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by Brittany Yap, associate editor

On July 4, Inouye’s birthday, she received a video clip, via e-mail, of her son, Deyson Cariaga, singing happy birthday to her. Two days later, Cariaga called her from Iraq, where he was stationed; at the end of their phone call he told his mom that he was going on a mission, and he needed to get some sleep. It was the last time Inouye spoke to her son.

The 20-year-old died on July 8, in Hammadi, Iraq, after a roadside bomb exploded beneath his vehicle. According to the July 13 Honolulu Advertiser, Cariaga’s patrol had just finished a mission and was returning to Logistical Support Area (LSA) Anaconda, the base where he was stationed. As a Hawai‘i National Guard soldier in the 229th Military Intelligence Company, 29th Brigade Combat Team, Spc. Cariaga is the only soldier from Hawai‘i in the 29th Brigade to die in Iraq. He was posthumously promoted to sergeant.

Inouye wiped tears away from her eyes as she reminisced about her son. She said she carries with her, everywhere, her son’s dog tag and the flashlight that he had on him daily when he was in Iraq.
A 5-foot-10-inch, Japanese-Filipino from Kalihi, Cariaga lived with his grandparents and would have turned 21 this past July 28. A 2002 graduate of Roosevelt High School, Cariaga became interested in the military after he got involved with the Junior Reserve Officer Training Corps (JROTC) program as a freshman in high school.

“ (JROTC) provided them with guidance and structure,” said Inouye. “It gave them a mission in life, something to work for.”

Cariaga signed up in the Army his senior year of high school and according to his mom, he saw it as “a way to help provide him with the education he wanted.”

Remembering who he was

“ He was an active kid who loved the ocean from very, very young,” said Inouye. “Everything was the beach, the beach.”

According to Inouye, her son loved to surf. One of his favorite spots was Diamond Head and that’s one of the two places Inouye visits her son and feel a sense of calm. Punchbowl Cemetery, where Cariaga is buried, is the other place she goes.

“ I usually bring my thoughts and a flower and go down there,” said Inouye.

Cariaga loved the outdoors. He loved to run and bike and at one point was involved in judo, aikido, soccer, and track. He was a big “Calvin and Hobbes” fan as well as an animal lover.

According to Inouye, her son was a food hoarder who always had to have a stash of li hing mui sour apples, mango, and gummy bears. He loved dried mango from the Philippines. He told his mom he liked that kind because it wasn’t as sweet. Aside from his snacks, Cariaga liked his vegetables, especially his grandparents’ Japanese stir-fry.

Cariaga went to Honolulu Community College for one semester before being activated. His mom said he had aspirations of getting a fire science degree and becoming a fire fighter. He was also thinking of carpentry as his second major. If not that, said Inouye, he talked about going to the University of Hawai‘i at Manoa and enrolling in “officer school.” He was contemplating a life of service, either as a soldier or a fire fighter.

Inouye recalls always telling her son, “life is about you, and you got to do things for yourself.”
In Iraq

January 2005, was the first time Cariaga set foot in Iraq. He was nicknamed “Dice” by his fellow soldiers because they had a hard time pronouncing his name “Deyson.” According to Inouye, Cariaga’s job involved interviewing Iraqis and gathering information offbase. He had one roommate, Sgt. Jared Chong, and according to Inouye, the two were training for the triathlon for when they returned home. Cariaga mentioned to his mom that he and Chong were gaining a lot of weight and told her not to send too many snacks because they were in training.

He’d always tell his mom “dusty out there.” He contacted his family and friends through phone calls and e-mails. Cariaga would often ask his mom to send care packages with batteries, lotion, powder, newspaper clippings, and pictures of home. Inouye said her son had surfing pictures up on the wall in his room and looked forward to getting back in the water.

“ He’d always say he just wanted to eat rice,” said Inouye. “The kind that sticks together.”
Inouye was planning to remarry when her son returned home for his break. Because he didn’t know for sure when he would be returning home, and because his date to go home kept getting pushed back, Cariaga told his mom, “Just get married, Mom. When I come home we can have the party.” Inouye said her son requested to take his leave over his birthday, in late July.

Moving forward

Inouye has gone to the Honolulu Vet Center to talk to a grievance counselor to help her through this process. The center provides counseling and assistance that specifically relates to combat experiences. She highly recommends this service to any soldiers who need help dealing with the effects of war, such as post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). Inouye said the Honolulu Vet Center is totally confidential and not connected directly with the military; therefore the visit cannot go on your records. It is located on Kapiolani Boulevard and soldiers can contact it by calling (808) 973-8387.

According to Inouye, every day is a hard day. “You think you’re over it, but you go back and rewind,” she said. She is slowly going into her son’s room and cleaning it out. When Cariaga’s things were sent home from Iraq, she recalled that he saved everything; every letter, every package.

“ Don’t take anything for granted,” said Inouye. “Technology is great, but sometimes people don’t recognize what a tangible letter or picture can do.”

 

 

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