Sunday, October 16, 2011

So what do you do if you are the namesake of a Korean War hero?

People often ask me where my name came from since "Melia" is not very common, but if you were to visit some of the beautiful islands of the Pacific, I would not be surprised if you heard that name spoken. It is part of a much long middle name and means the plumeria found upon the islands and many other places in the world. When I was visiting my family in Hawaii last year, I took a picture of the flower I was named after.

So much is carried in a name. The importance of the name we are given helps identify who we are and where we came from. Through the great legacy that was left for us to follow we can piece together the faces of the past and help us create an eternal view of the future.

As I have pondered the meaning of my name and the rich heritage of my Hawaiian ancestors, I have felt a tug on my heart to find them. My father's mother was a beautiful Hawaiian named Abigail Pililaau. She died when I was a child which left me with no memories of her.

I have often heard about my grandmother's brother, Herbert Pililaau, who died during the Korean War. He was the first Hawaiian to receive the Medal of Honor and in 2000, a Military Sealift Command cargo ship, the USNS Pililaau was named after him. The article that is attached to USNS Pililaau talks about those on board the ship and it poses the question, "So what do you do if you are the namesake of a Korean War hero?"

Here is a description about this war hero that just happens to be part of my family tree.

Pfc. Pililaau, a member of Company C, distinguished himself by conspicuous gallantry and outstanding courage above and beyond the call of duty in action against the enemy. The enemy sent wave after wave of fanatical troops against his platoon which held a key terrain feature on "Heartbreak Ridge." Valiantly defending its position, the unit repulsed each attack until ammunition became practically exhausted and it was ordered to withdraw to a new position. Voluntarily remaining behind to cover the withdrawal, Pfc. Pililaau fired his automatic weapon into the ranks of the assailants, threw all his grenades and, with ammunition exhausted, closed with the foe in hand-to-hand combat, courageously fighting with his trench knife and bare fists until finally overcome and mortally wounded. When the position was subsequently retaken, more than 40 enemy dead were counted in the area he had so valiantly defended. His heroic devotion to duty, indomitable fighting spirit, and gallant self-sacrifice reflect the highest credit upon himself, the infantry, and the U.S. Army.

As I reflect upon the short life that he lived, I am in awe of the legacy of devotion, patriotism and sacrifice that he emulated. Uncle Herbert set the ultimate example of brotherly love.

One of the great blessings of the internet, is the amount of information stored and ready to be found with a click of the mouse. As I "googled" online to find some more information on the Pililaau family, I found this image of my great grandparents who met President Truman in Washington D.C. when they honored their son, Herbert Pililaau, with the Metal of Honor making him the first Hawaiian to receive this recognition.

I have been looking into his parents family and trying to find some missing ancestors. I went to the Family History Center in Salt Lake City, Utah, two weeks ago and I found a census report that said that Herbert's father, William Pililaau (pictured to the right of the President) was a brother to 12 other kids. Wow, I was surprised since there are about 5 missing children from my pedigree. As I began to dig into the past, I was able to find a child, Ululani Pililaau, that died the same year she was born. I can't imagine the heartache it must of been to have lost a sweet little girl. It is during these times that I am truly grateful to understand that the family relationships that we have here on earth will continue in heaven. One day I will be able to meet my grandmother and all my ancestors that came before me and renew those relationships with them. It is such a blessing to be a part of a family. I hope to carry on the spirit of those that have passed on and hold in honor their names as I continue to search out my kindred dead and find my own answers to "what do you do if you are the namesake of a Korean War hero?"