd Brigade Combat Team, 10th Mountain Division.
Today, 250 residents crowded into the government complex for the military funeral. They held their hands over their hearts when the Palauan and U.S. national anthems were performed.

His voice breaking, [Palau's President Johnson] Toribiong addressed Obakrairur's parents and sister: "To say thank you is not enough. But we sincerely appreciate your giving up a son, a Palauan son."

Then the motorcade of 100 cars drove slowly through mangrove jungle to bury Obakrairur in his native village as the hamlet's 87-year-old chief paid his last respects to a soldier who died in a modern war.

The night before, islanders lined a darkened harbor causeway, lighting candles and waving American and Palauan flags.

They watched for the U.S. military plane to arrive with Obakrairur's remains, waiting for their boy to come home.

Read the rest of the article An American flag on the casket, a son of Palau inside.

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