Julie Tudela Lieto, 53, remembers too well how she tried to talk her only son out of deploying to Iraq eight years ago but she understood his reasons. Her son, the late U.S. Army Sgt. Wilgene Lieto, was killed when their patrol vehicle was hit by a bomb in Balad, Iraq, on Oct. 31, 2005.
“He said it’s something he wanted to do. He believed in putting people and the country first before him. He was trained to help out to secure peace. I am very much proud of my son,” Lieto, of Tanapag, told Saipan Tribune yesterday.
Lieto was one of the CNMI’s sons and daughters who paid the ultimate sacrifice as part of the War on Terror that started with the terror attacks on the World Trade Center in New York and the Pentagon on Sept. 11, 2001, exactly 12 years ago today.
Gov. Eloy S. Inos said over the course of the past 12 years, the CNMI has since laid to rest its homegrown heroes.
“They were sons and daughters of the Northern Mariana Islands, but more importantly, they are brave soldiers and defenders of our freedom. Truly, they will never be forgotten. …We must remember every brave man and woman who died in honor. We must remember every family that still lives in grief. We must always remember,” the governor said in a statement yesterday.
The governor will sign this morning a proclamation declaring Sept. 11, 2013, a “Day of Service and Remembrance” to honor the lives and memories of those who perished in the attacks.
The CNMI has already lost 18 of its own since the War Against Terror. Some of them were still in their teens or in their early 20s when they were deployed to Iraq and Afghanistan.
For the families of these soldiers from the CNMI, Sept. 11, 2001, should not only be about the terror attacks and their victims but also those who lost their lives to help preserve freedom for the people of the United States, its territories and other nations—long after 9-11.
The proud mother of the late Army sergeant Lieto said she and the family have made it a point to join the annual march commemorating the sacrifices and heroism born out of the 9-11 attacks.
“We always remember him, my son. He would have been 36 this year,” she said. The late Lieto was already serving in the military since 1999, the mother said.
Lieto was not the only one from the CNMI who lost his life in Iraq on that fateful day of Oct. 31, 2005, while on patrol mission. The other one was U.S. Army Spc. Derence Jack.
Both left the CNMI for a one-year tour of duty in Iraq in January 2005, but they never came back to their families alive.
Retired police sergeant Joel G. Charfauros of Rota separately said yesterday that every time he sees images of the 9-11 attacks and its aftermath, he wished it didn’t have to happen.
“I wish we never had the 9-11 incidents. My brother and many others would have been spending their holidays and other special occasions with their families,” he said.
He still misses his younger brother, the late Army Spc. Joe Junior G. Charfauros, one of four U.S. soldiers killed on June 20, 2007, in Baghdad, Iraq because of injuries sustained from an improvised explosive device that blew off near their vehicle.
“Everyone in the family never forgets about him, especially with lots of questions still unanswered. We are all proud of him. We will never forget him,” the retired police sergeant said.
He said on the sixth anniversary of his brother’s death in June, the family held a Mass of intention for him and had dinner together.
“We also visited his gravesite, letting him know he’s never forgotten,” the older brother said.
And now with talks about a possible U.S. military involvement in Syria, he said no matter what ordinary U.S. citizens think, “the decision still rests with those in Washington, D.C.”
“All we could do is hope and pray that our already strained and drained military forces won’t have to be involved in another conflict,” he added.
Annie G. Charfauros, the 59-year-old mother of the late Charfauros, said yesterday her son decided to join the military mainly to support his family. At the time, the late Army specialist already had three children.
She still has bitterness why her son had to go and leave the CNMI police force.
“He would still be alive today were it not for the economic hardships, the low salary, the job recall at the time. My son liked his job on Saipan but he was recalled to Rota, and that’s when he decided to join the military. I am proud of him, I wish he’s still here with us,” the mother said.
The CNMI’s list of fallen soldiers in connection with the Iraq and Afghanistan wars are: 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), and Navy Seaman Anamarie San Nicolas Camacho (Oct. 22, 2007).
The others are: Army Sgt. Brian S. Leon Guerrero (July 10, 2008), Army SSgt. Julian F. Manglona (Oct. 9, 2008), Air Force SrA Audra P.M. Winkfield (June 19, 2009), Marine Cpl. Dave Michael Maliksi Santos (July 16, 2010), Sgt. George Joseph Affatica Sablan (Feb. 10, 2012), Marine Lance Cpl Ramon Taisakan Kaipat (April 11, 2012), U.S. Army Spc Joselyn Tara Mafnas Sablan (Sept. 20, 2012), and U.S. Army Spc Robert Jason Santos Deleon Guerrero (Sept. 23, 2012).
The governor, in a statement yesterday, said the CNMI offers its solemn prayers to all the innocent victims and rescuers who perished in the incidents that took place on Sept. 1, 2001.
“The events following the 9-11 attacks led to America’s War on Terror in battlegrounds such as Iraq and Afghanistan. Already considered as one of the longest wars in our nation’s history, the battle continues till this day,” Inos said.
He said on the 12th anniversary of the attacks, he and Lt. Gov. Jude U. Hofschneider urge everyone in the CNMI “to join us in remembering the courage, valor and sacrifice of all our men and women who continue to be in harm’s way so that each one of us can continue to embrace the virtues of freedom and liberty.”