When Sinforosa T. Kaipat, 49, saw U.S. Marine Corps members at their doorway around 5am on Wednesday in Tacoma, Washington, she knew something was wrong but was hoping it was just a dream.
Moments later, her worst fear was confirmed. Her 22-year-old son, Marine Lance Corporal Ramon Taisakan Kaipat, was killed while on combat patrol in the Helmand Province in Afghanistan on April 11.
Kaipat was on his second deployment to Afghanistan in support of Operation Enduring Freedom.
The U.S. Marine Corps earlier said that Kaipat was 21. Family members and the U.S. Department of Defense said yesterday he's 22.
He was supposed to turn 23 on Oct. 8, his family said. He was born on Saipan in 1989.
“I couldn't accept it, I couldn't believe it,” his 20-year-old brother Pedro Jr. told Saipan Tribune yesterday via phone from Delaware. “Just a couple of days before that, we were talking on the phone and everything was okay. He sounded happy. He said he was fine. He sounded a lot better than his previous call when he sounded tired. He was even joking on the phone when I last talked to him.”
That last phone call he had with his older brother was on Saturday night, April 7, Tacoma, Washington time.
“He pushes me to do better. I will miss him so much. I still couldn't believe it,” Pedro Jr. said.
'He loves everything about the Marines'
The fallen Marine's older sister Pearllita, in a separate phone interview, said that Kaipat always wanted to become a Marine.
“That's what he wanted, to become a Marine. He enjoyed everything about it. He said he's going to stay with the Marines. He's our hero,” Pearllita said, herself proud of what her brother has done in the fight against terror.
She said her brother was “very humble. He loves music. He loves to laugh and make others laugh. He likes hanging around the house or going to the park. He loves sushi and chicken kelaguen.”
Delegate Gregorio Kilili Sablan (Ind-MP) also described Kaipat as a “hero” who “gave the ultimate sacrifice in service to our nation.”
Kaipat's death brings to 16 the number of CNMI sons and daughters who paid the ultimate sacrifice in the wars against terror since the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks.
Kaipat “died as a result of multiple injuries received as a member of a dismounted patrol that was struck by an IED [improvised explosive device] while conducting combat operations in the Helmand Province,” the U.S. Marine Corps said.
The Department of Defense also announced yesterday Kaipat's death on April 11 “while conducting combat operations in Helmand province, Afghanistan.”
Kaipat was assigned to 1st Light Armored Reconnaissance Battalion, 1st Marine Division, I Marine Expeditionary Force out of Camp Pendleton, California.
Pearllita said her brother would call them in Tacoma from Afghanistan whenever he had the chance.
“The last time we talked to him, he asked how we were and he told us how he was. He said he's doing okay,” she said.
Pearllita said her brother wanted to visit Saipan once he gets back from his deployment.
“That should have been in June or July,” she said, adding that her brother knows by heart Carolinian, Chamorro, and English languages.
'Early Wednesday morning'
The Kaipat family, now living in Tacoma, was roused from their sleep shortly before 5am on April 11 when there were knocks on their door.
Pearllita said her cousin Courtney Taisakan was the one who opened the door.
“When my mom saw Marines standing in our doorway, she knew something was wrong. It was my dad who invited them [Marines] in,” she said. “I was also shocked, hurt, and felt sad.”
The fallen Marine's father Pedro Sr., 56, mother Sinforosa, younger brother Pedro Jr., and older sister Pearllita, 25, traveled from Washington State to Delaware to await the remains' arrival.
“The last information we have is that the body will arrive here at Dover Air Force Base at 4:30pm Friday (Saturday, Saipan time),” Pearllita said.
Pedro Jr. said his brother will be buried in Tacoma, Washington.
“The casket comes in tomorrow (Friday, Delaware time). We won't be able to see the body until they did all the examination and processing of documents. Four to seven days after that, we will be able to get hold of the body,” he said. The family has yet to decide when the funeral will be.
Pearllita said they left Saipan in 2004 for Tacoma, Washington. An aunt on Saipan earlier said it was in 2005 when Kaipat and the family left.
Kaipat was also fond of art. His sister said he would have sketches of great white sharks and others that remind him of the islands.
Kaipat attended Oleai Elementary School, Hopwood Junior High School, and Marianas High School on Saipan. He finished high school at Mount Tahoma High School in Washington State in 2007. He enlisted in the U.S. Marine Corps in 2008.
“He was 19 when he joined the Marines. His first deployment to Afghanistan was from December 2009 to July 2010. His second deployment in Afghanistan started in October 2011. That's the last time I saw my brother,” Pearllita said.
She said her parents want “peace and love” for the whole family in the wake of her brother's passing.
Maria Taisakan, one of the fallen Marine's aunts on Saipan, told Saipan Tribune on Thursday that when they heard the news around 11:30pm on Wednesday, she didn't know what to say or do, considering that they were also about to bury her aunt the following day.
“I just wish I was there with my sister during this time,” said Taisakan, 42, the youngest sister of the late Marine’s mother.
She and their relatives on Saipan buried her aunt, Catalina I. Kapileo, a sister of her father.
Taisakan said her nephew was “very helpful and caring,” and always had a smile.
The fallen Marine's relatives on Saipan are now holding rosaries for him and their other relative.
Gov. Benigno R. Fitial and Lt. Gov. Eloy S. Inos earlier said in a statement that Kaipat, in choosing a career in the prestigious U.S. Marine Corps, “demonstrated his willingness and determination to live a life of discipline and personal sacrifice so that all citizens of our country would be able to live in freedom and security.”
“In choosing this noble path in his life, he exemplified his undeniable strength of character and his patriotic courage and fortitude to carry through,” they said.
Besides Kaipat, the 15 other men and women from the CNMI who lost their lives while serving in the wars against terror include: Army Sgt. Yihgyh “Eddie” L. Chen (April 4, 2004), Army SSgt. Wilgene Lieto (Oct. 31, 2005), Army Spc. Derence W. Jack (Oct. 31, 2005), Army Sgt. Jesse J. Castro (Dec. 6, 2006), Marine LCpl Adam Q. Emul (Jan. 29, 2007), Army SPC Leeroy A. Camacho (Feb. 9, 2007), Army PFC John D. Flores (May 3, 2007), Army PFC Victor M. Fontanilla (May 17, 2007), Army Spc. Joe Junior G. Charfauros (June 20, 2007), Navy Seaman Anamarie San Nicolas Camacho (Oct. 22, 2007), Army Sgt. Brian S. Leon Guerrero (July 10, 2008), Army SSgt. Julian F. Manglona (Oct. 9, 2008), and Air Force SrA Audra P.M. Winkfield (June 19, 2009), Marine Cpl. Dave Michael Maliksi Santos (2010), and Sgt. George Joseph Affatica Sablan (Feb. 10, 2012).
Kaipat is one of the more than 6,000 U.S. men and men who have lost their lives in Afghanistan and Iraq since then.