Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Memorial Day takes on new perspective when those being honored, honor someone else

Today's post comes on the heels of Monday's Memorial Day observances throughout the state and the rest of the country.

For retired Oregon Army National Guardmember, Ken Baldwin, Memorial Day was not about being thanked for his service, but about thanking someone else for theirs.

Special thanks to The Oregonian's Mike Francis for bringing this to my attention, and for Claudine San Nicolas for writing the story, which appeared in the May 25th edition of the Maui News.

Veteran gives Purple Heart away

HONOKOWAI, Hawaii -- A Purple Heart war veteran from West Maui has given his medal to a local businessman he believes is worth of recognition.

The gesture by retired Marine and Oregon National Guardsman Ken Baldwin of Lahaina overwhelmed restaurant owner Farzad Azad, founder of Maui's Soldier Appreciation Vacation program.

"It was great," said Azad, a native of Iran, who now operates Java Jazz in the Honokowai Marketplace. "I'm totally overwhelmed."

Azad has invested some $25,000 in a project that involves treating Purple Heart recipients in the Iraq War to a vacation on Maui. So far, Azad has covered expenses for a week's stay for 14 troops in nearly four years.

"I love the United States. I think it's the greatest country in the world," Azad said, adding that his program is a "small" way of staying thank you to U.S. troops for their service and bravery.

Baldiwn, 41, served in the Marine Corps for eight years, with combat tours in Panama and the Persian Gulf. Following his service as a Marine, he enlisted in the Oregon National Guard.

In 2004, Baldiwn's unit deployed for combat duty at Camp Anaconda in Balad, Iraq, with the Hawaii National Guard's 29th Brigade Combat Team. Baldwin sustained injuries in Iraq in 2005, when his vehicle was destroyed by an improvised explosive device.

He filed for medical retirement shortly thereafter and moved to Maui about two years ago with his wife and three children. Baldwin's wife is expecting another child this year.

Now a construction superintendent for Ledzor Construction on Maui, Baldwin lives across from Java Jazz, where he noticed the donation box for the Soldier Appreciation Program. Azad covers most of the costs of treating Purple Heart troops on vacation, but he also solicits support from his business friends and the community at large.

Baldwin said he was touched by Azad's generosity to troops and wanted to thank him by giving him the Purple Heart medal he had received from combat duty.

"I told Farzad how much I respected him. It was just an awesome gesture on his part, and I don't want what he does to be taken for granted," Baldwin said.

He added that if needed, he could ask the military for another Purple Heart medal. Aside from giving his medal away, Baldwin hopes to support Azad's program by approaching local businesses and residents for donations.

"I'm glad to see that veterans have not become old news," Baldwin said. "People still care. Forget the politics. These guys did their job and they did it well."

For more information about the Soldier Appreciation Program, visit:

Claudine San Nicolas can be contacted at:

Posted by Tech. Sgt. Nick Choy,
Oregon National Guard Social Media Manager

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