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State honors sacrifice of 17 with medal

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    Katie Luff, holding her 10-month-old son, Aiden, is greeted by State adjutant Maj. Gen. Darryll Wong, far right, after she was presented with the Hawaii Medal of Honor by Gov. Neil Abercrombie, far left. House Speaker Calvin Say hugs a person behind Luff. Luff’s husband, Army Sgt. David J. Luff Jr., died in combat Nov. 21 in Tikrit, Iraq. The Legislature convened in a joint session in the state Senate chambers to award the state Medal of Honor to families of 17 fallen service members.

    Joanne and Joe Fleming received the state Medal of Honor yesterday for their son, 1st Lt. Scott J. Fleming. State Sen. Will Espero handed them a certificate. Behind them is Lt. Gov. Brian Schatz.

Their lives together were just beginning.

Army Sgt. David J. Luff Jr. and his wife, Katie, had a young son, Aiden, and planned to be in Hawaii a few more years after David got back from Iraq.

Pfc. JR Salvacion and his wife, Joy, also had a son, Zildjian, named after the cymbal company because JR loved music and played guitar and drums.

They had plans and dreams and hopes for the future.

Instead, through blinking tears and barely checked grief, Katie Luff and Joy Salvacion each accepted a state Medal of Honor and the condolences and gratitude of the Legislature yesterday in memory of their husbands, who were killed overseas.

For the sixth year in a row, the Legislature convened in a joint session to honor service members with Hawaii ties who were killed or died in a war zone, and to present their families with the state Medal of Honor.

This year, 17 were recognized, and nine families came from Hawaii, Florida, New Jersey, Ohio and California to accept the koa-framed medals.

"In many ways today’s events bring up mixed emotions great sorrow for those who have fallen and also great pride in the bravery, dedication and commitment these soldiers possessed," said Senate President Shan Tsutsui.

State adjutant Maj. Gen. Darryll D.M. Wong added: "No one who puts on the uniform wants to die for their country, but they are nonetheless willing to if it means that others may live in peace and security.

"At the very least, such selflessness deserves public recognition of the highest order, and that is why we are here today."

Aship’s bell tolled twice as the names of 10 Army soldiers and seven Marines were read and their families received the state Medal of Honor. The ceremony concluded with a rifle salute outside, the playing of taps and a moment of silence.

JR Salvacion, 27, was killed on a foot patrol on Feb. 21, 2010, in Senjaray, Afghanistan, when his unit was attacked with an improvised explosive device. The Ewa Beach man was with the 4th Brigade Combat Team out of Fort Carson, Colo.

Salvacion’s mother, Milagros Robiniol, said after the ceremony yesterday that it’s been hard to deal with her son’s death, "especially if we see some person in a uniform the same as my son. So sad."

The soldier’s wife, Joy, said, "It’s terrible, especially for my son, when he grows up without a dad." Zildjian is 2.

David Luff, 29, of Hamilton, Ohio, died Nov. 21 in Tikrit, Iraq, when his unit was attacked by small arms fire. He was with the 1st Battalion, 27th Infantry out of Schofield Barracks.

"Each day is different. I don’t know that it’s any better. I’m getting better at figuring out how to handle it," Katie Luff said as her mother, Judy Halcomb, held 10-month-old Aiden.

Luff said it was an honor to receive the state Medal of Honor.

"I just felt like I had to do it for (David)," she said.

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