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Independence Samoan Community Mourns Fallen Soldier

Justina Fuga stands near the mausoleum she bought for her husband.
Frank Morris
Justina Fuga stands near the mausoleum she bought for her husband.

By Frank Morris

Kansas City, MO – Missouri National Guard Staff Sergeant Michael Fuga's body took a long route home from the war. There were ceremonies in Afghanistan, then in Hawaii, where most of his family lives. Later in Independence Missouri, dozens donned leis at a packed a church service, and there was a five hour memorial in a high school auditorium.

Justina Fuga: My husband's funeral, it was almost like the passing of a president. She made sure he was laid to rest like one too.

Steady wind whips an American Flag, and the black POW/MIA banner, in a cemetery off Truman Road flanked by forested hills, beginning to show their fall colors. Nearby, on the edge of an open lawn, a regal, black marble mausoleum sits alone. Justina Fuga bought it with money the couple had saved for a down payment on a house.

JF: Me and my daughter felt that it was fit for a soldier, a hero, a father a husband, a brother an uncle, a (sigh) nephew

This working class mother and her 12 year old daughter spent money the family had been saving for years to put towards a down payment on a house

JF: now that he's gone, I decided, that can wait. I wanted my husband to be laid to rest in the best, you know, he needed the best of the best.

Fuga was fiercely devoted to his family. He was fond of his beer and barbeque, Samoan-style cricket and jokes.

Before he left for Afghanistan almost two years ago Fuga worked as a stocker for Southwest Airlines. He spent the better part of three decades in the Army and reserves. But he was still just shy of the 20 years of active duty he needed to draw an Army pension. So last summer, when his tour in Afghanistan was set to end, he promptly signed on for another year and a half. He was killed in a furious gun battle, fighting along side the Afghan Army troops he was there to train.

JF: I'm going to miss him holding me, our talks, him being around his friends; every time my husband got around his friends he was even more alive.

Recently Fuga's friends and relatives got together to live it up with in the cigarette smoke glazed, wood paneled walls of an old VFW post. The PA system the Samoans brought in overpowered the room, but Fuga's cousin, and drinking buddy Tuma Sao says Sergeant Fuga would have had no trouble being heard.

Tuma Sao: He doesn't realize how loud he is. But if he wants to tell you something, you can hear it from quite a ways out, you know.

Most of Fuga's 13 siblings made the trip to Independence. They told stories about his patriotism and fierce devotion to his grandmother and Samoan culture. Sister Malia Ferri, in from New Zealand, says compared to the other guys in the village, Michael looked kind of scrawny, but messing with him was a serious mistake

Malia Ferri: It didn't matter how big the other boy was, if he did him wrong, and Michael did tell him to stop, and he didn't, he dropped him. Sent him to the hospital.

His younger brother Sherman, a big, stony faced fellow who, in a floral shirt, lets tears pool in his deep brown eyes, as he recalls his Michael's loyalty

Sherman Fuga: He's a guy that, if you become his friend, and somebody try to do something to you, he won't back down. He's not going to run away and let you get beaten up. He'll die for you.

The Fuga family maintains that in the end, that's what happened. Their brother, son, husband and father died the way he lived, fighting for his family, and his country.

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