Fallen Keaau soldier remembered as ‘strong, courageous’

  • President Donald Trump and first lady Melania Trump watch as a U.S. Army carry team moves a transfer case containing the remains of Chief Warrant Officer 2 Kirk T. Fuchigami Jr. of Keaau, Hawaii, Thursday, Nov. 21, 2019, at Dover Air Force Base, Delaware. (AP Photo/Matt Rourke)

HILO — A 25-year-old soldier from Keaau was one of two pilots killed Wednesday in a helicopter crash in Afghanistan, the Pentagon said.

Chief Warrant Officer 2 Kirk Takeshi Fuchigami Jr., an Army pilot, was participating in a night raid when the Apache helicopter crashed.

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The crash, which also killed another pilot, 33-year-old Chief Warrant Officer 2 David C. Knadle of Tarrant, Texas, destroyed the helicopter, according to a Logar province spokesman.

Both pilots were assigned to 1st Battalion, 227th Aviation Regiment, 1st Air Cavalry Brigade, 1st Cavalry Division, based in Fort Hood, Texas. They were on a mission in Logar province providing security for troops on the ground when their helicopter crashed, the Pentagon said in a statement Thursday.

The incident is under investigation.

Fuchigami was a newlywed, having married his wife, McKenzie Norman Fuchigami, just eight months earlier.

“He was and is a strong, courageous soldier and loyal husband,” she posted on Facebook. “Eight months of marriage with him was the best months of my life. He taught me so much about love and respect. I’m blessed to have been loved by him so fiercely.”

McKenzie Fuchigami asked loved ones to post photos of her husband, whom family and friends called Takeshi, on their timelines.

Hoku award-winning Big Island musician Kris Fuchigami is the soldier’s cousin, and posted on Facebook he taught his cousin to play ukulele.

“In one week’s time, you learned 2 songs and I brought you up on stage and you played those songs perfectly! It made me so happy to see you with a huge smile on your face playing your newly discovered joy!” Kris Fuchigami wrote.

“I love you Takeshi and still can’t believe any of this. But I know you are in a better place.”

President Donald Trump, who has said the responsibility of receiving the remains of fallen U.S. soldiers is “the toughest thing I have to do” as president, left the White House for the short flight to Dover Air Force Base, where the remains of service members killed abroad are returned to U.S. soil.

This was Trump’s second visit to the Delaware military installation this year, and his third visit there overall as president. He was accompanied by actor Jon Voight, who had been at the White House to accept an arts award.

The president and first lady Melania Trump were among a group of dignitaries, including Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Mark Milley and National Security Adviser Robert O’Brien, who attended a roughly 12-minute ceremony and watched as six white-gloved members of the Army’s Old Guard carefully handled the flag-draped transfer cases holding the soldiers.

Trump and Milley saluted the soldiers, while the first lady and O’Brien stood with their hands over their hearts for the dignified transfer of remains.

Gov. David Ige weighed in on Fuchigami’s death, noting he “paid the ultimate price for our freedom.”

“The people of Hawaii join me in extending our deepest condolences to the family and friends of Chief Warrant Officer 2 Kirk T. Fuchigami Jr. …,” the governor said in a statement. “Let us come together to support the family of this fallen soldier and honor his life, now and in the coming months and years.”

U.S. Sen. Brian Schatz said Fuchigami “served our country with courage and distinction.”

“His death is a loss that will be felt across the Big Island and the state of Hawaii, and as a nation, we will always remember his sacrifice,” Schatz, a Hawaii Democrat, said in a statement. “We extend our deepest condolences to his wife, family, and friends during this very difficult time. We only hope that they find comfort in knowing that his service exceeded all measures of honor.

“In life, Chief Warrant Officer 2 Fuchigami was a guardian of liberty. In rest, may he find the peace we all seek.”

Mayor Harry Kim asked for “a prayer of support and love for Fuchigami’s family and friends.

“There is such an emptiness and deep sadness of hearing of the loss of a son of Hawaii, especially in war,” Kim said.

The Taliban claimed to have shot down the helicopter, but Fawad Aman, Afghan Defense Ministry deputy spokesman, disputed that assertion, saying the crash occurred because of a technical problem with the helicopter.

Trump broke off peace talks with the Taliban in September following a bombing in Kabul that killed 12 people, including an American soldier.

The White House said Trump and Afghan President Ashraf Ghani spoke on the phone Thursday, and both “agreed a reduction in violence is necessary to move the peace process forward” and for all-Afghan negotiations regarding a political settlement to be successful.

This year has been the deadliest for American troops in Afghanistan since international combat operations there ended in late 2014. There have been 19 U.S. combat deaths reported in Afghanistan in 2019.

More than 2,400 Americans have died in the nearly 18-year war.

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The Associated Press contributed to this story.

Email John Burnett at jburnett@hawaiitribune-herald.com.

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