FAOA L. APINERU
1976 to 2007 to August 3, 2008
Considerably after the fact
It’s strange how one Marine’s death can affect so many – especially when it is acknowledged considerably after the fact. Such is the case with Faoa L. Apineru, 31, of Yorba Linda, a staff sergeant in the Marine Corps Reserve, who died on July 2, 2007, two years after suffering massive brain injuries due to a roadside bomb attack in Anbar province, west of Baghdad. Yet, the U.S. Department of Defense (DOD) did not officially recognize his death as resulting from the Iraq war until August 3, 2008.
Just how did the DOD explain the cause of death of the strapping Samoan, formerly a black belt in karate and marathon runner, who was confined for over two years in the Veteran’s Affairs Hospital in Palo Alto, his brain so traumatized with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) he had to relearn how to walk, talk and drive? Perhaps the DOD viewed Apineru’s loss of memory, his inability to distinguish nightmares from reality, his tendency to attack anyone who resembled a “jihadist” (his term for the enemy, said his brother, Selemaea Apineru of Colorado) as some sort of a chemical imbalance. The Department of Defense isn’t saying.
Reliving the attack in recurring nightmares
In a 2007 interview before he died, Apineru told the San Francisco Chronicle that he began reliving the attack in recurring nightmares as soon as he returned home. “My nightmares are so real,” he told the Chronicle. “I can feel them, I can smell them.”
Here’s the thing. After Apineru passed away in his sleep in 2007, the medical examiner concluded that the strapping young Marine did not succumb to injuries suffered after a roadside bomb exploded near his Humvee on May 15, 2005, during his second deployment in Iraq. Huh? Not until this August did a subsequent opinion by the Armed Forces Institute of Pathology reverse that decision, a reversal that gave a measure of relief to Apineru’s devastated family. They knew all along their hero had perished as a result of the war, Selemaea Apineru said.
Assigned to Headquarters Company, 23rd Marine Regiment, 4th Marine Division in San Bruno, Calif, Apineru – who had followed in the footsteps of his grandfather, a World War II Marine – was a 10-year veteran of the Corps, a brotherhood he cherished. Dubbed “A.P.” by those who had trouble pronouncing “Apineru,” he often referred to his fellow soldiers as “my Marines” because their camaraderie reminded him of his sprawling Samoan family.
Born in American Samoa, where his parents were serving as ministers of the Methodist Church in Fagatogo, Apineru relocated to the U.S. in 1996, his extended family scattered all over the globe. Apineru’s mother, Tiute, was in Seattle for a wedding when she woke up at 2:30 a.m. on July 2, certain she heard her son calling her name. It wasn’t until later that day that a Marine gave her the terrible news: VA medical workers had found her son without a pulse that morning and their attempts to revive him had failed.
During his confinement at the Veterans Affairs Palo Alto Health Care System Hospital – despite periodic rage when he mistakenly perceived someone as a “jihadist” – Apineru exhibited amazing resilience and optimism, his family said. Residents at the VA facility called him “The Mayor” because of his concern for others. He continually reached out to those trying to deal with their crippling injuries, they said. Known for creating Certificates of Thanks for the VA medical staff, he sometimes hosted barbecues and cook-offs at the hospital, said his brother, who was preparing to visit Apineru at the time of his death. “He was always challenging me to a barbecue,” Selemaea said of his brother’s culinary salvos. “He loved to eat!”
At last “at peace”
In July of 2007, the family streamed in from Colorado, Washington state, Western Samoa, New Zealand and Australia to say goodbye to their hero and bury him in the Utah’s Veteran’s Memorial State Park in Riverton. Utah is home to many of the Apinerus. He rests at last “at peace,” his mother said.
Apineru’s late father, Isaako, according to one report, taught his children that it is okay to cry when someone dies. Way more important, he said, is to celebrate the person’s life. That’s why the family celebrated Apineru’s courageous fight with a barbecue, a raucous event, featuring lots of laughing, reminiscing and eating, exactly the kind of party Faoa Apineru cherished. [KBL]