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PAGO PAGO, American Samoa (August 25, 2002 - Samoa News/PINA Nius Online)---One of the first two Samoan women to join the United States military, Afutoto Mauga Lei Meredith, has left to represent American Samoa in the America's Women's Memorial Bell Tower re-dedication.

This honors women whose lives were lost while serving the United States of America in conflict.

Governor Tauese Sunia nominated Mrs. Meredith after receiving a letter from the chair of the 35th Anniversary Committee of The Women's Memorial Bell Tower requesting an American Samoan representative.

Mrs. Meredith left for the mainland with a tribute letter from the governor, an American Samoa flag dedicated to all from the territory who have served, and an American Samoa Government donation of $500. This is to help in the restoration of The Women's Memorial Bell Tower.

Mrs. Meredith, now a 73-year-old grandmother, and her friend, the late Lefefe Tuiasosopo Toeaina, enlisted in the United States Navy in 1952.

Mrs. Meredith told Samoa News that she had always been impressed by the armed forces and what they did defending America and what it stood for.

So when American Samoan men started to enlist in numbers, she decided that it was going to be her goal to become a servicewoman.

However, in the conservative 1950s, when Samoan women were expected to clean house and raise children, her ambition was frowned upon.

This, she said, only made her more determined.

She said her chance came when she was sent to Hawai'i to live with relatives and continue her education.

She said after church one Sunday she was introduced to a woman who had just retired from the Navy and who asked her what she was planning to do with her life.

She told the woman of her desire to join the armed forces. The woman told her to come and see her at her office the next day and gave her an address.

The next day she and her lifelong friend Lefefe went to the address.

The woman's "office" turned out to be the U.S. Navy's recruiting station in Honolulu.

With the woman's help, the two young Samoan women ended up taking the entry exam, which they passed, and were then enlisted.

After their enlistment, they were taken to boot camp in Maryland on the United States mainland.

"Gone was the island environment and the weather we were used to here in American Samoa and Hawai'i," Mrs. Meredith reminisced. "It was the first time either of us had ever seen snow and believe you me, it was cold!"

Nevertheless, they got used to their new surroundings and settled into Navy life and duties.

After basic training, Mrs. Meredith took up active duty at the San Francisco Naval Shipyard and later at the Naval Station on Treasure Island near San Francisco.

In 1953 she first met her future husband, Chief Quartermaster David Albert Meredith, of Leone, American Samoa.

Chief Quartermaster Meredith had just returned from Guam when he heard that some Samoan women had enlisted in the Navy and were serving in San Francisco. So he went to meet them and ended up falling in love with one of them.

They were married in 1954.

Mr. Meredith retired from the Navy after more than 30 years of service. After Mrs. Meredith was honorably discharged from the Navy in 1956, they moved back to American Samoa.

Mr. Meredith died in 1973 and is survived by his wife, two children and seven grandchildren.

Mrs. Meredith said of her Navy days: "It was a hard and challenging part of my life, but with perseverance and God's help I came through. I'm thankful to have been given the chance to serve my country."

Her daughter, Rosa, revealed that her mother instilled discipline in them right from the start and even now runs their family home like a military barracks. Her mother gets up at dawn and gets everybody out of bed for morning prayers and then off to school and work, she said.

During the territory's Centennial Celebration, Mrs. Meredith and the late Mrs. Toeaina were given official recognition by Governor Tauese.

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