Congressman Faleomavaega today announced that he and his wife Hina and the Samoan community in Washington, DC joined with the family of SSG Loleni W. Gandy to mourn the loss and celebrate the life of a beloved Toa o Samoa.
The first service or sauniga with the family of SSG Gandy, led by Reverend Dr. Tapaautasi Erika Puni of the Samoan Congregation was held on Sunday morning at Fort Meyer. On Sunday evening, a special family service and viewing was held at the same place, the Old Post Chapel at Fort Meyer, Virginia, where the local Samoan community and military personnel joined with Gandy’s wife Faauta; their four sons: Amadeus, Alexander, Tyler, and Lawrence; mother Uti; siblings and extended family.
The special family service was led by Reverend Calvin Samuelu of Satauro o le Manumalo (CCCAS) church of Anchorage, Alaska, where SSG Gandy and Faauta served as deacons before they changed duty stations. During the service, Rev. Samuelu was assisted by Rev. Dr. Tapaautasi who offered the pastoral prayer and a special message from the scriptures for the family. SFC Sene Polu, another Toa Samoa who is recovering from serious injuries resulting from an IED explosion in Iraq and Assistant Pastor in the Samoan Congregation at Fort Myer, read the scriptures in Samoan. The Samoan Congregation prepared hymns and music for the service and Congressman Faleomavaega offered special remarks and condolences on behalf of the people of American Samoa to the family.
SSG Gandy’s Commanding General, Brigadier General Mark Corson of the 103rd Expeditionary Sustainment Command, also spoke and shared a quote from one of SSG Gandy’s young comrades in Iraq who described him as a “father figure who applied his love of family to his soldiers.”
Faauta and her children shared their heartfelt testimonies of a devoted husband and father. Their eldest son, Amadeus, shared one of his last email correspondences with his father on Veterans Day in which his father told him how proud he was of his decision to follow in his footsteps to join the army. Faauta shared how her husband who would call home from Iraq almost every day to ensure that she and the children were doing well. Their sons then presented a slideshow with pictures of their father played to the tune, “God Bless the U.S.A.”
The service ended with special presentations to the family by Congressman Faleomavaega and Rev. Dr. Tapaautasi. Faleomavaega, on behalf of himself and the people of American Samoa presented Faauta and the family a small love gift and a U.S. flag that was flown over the U.S. Capitol in honor of SSG Gandy’s service. On behalf of the Samoan Congregation, Rev. Tapaautasi presented the family with a love gift and a wreath and invited everyone to a reception prepared by the Samoan Congregation following the conclusion of the service.
At the reception, held at Ft. Meyer Memorial Chapel Fellowship Hall, Herman Faataualofa, brother of Mrs. Faauta Faataualofa-Maae Gandy, shared words of gratitude on behalf of the families to the local Samoan community and military personnel, noting also that SSG Gandy would have been honored to have such high-ranking military leaders paying their respects to him. He gave special thanks and acknowledgements to The Honorable Congressman Faleomavaega, Rev. Samuelu, Rev. Tapaautasi, the Samoan Congregation and choir, The Honorable BG Mark Corson and other military personnel in attendance.
On Monday afternoon, Brigadier General Corson presented SSG Gandy’s Bronze Star Medal to Faauta in a ceremony just prior to SSG Gandy’s burial. With the wind chill factor in sub-freezing levels, SSG Loleni Gandy was then laid to rest at Arlington National Ceremony with full military rites and honors, including an honor guard, the firing of three volleys each by a seven service member team, and the playing of taps.
Following the folding of the flag, Brigadier General Gracus Dunn presented Faauta, her four sons and Loleni’s mother, Uti, each with a special U.S. flag in honor of SSG Gandy. Also attending to pay their respects to the fallen Toa o Samoa was the Honorable John McHugh, Secretary of the Army, Deborah Mullen, wife of the Honorable Admiral Michael Mullen who is Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, and Patrick Hallinan, Superintendent of Arlington National Cemetery. They each took turns in kneeling on one knee in front of Faauta and her children and mother – Uti offering their condolences and thanking them for Loleni’s service to the country.
Following the burial services, Congressman Faleomavaega welcomed Faauta, Uti, and the whole family to his office on Capitol Hill for refreshments and a personal tour of the Capitol. The Congressman took them to the Floor of the House Chamber where they sat in the front rows that are usually reserved for the President’s Cabinet and the Justices of the Supreme Court during a State of the Union address. The tour ended with a photo op on the steps of the Capitol.
“I would like to thank Faauta, the boys, and the family for allowing our Samoan community in Washington, DC and my office the honor of being a part of celebrating the life of their beloved husband, father, son, and brother – our Toa o Samoa, SSG Loleni Gandy. He was a shining example of a real Toa or warrior of Samoa who was deeply committed to the defense of our nation,” Faleomavaega stated.
“Loleni was a truly humble man who wanted nothing but the best for his family and fellow soldiers. And it is clear that his love of his dear wife, Faauta, and their four sons, and his love for his dear parents, Larry and Uti Gandy, family and friends, was also a part of his service in the military and relationships with his comrades in the Army. We shall miss this Toa o Samoa.”
“I would also like to thank those who helped to serve the Gandy family in their time of mourning. I would like to thank the Department of the Army for granting the family’s wish to permit the use of the Fort Meyer chapel for SSG Gandy’s family service on Sunday evening. I thank and acknowledge the support of the Fort Meyer Installation Chaplain (COL) Woodbery and his staff. And, I also thank Rev. Dr. Tapaautasi Puni and our Samoan Congregation at Fort Myer for the warm welcome and wonderful service and reception.” Faleomavaega continued.
“Today we weep with the Gandy family. Yet we also rejoice in the life SSG Gandy lived and the example he shared with us all. We also rejoice knowing that he is with his heavenly father and that the Lord will comfort you during this difficult time,” Faleomavaega concluded.
SSG, at age 36, died on November 19th in Balad, Iraq in support of Operation New Dawn. He served for seventeen years in the Army with his last duty station at the 103rd Expeditionary Sustainment Command, Des Moines, Iowa. He is survived by his wife Faauta; their four sons: Amadeus, Alexander, Tyler, and Lawrence; his parents Lawrence and Uti Gandy; and siblings Lina Ann and Dale.