Fort Benning brought in a seasoned Hawaiian warrior Wednesday to revive its Combat Leader Speaker Program.
Allen Hoe, who served in Vietnam and is now a Civilian Aide to the Secretary of the Army, addressed an estimated 1,000 Soldiers, NCOs and junior officers in various courses here during a presentation at Marshall Auditorium in McGinnis-Wickam Hall. He also spoke about the personal pain and heartache he’s faced since losing his oldest son, Nainoa, to a sniper’s bullet in Iraq near Mosul in 2005.
“I thought I understood combat,” he said, “but to have your own son killed, that’s the worst form of grief. Kids bury their parents. Parents are not supposed to bury their kids.
“A special bond exists between a father and son who have walked through the valley of the shadow of death, whether it’s the streets of Hue or the streets of Mosul.”
Hoe is one of only 100 CASAs in the United States. They act as liaisons between local communities and the Army, serving as the interface for commanders and government agencies. CLSP was once a quarterly event on post in which military dignitaries were invited to talk to Fort Benning commanders, students and trainees. But this marked the first since August 2009. Hoe, 64, who served as a combat medic in Vietnam from 1967 to 1968, said he grew familiar with the horrors of war long before his Family’s loss.
On Mother’s Day in 1968, 18 Soldiers in his unit were killed in battle in Kham Duc on the Laotian border. Among those missing was his platoon leader, 1st Lt. Frederick Ransbottom, whose remains would not be recovered for another 38 years.
“Vietnam was my hell and back on the battlefield,” Hoe told the audience. “But we had a total commitment to duty, honor and country. I see that all the time in today’s Soldiers, too. I was proud to be a part of that select group who chose to put on the uniform for Uncle Sam.”
Hoe, known as “Doc” in Army circles, said his Hawaiian warrior heritage runs deep — his grandfather fought in World War I and his dad in the Second World War. His youngest son, who trained on Sand Hill as an Infantryman, also deployed to Iraq, while Nainoa attended the Infantry Basic Officer Leader Course at Fort Benning.
At age 12, Nainoa gained a new appreciation for service and love of country during a trip with his father to Washington in 1990, Hoe recalled. The two visited Arlington National Cemetery, the Vietnam Veterans Memorial Wall and other landmarks.
“From that moment on, it seemed he knew what he wanted to do with his life,” Hoe said. Nainoa enlisted first. In 1999, he was selected as U.S. Army Pacific’s Reserve Soldier of the Year while assigned to the 100th Battalion, 442nd Infantry Regiment. Nainoa later joined the ROTC program at the University of Hawaii, where he was fourth in a 2002 national ranking of 4,500 cadets.
A year later, he began his career as an Army Infantry officer. A first lieutenant and platoon leader with a Stryker unit for the Iraq deployment, he was 27 when he was killed more than seven years ago.
“Nainoa was doing what he loved: leading his warriors,” Hoe said. “He took charge and never looked back. His men were the most important things to him, and he led from the front. He would never ask them to do something he wouldn’t do himself.”
That fateful day, Nainoa was carrying a tattered American battle flag that first accompanied Hoe in Vietnam. The worn piece of cloth had already taken on a life of its own. It’s been carried by units in Iraq and Afghanistan many times and remains on a worldwide tour of installations around the globe.
Hoe displayed the battle flag on stage Wednesday, then circulated it through the audience to “share its spirit,” asking the Soldiers in turn to impart some of their own.
“I call this flag the ‘legacy,’” he said. “And the people I bring it to are the special guardians of our freedom who share in this ‘legacy.’ There’s a heritage of service we all share. It is in war where you learn who your friends are and which ones are brave.
“The gremlin is always around the corner, (but) the cause of freedom is that bond that ties all of us together. My story is really your story. Your service is a special gift to the world.”
A scholarship has been named in Nainoa’s honor. In addition, the 1st Lt. Nainoa Hoe Battlefield Combat Training Center was established at Schofield Barracks, Hawaii.
Since his son’s death, Hoe said he’s developed a stronger understanding of the warrior culture and legacy.
“His death will never be viewed by us as a sacrifice,” he said, “for it was his desire to serve. And he fully committed himself to duty, honor and country. He lived the Warrior Ethos.”