ROBERT SIEGEL, host:
Forty-seven-year-old Missouri National Guard Sergeant Michael Fuga was killed last month near Kandahar in Afghanistan. He's being remembered in his adopted hometown of Independence, Missouri, especially in the Samoan community there.
Frank Morris of member station KCUR reports.
FRANK MORRIS: Typically, people do not wear Hawaiian leis to military funerals in Independence, Missouri. But the services for Michael Fuga were a bit different.
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MORRIS: Fuga was by all accounts something of a character, a tough Samoan cricket player, a self-assured traditionalist and a patriot. He was fond of his beer and barbecue, but above all, devoted to his grandmother, his wife, his 12-year-old daughter and his extended Samoan family.
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MORRIS: Steady wind is whipping an American flag and the black POW MIA banner in this cemetery flanked by forested hills just beginning to show their fall colors. Nearby, on the edge of a lawn, sits a regal marble mausoleum. Justina Fuga bought it with money the couple had saved for a down payment on a house.
Mrs. JUSTINA FUGA: Me and my daughter felt that it was fit for a soldier, a hero, a father, a husband, a brother, an uncle, a nephew.
MORRIS: Before he left for Afghanistan almost two years ago, Fuga worked loading Southwest Airlines planes with snacks and drinks. He spent the better part of three decades in the Army and Reserves, but was still just shy of the 20 years of active duty he needed to draw an Army pension. So last summer, when his tour in Afghanistan was set to end, he promptly signed on for another year and a half.
Fuga was killed in a furious gun battle, fighting alongside the Afghan army troops he was there to train.
Mrs. FUGA: I'm going to miss him holding me, our talks. I'm going to miss him being around his friends. It was like every time my husband got around his friends, he was even more alive.
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MORRIS: Many of those friends and relatives met up at an old VFW post recently to tell stories about him. Everyone here speaks about Fuga as if he were still alive. The PA system the Samoans brought in overpowers the room, but Fuga's cousin and drinking buddy, Tuma Sau(ph), says Sergeant Fuga would have no trouble being heard.
Mr. TUMA SAU: He doesn't realize how loud he is. If you want to (unintelligible), you can hear from quite a ways out, you know?
MORRIS: Most of Fuga's 13 siblings made the trip to Independence and talked about his bad jokes and fierce devotion to Samoan culture. His sister, Malia Feri(ph), in from New Zealand, says he was smaller than most of the other guys in the village, but tougher, too.
Ms. MALIA FERI: It didn't matter how big the next boy was. If he did him wrong, he dropped him.
MORRIS: Fuga's little brother Sherman, a big, stony faced man, fights back tears pooling in his deep brown eyes as he recalls Michael's loyalty.
Mr. SHERMAN FUGA: He's a guy that if you become his friend and somebody tries to do something to you or whatever, he won't back down. You know, he'll die for you.
MORRIS: The Fuga family maintains that in the end, that's just what happened. The brother, son, husband and father died much the way he lived.
For NPR News, I'm Frank Morris.
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