Thomas Friday Keahanui Hema was born in 1921. A native Hawaiian, he was the fourth of nine children and grew up on the island of Oahu. Growing up, he spent much of his time on the beach practicing the native Hawaiian sports of surfboarding and outrigger canoeing.
On Dec. 7, 1941, the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor and other military facilities on Oahu. Life changed for all Honolulu residents as they lived under martial law.
Hema entered the Army Aug. 15, 1944, and completed basic training in Texas. In February 1945, he arrived in France to join Company A of the 399th Infantry Regiment, 100th Infantry Division,. The division was positioned south of Bitche, France, as part of the 7th Army during the Battle of the Bulge.
Hema’s battalion responded to a brutal attack on New Year’s Eve, assisted in the clearing of the Saarland Pocket, and captured Heilbronn after a bitter, nine-day battle.
In December 1945, Hema re-enlisted in the Army. He re-enlisted again in December 1948. At the outbreak of the Korean War, the 5th Regimental Combat Team, nicknamed the Hawaiian Regiment, deployed to Korea on the USS General Hugh J. Gaffey. It arrived in Pusan, South Korea, on the last day of July and joined the fight. According to Lt. Gen. Walton H. Walker, the defense of Pusan was a “stand or die” situation.
On Sept. 1, 1950, the North Koreans launched their last major offensive to overwhelm the Pusan Perimeter. By evening of the next day, Hema was killed by a bullet to the chest while defending his position on George Hill near Chingong-ni, South Korea.
For his actions, Hema received a Bronze Star and Purple Heart.
He is interred at the National Memorial of the Pacific, Section Q, Site 1353.
We honor his service.
As it did last year, this year National Cemetery Administration is collaborating with Carry The Load for Memorial Day to honor fallen Veterans. Both NCA and Carry The Load are honoring select “Veterans of the Day” with remembrances on social media during May.
Nominate a Veteran for #VeteranOfTheDay
Do you want to light up the face of a special Veteran? Have you been wondering how to tell your Veteran they are special to you? VA’s #VeteranOfTheDay social media feature is an opportunity to highlight your Veteran and his/her service.
It’s easy to nominate a Veteran. Visit our blog post about nominating to learn how to create the best submission.
Graphic artist: Steve Ellmore