View Full Version : Three sergeants major retire after 30 years

08-20-03, 02:43 PM
Posted on: Monday, August 18, 2003
Three sergeants major retire after 30 years

By Sara Lin
Advertiser Staff Writer

Forty minutes before the retirement ceremony began, Tusipasi Suiaunoa was still scribbling names onto his notepad. He had more than 25 names listed.

"There's so many people to thank," Suiaunoa said. "I don't want to forget anyone."

On Friday, three U.S. Marine Corps sergeants major from American Samoa were honored in a retirement ceremony at Marine Corps Base Hawaii in Kane'ohe.

Filipo Ilaoa, sergeant major of Marine Corps Base Hawaii; Suiaunoa, sergeant major of Headquarters Battalion, Marine Forces Pacific; and Tunu Tupuola, sergeant major of the 3rd Marine Regiment, retired after 30 years of service.

As base sergeant major, Ilaoa was responsible for a community of 15,000 people. At Camp Smith, Suiaunoa oversaw 2,000 Marines at Headquarters Battalion, which represents the Marine Corps' largest deployable headquarters element. Tupuola most recently served as the senior enlisted Marine in his regiment of 4,000.

Veterans, active service men, family and friends attended Friday's ceremony, many traveling from as far as New Zealand and Australia. They showered the retirees with congratulations, piling lei up to their ears.

Dignitaries attending from American Samoa included a congressman, a senator, the speaker of the house, and the governor.

"They say it takes a village to raise a child," Ilaoa said in his farewell speech. "I guess it takes a whole territory to raise three sergeants major."

Sergeant major is the highest rank an enlisted Marine can attain. While the retirement of one sergeant major is a big deal all by itself, honoring three at once all of whom grew up in American Samoa, joined the Marine Corps together, and served 30 years is virtually unheard of.

"It boggles my mind how they're going to do three," Lance Corp. Elliot Anderson said before the ceremony. "It's almost never more than one."

What's more, two of the sergeants major, Ilaoa and Suiaunoa, are cousins from the same village, Leone. They went to the same church, played football together, and served in their high-school student government with Ilaoa as vice president and Suiaunoa as president.

"We decided to eat lunch one day, and we stopped by and took the (Marine) test," Suiaunoa said.

Tupuola grew up in a village called Fagasa and met Ilaoa and Suiaunoa at boot camp in San Diego. They were among 26 Samoan recruits sent to San Diego around that time. Many of them had never left their islands.

"It was hard," Tupuola said. "Sometimes we'd speak our language, to help each other.

"We could've gone out on separate days, but due to the fact that we were all from the same place, joined at the same time, we thought it's good to go out together, too."

After the ceremony, two lines to congratulate the sergeants major ran more than 10 deep.

Milley Downey, Ilaoa's niece, watched with pride as her uncle received congratulations and lei.

"For the Samoan community this is such a positive event," said Downey, of Mililani. "There's so many negative stereotypes about Samoans; this is a real positive."

"Believe it or not, I don't know how I spent 30 years in the Marine Corps. Thirty years just kind of crept up on me," said Suiaunoa. "Being around Marines the people that's what kept me around. I always felt like I could do more, offer more to young Marines as I rose in the ranks."

Echoing the sentiments of his fellow sergeants major, Suiaunoa said, "I'm ready to go home, play golf, look for work."


Sgts. Maj., from left, Filipo Ilaoa, Tunu Tupuola, and Tusipasi Suiaunoa render salutes during their retirement ceremony. Ilaoa and Suiaunoa are cousins; they met Tupuola at boot camp 30 years ago.
Cpl. Jason E. Miller U.S. Marine Corps




08-20-03, 06:22 PM
Wow! There's a legacy that we will probably never see again.

Health to you and our Corps, Sergeants Majors,