- Island Soldierby Nathan Fitch
Island Soldier, directed by Nathan Fitch, opens in the air with a shot of endless ocean and white clouds floating by. Romantic South Seas islands ukulele music begins to play as the island of Kosrae, known to her people as the Sleeping Lady, emerges in all of her lush green splendor. Island scenes of a single, winding road, a boy bailing water from a canoe, and the sound of the morning roosters' crows [End Page 248]are almost jarring alongside images of Kosraean soldiers in uniform, waiting. A plane is landing, a plane that carries a lifeless, twenty-five-year-old brown body; a young son of Kosrae in the Federated States of Micronesia (FSM) is being returned home to rest. As reported by Manny Cruz ( Pacific Daily News, 25 May 2018), Sergeant Sapuro "Sapp" Nena is one of the more than forty soldiers from Micronesia who have died while serving in the US Armed Forces since 2003.
The military planes flying to islands such as Kosrae, Palau, and Saipan to return sons and daughters of Oceania home are quite frequent considering their small populations. Most of us from this region have family members and friends who serve or who have served in the US Armed Forces. Our relationship to our most recent colonizer, the United States of America, is complicated yet intimate, binding yet unjust, heroic yet toxic, and ultimately, loving yet lethal. To be frank, it is an abusive relationship, where the stakes are always high and there is only one victor. Island Soldieris a familiar narrative; it is a story that belongs to all of us who call Micronesia home and, as Jacki Leota-Mua reminds us, to our fellow "Nesians" in American Sāmoa as well.
Several years ago, my father, Simion, told me that he came to Guam, where we live, to join the army with five of his friends. I was surprised, as I had never heard this story, and had always assumed he came to Guam to attend the University of Guam ( uog). The year was 1974, and they had all just graduated from Pohnpei Island Central School ( pics). With the support of the Pohnpei government, which at that time was under the Trust Territory of the Pacific Islands ( ttpi), Pahpa and his friends were the first Pohnpeians to leave the island solely to come to Guam to enlist and become sounpei, literally, "people who fight." As the first, they would bring prestige to their families in Pohnpei. However, unlike the soldiers in the film whose journeys took them as far as Fort Carson, Colorado, Fort Benning, Georgia, Iraq, and Afghanistan, their journey would end on Guam.
After passing the entrance exam, they received a phone call from an army captain who told them that their papers were "invalid" and they "were no longer needed" because the Vietnam War was ending. Pahpa laughs when he tells this story, remembering the huge send-off at the old Pohnpei airport, reminiscent of the wailing ritual practiced by women in the outer islands of Yap, as poignantly described by Clement Yow Mulalap in his review, which follows. In light of this incredibly moving film, what sticks with me about Pahpa's story is that their paperwork became "invalid" once they were no longer needed. These young Pohnpeian men and their families paid their way to Guam to enlist, and now they had to figure out what they were going to do next, given that they were no longer of use to the US military.
Luckily, my father had applied to uogand been accepted, so he went and stayed with an aunt and uncle who lived on Guam. Two of the others became sailors for a commercial vessel, and the other three had to return home...