Sunday, July 15, 2007

AP Apineru remembered

There's been one barbecue after another since Marine Staff Sgt. Faoa L. Apineru's family learned of his death July 2.

Apineru, 31, loved to cook and eat, and so does his extended family from Western Samoa. This week, before he is buried Friday, his siblings and others have been celebrating Apineru's life, remembering him in a way they say he would have wanted.

"He challenged me to a barbecue," his brother Selemaea Apineru said Wednesday about a recent culinary salvo.

That's not to say the 10-year Marine veteran's family is taking the news of his passing lightly. There have been plenty of tears shed since Apineru was seriously wounded in Iraq back in May 2005.

Apineru was patrolling the northern border of Iraq during his second tour there when a roadside bomb exploded near him. Wounds he received to his head left him with what relatives say were traumatic brain injuries, which included severe post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), extreme memory loss, frequent nightmares and a lot of emotional distress.

He was unable to live on his own and died at the Veterans Affairs Palo Alto Health Care System Hospital in California. Apineru was known as "the mayor" at the hospital because of his kind treatment of everyone there.

But when the PTSD was at its worst, Apineru would literally try to attack people who merely looked like the enemy, or "jihadists," as his brother put it. The disorder was so bad he had difficulty distinguishing between nightmares and reality.

The tough Marine who smiled a lot even called Selemaea once to say he feared he might hurt his own mother.

On July 2, Tiute Apineru was in Seattle for a wedding when she woke up about 2:30 a.m., certain she had just heard her son's voice calling for her. Later that day, a Marine gave her the sad news that VA Hospital medical workers had tried unsuccessfully to revive her son, who was found without a pulse.

Apineru became the 43rd person with Utah ties to die as a result of the Iraq and Afghanistan wars.

The exact cause of death is unknown, Selemaea said, but family members attribute it to the injuries he received in Iraq.

"I feel pain and hurt," Tiute said with Selemaea translating. "I feel suffering as a mother."

With her next breath, however, Apineru's mother said she is happy because her son is finally at peace.

Outside of a sister's apartment on Independence Boulevard in Salt Lake City, Apineru's soft-top convertible Cadillac is parked by the curb. Inside the apartment, Selemaea turns on his brother's cell phone, which shows a screen with the words, "Thank God I'm alive."

Selemaea was supposed to make the trip Wednesday from his home in Colorado Springs to the VA Hospital, where Apineru sometimes cooked for staff and residents. Selemaea, himself an Army veteran, was ready to grill a few selections of meat during the cook-off.

"My chicken will make you cry," Selemaea said with a laugh Wednesday. It's that good, he boasts.

Selemaea said his brother, who arrived in the United States from Western Samoa in 1996, will be buried here because so many family members call the Beehive State home.

As Apineru's family has been arriving in Utah from Colorado, Washington, Western Samoa, New Zealand and Australia, there has been a lot of laughing, smiling, remembering — and eating, the way Apineru would have liked it.

Apineru's late father, Isaako, taught his children it's OK to be sad and cry when someone dies but to make sure the person's life is celebrated.

"Who wants to be sad?" Selemaea asked. "Nobody wants to be sad."

The two nephews and five nieces Apineru loved and spoiled will see their uncle one last time during a viewing Thursday, from 7 to 9 p.m., at the First United Methodist Church, 203 S. 200 East.

The man whose favorite phrase was, "Big time!" whenever he got excited about something will be buried at the Utah Veteran's Memorial State Park in Riverton.

From the Deseret News

Related Link:
Faoa "AP" Apineru reported to have succumbed to Iraq injury