AMERICAN SAMOA FLAG DAY FESTIVITIES BEGIN

PAGO PAGO, American Samoa (April 15, 2000)--Recreating the first Samoan military group to serve under the guidance of the U.S. Navy, some 100-years ago, twenty Samoans military personnel home-based in Hawai‘i manned the railing of the guided missile destroyer USS Decatur as it entered Pago Pago Harbor on Friday to take part in American Samoa's Centennial Celebration that starts on April 17th.

When American Samoa became a U.S. territory in 1900, the U.S. Navy had control and formed a local military group called the "Fitafita Guard" (fitafita translation is soldier), an elite police force that numbered 35 members. Unlike the western style military uniform, the Fitafita Guard members wore a white "lava lava," a white t-shirt, a red three-inch belt, a red hat and black sandals, but sometimes no sandals at all. The navy left in 1951 and the Fitafita Guard was disbanded.

However, American Samoans had already establish a good reputation with the Navy. In 1954 recruiters were sent here to enlist former and new Fitafita Guard members for the naval base in Pearl Harbor. The recruiters netted about 100 members, who were the first of the Fitafita Guard members to relocate to Hawai‘i and San Francisco.

So when the USS Decatur entered the territory the 20-member recreation of the Fitafita Guard, made up of Samoan military personnel based in Honolulu, manned the rail. In between each of the Fitafita Guard members were more modern day American sailors in contemporary naval uniforms. At the helm was a son of Samoa in the military wearing his traditional Samoan Chief’s attire, as the warship slowly slid into berth.

The media, government officials and the U.S. Navy/Marine combined band from Hawai‘i, having arrived earlier in the week, were on the dock to welcome this unique display of American Samoa history. The Samoan military personnel from Hawai‘i are not members of the USS Decatur crew, but were included for this historical voyage.

The Decatur has a total crew of 400, including 50 women. The vessel, open to the public on Saturday, will be open again on Monday for tours. The crewmembers will participate throughout the week in Centennial activities before returning to their homeport in San Diego, California.

Saturday night the Undersecretary of the U.S. Navy, Jerry Hultin, who arrived earlier in the day, and Rear Admiral Harms hosted a cocktail party for the dignitaries from the region attending the 100-year birthday of American Samoa.

CHURCH BELLS RING FOR AMERICAN SAMOA CENTENNIAL

PAGO PAGO, American Samoa (April 16, 2000)---Church bells rang simultaneously across the Samoan island group on Sunday as prayers were offered in every church throughout the islands in preparation for American Samoa's Centennial Celebration. It starts officially on Monday.

Governor Tauese Sunia declared on Friday that American Samoa's 100-year history will be celebrated from April 15th to the 21st.

The April 15th events at the Veterans Memorial Stadium included the International Cricket Championship game and various cultural events performed by several elementary schools.

The official Centennial Flag Raising ceremony kicks off Monday morning at the Fagatogo Malae where Governor Tauese Sunia will deliver his Flag Day Address, recalling the territory's history and expectations of the future.

Samoa's Prime Minister Tuilaepa Sailele Malielegaoi went on territorial government television Friday, offering best wishes to the people and government of American Samoa and urged American Samoans to work closely with Samoa in future economic development that would benefit both island governments.

Samoa has a delegation of more than 2,000 participating in the Flag Day ceremonies, lead by Samoa's Head of State, Malietoa Tanumafili II. Other ranking political leaders from the region attending the celebrations include the King of Tonga, Taufa‘ahau Tupou IV; the Prime Minister of Tuvalu, Ionatana Ionatana; the Governor of Guam, Carl T.C. Gutierrez; and the Governor of Northern Mariana Islands, Pedro P. Tenorio.

The Centennial Celebration has an approved budget of $200,000, far less than the $1.5 million request submitted early this year for Fono approval. Because of the shortfall in approved funding from the local government, the Centennial Committee solicited public donations. As of Saturday, the committee had collected over $150,000 worth of public donations and is expected to reach the $200,000 mark by the end of the week-long Centennial festivities.

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