Wednesday, October 03, 2007

Alexander Gagalac laid to rest

Alexander Gagalac was the soft-spoken one, his twin brother, Alexis, the more outgoing.

The two were inseparable when they went to Leilehua High School, but would have arguments over the smallest things that used to crack up their friends.

Billy Bumanglag, a close friend of Alexander's, remembers that he was shy at first.

"But after a going out with us, he opened up, and he was a lot more outgoing," Bumanglag said, remembering the days when Alexander would call to say he was coming over to go to the beach.

"Sure enough, 30 minutes, he's there and he'd have the whole truck, 20 people in the back, and we'd just go to Waimea all day long. Come home, change, go to the clubs. Repeat every night."

Yesterday, Alexis Gagalac stood over his brother's grave at the National Memorial Cemetery of the Pacific, set among a sea of markers engraved "Unknown" from the Korean War, and kissed and then dropped red and white roses on Alexander's casket.

About 200 family members and friends paid their last respects to the Hawai'i man and Schofield Barracks soldier who was killed on Sept. 9 in Iraq by an insurgent's explosive device just eight days before he was to leave the country.

Turn by turn, stricken family members dropped roses onto the 28-year-old's casket and said a silent prayer.

"Alexander, goodbye," his mother, Regina, moaned as she lingered over her son's grave and stood next to Alexis, a sergeant in the Hawai'i Army National Guard.

"I love you very much," she said. "I know you have always been good to me, son."

Under a portico nearby at Punchbowl, the white-gloved hands of six soldiers had respectfully held a large American flag over the casket as a rifle salute leader shouted "Ready! Aim! Fire!" and three volleys cracked in the air and taps was played.

At an earlier Mass at St. John Apostle & Evangelical Catholic Church in Mililani, Father Manuel A. Hewe tried to make sense of the loss.

In the vestibule were 14-by-14-inch photos of a smiling Alexander with his 4-year-old niece, Jace-Lynn Tolentino, on his shoulders, with his twin brother at the beach in Hale'iwa, and in Iraq in 2004 with Alexis.

Alexis held a long salute as his brother's American flag-draped casket was placed inside a hearse for the trip to Punchbowl as family members sobbed at the sight.

Both brothers had joined the Army with other friends, and without the knowledge of their parents, Regina and Fabian.

"All of us know that it is sad to hear that soldiers die in the war," Hewe told those assembled for the church service. " 'Why?' is one of the reactions that all of us ask. 'Why?' " he said of Gagalac's death, adding he didn't have the answer.

Hewe referenced a MySpace blog item in which the sergeant with B Company, the 2nd Battalion, 27th Infantry "Wolfhounds," happily said he only had a few weeks to go in Iraq, and was looking forward to freedom.

The soldier's words were a sign of relief of a man looking forward to being back in his homeland, and without fear of being shot by a sniper, Hewe said.

"Alex went to Iraq like the rest of the soldiers — for the sake of our country," Hewe said, adding that he is now "united with God where conflict and hatred are resolved."

Gagalac was killed in the Hawija area 30 miles southwest of the oil city of Kirkuk, a Sunni Arab enclave and one of the more dangerous places for more than 7,000 Schofield Barracks soldiers who are returning to Hawai'i after more than a year in Iraq.

Out of 41 Schofield deaths since mid-2006 in a Pennsylvania-sized region in the north of the country, 12 occurred in the vicinity of Hawija, population 80,000.

Spc. Joseph Gentile, a wounded soldier under Gagalac who was in a wheelchair yesterday with several metal rods holding his lower right leg immobile, came out for the church service and fought back tears as his squad leader's casket was wheeled out of the Mililani church.

Alexander Gagalac's life was retraced yesterday by those who knew him and are still in shock at his death.

His second cousin, Dennis Goze of Waikele, remembered watching Alexis and Alexander and their brother, Charles, when the twins were about 2 and running around in diapers.

"It's a shock because when when you are out of touch sometimes you don't realize you have relatives in the military," Goze said.

Norbert Udarbe, a first cousin, grew up with Gagalac, who lived in Mililani until he was 8 and then moved to Wahiawa. The family now lives in Salt Lake.

Alexander Gagalac liked the Army — "the benefits, just everything about it," said Udarbe, 26, who lives in Seattle. "He liked the Army life."

Punchbowl is at capacity for in-ground burials, but the disinterment and identification of a Marine buried as an "unknown" from the Korean War provided a plot for Gagalac.

The Marine, Pfc. Carl West, will be buried at Arlington National Cemetery on Oct. 4 according to the family's wishes.

Bumanglag reflected on the latest burial of a service member at Punchbowl, that of his friend, and remembered the more innocent days of their youth when going to the beach and clubs occupied their time, not war.

"That was all we did when we was younger," Bumanglag said, his voice trailing off. "It was a lot easier then. Never had nothing to worry about. Just go to the beach, go to clubs. That was it. No war, no military."

From the Honolulu Advertiser

Related Link:
Alexander Gagalac remembered

Related Link:
Alexander U. Gagalac dies 'of wounds suffered when insurgents attacked his unit with a rocket during combat operations'