Dozens turned out Friday to bid farewell to a fallen hero whose remains were returned home to Hilo Thursday, more than 70 years after he was killed in action in the Korean War.
Because of COVID-19 restrictions, only 10 people were allowed inside Dodo Mortuary Chapel for the funeral service of U.S. Army Cpl. Wilfred Kalei Hussey Jr. But a couple of dozen others — many wearing uniforms of veterans service organizations, including the Korean War Veterans Association Big Island Chapter No. 231 — stood on the chapel’s lanai and listened to the service via overhead speakers.
Hussey, a member of the 31st Infantry Regiment, Co. A, 3rd Battalion, was listed as missing in action on Dec. 12, 1950, during the Battle of Chosin Reservoir, a brutal 17-day battle fought in the bitter cold of a North Korean winter.
He was only 19.
Clifford Hussey, Wilfred Hussey’s younger brother who came from his Reno, Nev., home for the services, described his emotions as “joy, elation — and still sadness and still grief.”
“He’s home, and we’re really happy, really happy about that,” he added.
Clifford Hussey and his sister, Abilene Akim Seu, are the two remaining siblings of the five children of Wilfred Hussey Sr. and Louise Hussey. Roy Hussey died in 2015, and Myrna Chun passed last year.
“When we did receive the remains, it was extremely emotional,” said his niece, Lisa Akim Seu Kelly. “The fire-crash unit put on a water lei for him as his plane was coming in. The family is so happy and thrilled to have him back and finally have closure.”
Wilfred Hussey, a 1949 graduate of Hilo High School, spent his early years in the Puueo neighborhood of Hilo until his parents moved to a house at the corner of Kinoole and Lanihuli streets.
Akim Seu Kelly, who delivered the eulogy, described her uncle as “from what I’m told, a straight shooter — humble, hardworking.”
“He played tight end on the (Waiakea Pirates) football team where his father, my grandfather, Wilfred Hussey Sr. was coach,” she said. “But his love was baseball. He was a pitcher with the Hilo High baseball team.”
Akim Seu Kelly said her uncle “missed out on a lot.”
“He missed out on his family growing up, meeting his nephews and nieces,” she said. “He missed out on having a family, but … he loved his country, and he loved all of us. And he gave his life for us.”
Wilfred Hussey’s cousin, James, a retired Army command sergeant major, described him as “a true American patriot and hero, who honorably served his country in time of need.”
“It was our hope that he would be returned to his home here in Hilo, where he belonged, to be laid at rest here with the rest of his ‘ohana in Homelani cemetery,” he said.
Wilfred Hussey’s remains were accounted for on Sept. 10, 2019, identified by matching DNA with samples given by family members.
His brother and niece both praised and thanked former President Donald Trump, crediting his 2018 meeting with Kim Jong-un, North Korea’s supreme leader, for the return of the remains.
“If it was not for President Trump, and not for the power of Jesus Christ, it would’ve been impossible to have my uncle back. We would not be here today to celebrate his life,” Akim Seu Kelly said.
“What Trump did was maintain dialogue with the North Korean president,” Clifford Hussey added. “Previous administrations, for all intents, the search for our missing loved ones were blocked because of hostilities between our government and the North Korean government.”
After the memorial service, an urn committal service with full military honors was held at Hawaii Veterans Cemetery No. 2 pavilion. An honor guard fired a rifle salute, a bugler played “Taps,” and Clifford Hussey and Abilene Akim Seu were presented memorial U.S. flags.
In addition, Hawaii Army National Guard 1st. Sgt. Clayton Perreira presented the family Wilfred Hussey’s Purple Heart medal, engraved with his name.
The other medals and ribbons earned by the soldier — who enlisted barely a year before making the ultimate sacrifice — include the Combat Infantryman’s Badge, Korean Service Medal, Republic of Korea Presidential Unit Citation, Republic of Korea War Service Medal, United Nations Service Medal, Distinguished Unit Citation and Good Conduct Medal.
“It’s been a tremendous reunion because of all the people,” Clayton Hussey said. “I met a lady friend who he had proposed to before he departed for duty, and also I met a fellow who served with him in his unit in Korea. I was hoping that I would meet someone like that to talk to.
“… I left Hawaii (Island) to go to Kamehameha Schools in seventh grade. He enlisted in 1949, and I was 11 years old, I think. Then, shortly thereafter, I left Hilo, so I lost track of what happened to him because I was boarding at Kamehameha. But I have all these fond memories of my brother, because you love your siblings, no matter what. No matter what, they’re you. They’re a part of you. So he’s always a part of me.”
Email John Burnett at email@example.com.