Jonathan Ioakimo Falaniko
Private, United States Army
Oct 27, 2003
DoD Identifies Army Casualty
The Department of Defense announced today the death of a soldier who was supporting Operation Iraqi Freedom.
Private Jonathan I. Falaniko, 20, of Pago Pago, American Samoa, was killed in action on October 27, 2003, in Baghdad, Iraq. Falaniko was near the Al Khadra Police Station in downtown Baghdad when a vehicle containing an improvised explosive device detonated. Falaniko was assigned to A Company, 70th Engineer Battalion, 1st Armored Division, Fort Riley, Kansas
The incident is under investigation.
WASHINGTON, D.C.—PRIVATE JONATHAN FALANIKO LAID TO REST AT ARLINGTON NATIONAL CEMETERY
Congressman Faleomavaega announced that he and members of the Samoan community in the Washington, DC metropolitan area joined the parents and family of Private Jonathan Falaniko during the wake on the evening of Thursday November 6 and when he was laid to rest on Friday, November 7, 2003, at the Arlington National Cemetery. A large number of representatives from the U.S. Army including top-ranking officials were also in attendance.
The funeral plans for Private Falaniko began with a viewing on Thursday evening November 6, 2003 at the Murphy Funeral Home in Arlington, Virginia. Congressman Faleomavaega, along with Paramount Chief Galea’i Tu’ufuli, and Talking Chief Tua’aumafuamalu Faletogo spoke during the ceremony. They were later joined by members of the Samoan community in singing a number of Samoan hymns.
A chapel service was held on Friday November 7, 2003 at 8:45 a.m. at the Memorial Chapel in Fort Myer, Virginia followed by the burial in the renowned Arlington National Cemetery (ANC). The ANC is the best known of more than one hundred national cemeteries in the United States. Veterans from every war the U.S. has been involved in are laid to rest at the National cemetery.
The ANC is also the burial place for distinguished persons like late presidents John F. Kennedy and William Taft and is home to numerous memorials and monuments including the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier, the Space Shuttle Challenger Memorial, and the Iran Rescue Mission Monument.
Private Jonathan Falaniko’s body arrived on November 4, 2003 in the United States from Germany where his parents are currently stationed. Accompanying his body on the flight were his parents, Command Sergeant Major Ioakimo Falaniko and Maliana Falaniko, and sister, Otilia Falaniko. Private Falaniko’s older brother, Niko Falaniko, with his son and fiancée, flew in from Seattle, Washington to attend the funeral services.
According to the U.S. Army, Jonathan was killed on October 27 in Baghdad, Iraq by a Rocket Propelled Grenade attack. He had only been in the U.S. Army for less than 6 months. He attended basic training at Fort Leonard Wood, Missouri, in May 2003 and was deployed in Iraq in August of this year. Private Falaniko was then assigned to the 70th Engineer Battalion under the 1st Armored Division, Engineers Brigade of which his father, Ioakimo Falaniko, was the Command Sergeant Major and the most senior enlisted soldier.
“Without a doubt, Private Jonathan Falaniko was a true American and Samoan hero who made the ultimate sacrifice for his country,” Congressman Faleomavaega said. “Jonathan died while serving a very important mission, fighting against terrorism and to bring peace and freedom to the people of Iraq. We should all salute this young man for his bravery and his selfless service.”
“I was privileged to be invited by the Falaniko family to join them and a limited number of high ranking members of the U.S. Army at a private awards ceremony for Private Jonathan Falaniko prior to the chapel service. During the ceremony, Lieutenant General Robert Flowers, Commander of the Army Corps of Engineers, on behalf of the U.S. Army, presented the Purple Heart and Bronze Star Medal to Maliana for her fallen son. I followed by presenting to Maliana and Command Sergeant Major Falaniko a flag that I had flown over the U.S. Capitol in honor of their son. It was a very solemn and inspiring ceremony that was also attended by the Sergeant Major of the Army, Jack Tilley.”
"The private awards ceremony was followed by the funeral service at the Memorial Chapel,” Congressman Faleomavaega said. “At the request of the Falaniko family, there were only four speakers. I spoke at the service on behalf of our government and Samoan community. Command Sergeant Major Falaniko delivered his son’s eulogy and retired First Sergeant Saipan Teal, who is a very close friend of the family, also spoke. Mr. Nik Pula spoke on behalf of the families to thank the crowd for attending.”
“During my remarks, I recognized Paramount Chief Galea’i, Deputy Assistant Secretary of Interior David Cohen, Director of the Office of Insular Affairs Nik Pula, Pastor Meki To’alepai, and members of our Samoan Congregation in the Washington, DC area who were among the many Samoans that attended. I concluded my remarks with the singing of ‘Lota nu’u ua ou fanau ai’ and the Samoan Congregation sang ‘Faafetai i le Atua.’”
“The initial plans were for the funeral services to be held at the Old Post Chapel on Fort Myer which has been the worship place and home for the Samoan Congregation in the Washington, DC area since 1982. One day prior to the service, the location was moved to the Memorial Chapel in order to accommodate the over 400 hundred people that were in attendance. More than two-thirds of those that attended were military active and retired personnel including several sons and daughters of Samoa who traveled from out of state and from the local area.”
“The processional motorcade through the Arlington Cemetery was awe-inspiring. About one hundred cars were in the motorcade and anyone who saw it would have thought it was a VIP funeral procession,” Congressman Faleomavaega said. “At the gravesite, General Flowers presented Jonathan’s mother with the U.S. flag that covered her son’s casket. Jonathan’s father stood at salute. A gun salute and the sounding of the bugle signaled the end of the ceremony and time of burial.”
“All in all, it was the most impressive funeral I have ever witnessed for a young Private who had only deployed to Iraq in August of this year. This is what makes Jonathan’s story special. Today, the White House called my office and requested the phonetic pronunciation of CSM Falaniko’s full name. The President of the United States intends to mention Jonathan and his father in an upcoming speech, maybe during tomorrow’s Veterans’ Day services at the Arlington National Cemetery.”
“At the request of CSM Falaniko, I have reserved 8 tickets for the family to attend this special event to be held tomorrow, November 11, 2003, at the ANC. Senator Kay Bailey Hutchinson, a Republican Senator from Texas and a dear friend of mine, also called my office to request the pronunciation of Private Falaniko’s name. She, too, was touched by his story and intends to pay tribute to the family.”
“This Veterans’ Day, let us also pay tribute
to Private Jonathan Falaniko. Let us also remember Specialist Farao
Kevin Letufuga and every other veteran of American Samoa who has died in
the service of our country. On this solemn occasion, may we also
remember our active duty service members and may we never forget the sacrifices
they are making so that you and I and future generations may live in peace,”
the Congressman concluded.
Private Jonathan I. Falaniko, 20, of Pago Pago, American Samoa, was killed near a police station in downtown Baghdad when a vehicle containing an explosive device detonated. The incident is under investigation.
Falaniko was assigned to Company A, 70th Engineer Battalion, 3rd Brigade, 1st Armored Division.
He joined the Army in May and has been stationed at Fort Riley since August.
Falaniko was assigned to the unit as an engineer bridge crewman and deployed to Iraq last month.
He is the 10th Fort Riley soldier to die in
the conflict in Iraq.
Jonathan Falaniko wanted to be just like his dad -- right down to the green Army uniform his father has worn for 27 years. So it was with great pride that Ioakimo Falaniko, now a Command Sergeant Major, stood beside his son in February as the 20-year-old was sworn in.
Seven months later, the two were reunited, this time in Iraq. Though family members rarely serve in the same theater of operations in times of combat, according to military officials, Jonathan's battalion was assigned to his father's division in Baghdad.
"I was so happy when I found out," Ioakimo Falaniko, 49, said yesterday. "He was coming to me! He said, 'Dad, I'll do my best not to disappoint you.' "
The conversation would be one of their last.
On October 27, 2003, the young Private was killed by a rocket-propelled grenade in the Iraqi capital. His platoon had just cleared away two explosive devices found on the side of the road near the al Khadra police station when it came under attack, Ioakimo Falaniko said. It was not long before he got the devastating news from his commander.
"I spent 20 minutes sitting with Jonathan's body," Falaniko said yesterday after a memorial service at Arlington National Cemetery. "He understood selfless service to the nation. I have no regrets about losing my son. He is my hero. . . . If not him, it would have been someone else."
Jonathan Falaniko, whose home was in American Samoa, became the 35th soldier interred at Arlington since the start of Operation Iraqi Freedom this year. The dozens of family members who attended yesterday's service wept softly as taps sounded across the hallowed hillsides. Also there as a show of support was a host of Army officials, many of whom said they were particularly touched and saddened by the sergeant major's loss.
"It was very unusual for them to be in the same unit," said Col. Michael Walsh, chief of staff for the U.S. Army Corp of Engineers. "It's very unusual, but there's no rule against it."
Command Sergeant Major Michael Balch knew Jonathan as a child, having lived with his father in the mid-1980s at Fort Leonard Wood in Missouri.
"He served for 27 years in the Army, giving it everything he had," Balch said. "After less than 30 days in Iraq, his son is killed in combat. Talk about character of family and commitment to serve your country. . . . Jonathan wanted to be just like his father."
Relatives described the young soldier as a respectful, "likable kid" who watched out for his family, whether that meant sending money home to help his mother or tending to his older brother, Niko, after he was injured in a car accident.
After enlisting, Jonathan received training as a combat engineer at Fort Leonard Wood. In August, he was posted to Fort Riley, Kansas, for deployment training.
"I met him when he first landed in Iraq," Ioakimo Falaniko said yesterday, recalling how the two hugged one another. "I said, 'Son, I am very proud of you.' "
On October 11, 2003, the two met again to place a video call home. Jonathan told his mother not to worry. When his sister asked whether he had killed anyone, he told her, "No, but when the time comes, I will. I'm focused. I know what I'm doing," their father recalled.
Ioakimo Falaniko said he and his son were happy to be serving together but followed military protocol. Rather than addressing him as "father," Jonathan called him "sergeant major," Falaniko recalled with a smile.
The two made plans to meet next week to go Christmas shopping and take pictures at some of Baghdad's historical sites. Instead, the father escorted his son's body back to the United States a few days ago.
Yesterday, sharing lunch with family and friends after the memorial service, Falaniko said his son knew the risks of his job but embraced it nonetheless. "He loved the Army," the older man said.
Falaniko said he will attend to family matters over the next few days. Then it's back to Iraq, where he has another job to do.
"I will finish this fight," he vowed.
There is perhaps no prouder moment for a father, then when his son follows him into the family business. Certainly there is no sadder task for a father than to bury his son.
Command Sergeant Major Ioakimo Falaniko, 49, Engineering Brigade, 1st Armored Division, experienced both of these emotions in the past few months.
The senior noncommissioned officer was elated when his son Jonathan, 20, joined the Army in May and chose the same job as his dad, following the proud warrior tradition of his Samoan ancestors.
Pvt. Jonathan Falaniko and his squad had just removed two improvised explosive devices from the side of the road near the Baghdad police station October 27, 2003, when a rocket propelled grenade struck their vehicle. The younger Falaniko was at the point of impact.
The Command Sergeant Major of the unit, his father, received an urgent message his son's unit was hit and five soldiers were wounded.
Jonathan had only been in Iraq for 30 days.
"I went to the aid station," the grieving father said after the funeral Friday morning. "I saw him in a body bag. I told everybody to get out of the room. I shed my tears. I talked to him for 20 to 25 minutes."
The father accompanied his son's body home.
"The medic ignored her own wound and tried to treat my son. He was just a typical Soldier. If not him, someone else."
The son asked his father to accompany him to his enlistment ceremony at the Seattle recruiting command.
"That was one proud moment," Falaniko said. "When he swore in, I reaffirmed my oath. He loved the Army. He said, 'I will do my best not to disappoint you.' He was aware of the danger. I talked to him. The enemy is watching us everyday. It could have been me."
Some 20 to 25 command sergeants major past and present, and a handful of generals showed up at Fort Myer's Memorial Chapel for the Catholic service. A little known, but exceedingly tough texture of the American fabric was on display.
Broad, muscular, Samoan men, some in native dress, Samoan women with tropical white flowers in their hair and a choir brought a touch of the South Pacific to the service.
The father read letters from his son to him and his mother and siblings. The letters depicted the son as an effervescent young man who loved his family deeply and immensely enjoyed being a soldier.
American Samoa's congressman, Eni F.H. Faleomovaega delivered a brief speech in Samoan before telling of how it is customary to make speeches in their culture at funerals, "So Jonathan Falaniko will never be forgotten. Jonathan was quite aware of being in harm's way. This man, Jonathan Falaniko lived and died honorably as a Samoan warrior."
The senior Falaniko uttered a defiant note after the funeral.
"As soon as I finish taking care of the family, I'm going back by the end of the month," he said. "I will finish the fight, no regret. He is my hero."
The parents of Army Private Jonathan Falaniko, 20, of Pago Pago, American Samoa,
Command Sergeant Major Ioakimo Falaniko, left, and Maliana Falaniko, accept a folded
U.S. flag from his casket during a military funeral at Arlington National Cemetery, Friday,
November 7, 2003. Privatet. Falaniko, the 10th soldier from Fort Riley to be killed while serving
in Operation Iraqi Freedom, was an engineer bridge crewman who was near the al-Khadra police station in Baghdad when a bomb-laden vehicle exploded.
Photo By Michael Robert Patterson, May 2008
Photo By M. R. Patterson, 22 April 2004