SAMOANS MOURN LOSS OF ‘EXCEPTIONAL LEADER’

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Soldier commanded 1,000 marines based in Hawaii

PAGO PAGO, American Samoa (Samoa News, June 30, 2008) - Acting Gov. Faoa A. Sunia has expressed condolences to the family of the late U.S. Marine Lt. Col. Max A. Galea'i, who was the commanding officer of about 1,000 Marines, based at Kaneohe Marine Corp Base in Kaneohe, Hawai'i.

"On behalf of Governor Togiola Tulafono and the people and government of American Samoa, I offer my deepest sympathy to the family of Lt. Colonel Max A. Galea'i, who gave his life in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom," said Faoa. "His death is a great loss to American Samoa and the Kaneohe Marine Base in Hawai'i."

Galea'i is the son of the late Tafaoa Pati and Kalala Galea'i of Leone, American Samoa. He is married to Evelyn Ho Ching Galea'i and they have four children. He has four sisters and three brothers.

The Department of Defense said Galea'i, 42, along with two other Marines, Capt. Philip J. Dykeman, 38, of Brockport, N.Y. and Cpl. Marcus W. Preudhomme, 23, of North Miami Beach, Fla. died June 26 while supporting combat operations in Al Anbar Province in Iraq.

The military didn't provide any details as to how the Marines were killed, but the Associated Press and other international media reported over the weekend that the three were killed by a suicide bomber reportedly dressed in a police uniform, who detonated an explosive belt during a meeting of tribal sheiks opposed to al-Qaida.

The Marines were killed in the town of Karmah in the Anbar province, about 30 miles west of Baghdad. The AP cited a posting on a militant website claiming responsibility for the suicide bomb, that also killed about 20 other people.

In a statement issued yesterday, Faoa said, "He is remembered by his family and fellow Marines as a caring and exceptional leader. Lt. Col. Galea'i's bravery and sacrifice will always be remembered as he willingly served America to protect the freedom of the world."

Faoa asked that the public remember the more than 1,000 Marines who were under Lt. Col. Max Galea'i's command. "May God's grace give them strength to complete their tour without their leader."

The 2nd Battalion, 3rd Marines were deployed in February and were scheduled to return in September. Two Samoans serving under Galea'i's battalion are Titiona Mose and Michael T. Fanene, son of Banner Fanene of Nu'uuli.

A service was held Saturday at Kaneohe Marine base to remember the fallen Marines and Galea'i was remembered as a role model who was proud of his Samoan heritage and cared about his family.

Honolulu Mayor Mufi Hannemann also expressed his sadness over the death of Galeai, telling the Honolulu Advertiser newspaper that he knows the Galea'i family.

"It's always a sad day when you lose someone defending our country for a war that is dividing the people," Hannemann said. "He was a great role model. It's a loss not only felt in American Samoa, but by Samoans everywhere."

The death of Galea'i and his colleagues was reported around the world by the media and messages of condolences posted on several websites dedicated to those American soldiers who have lost their lives in the Iraq and Afghanistan conflicts.

One website says that friends remember Galea'i as a dedicated family man, a natural leader and a caring buddy who would never burden others with his problems.

Marine Master Gunnery Sgt. Taumaoe Gaoteote is quoted as saying that he is "trying to cope with the fact that he (Galea'i) is no longer with us. I didn't know how to react when I heard. I never thought it would actually happen to him."

Soldiers who knew Galea'i also posted messages describing him as a decent, honest and hardworking Marine.

"He was a great Marine and a legend in my mind," wrote another Marine, Wesley R. Gray, who was stationed with Galea'i years ago in Okinawa, Japan.

Galea'i joined the Marine Corps in June 1988 after graduating from Oregon State University. He was educated locally and graduated in 1983 from Marist Brothers High School.

Information provided over the weekend by Kaneohe Marines said that Galea'i's awards include two Bronze Star Medals, the Purple Heart Medal, five Meritorious Service Medals, two Navy and Marine Corps Commendation Medals, the Combat Action Ribbon, the Navy Unit Commendation, the Navy Meritorious Unit Commendation, two National Defense Service Medals, two Southwest Asia Service Medals, two Iraq Campaign Medals, the Global War on Terrorism Service Medal, six Sea Service Deployment Ribbons, and two Kuwait Liberations Medals.

Galea'i was stationed in Kaneohe last year and his unit departed in February this year for Iraq. He was on his second tour of Iraq.

Funeral services for Galea'i are pending and he will be returned home for burial. His sister Joan Galea'i said that her brother's wishes were to be buried at Arlington National Cemetery, but she is very happy "he is coming home" to be laid next to his late father Pati Galea'i at the family home in Leone.

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